Will Online Courses Create Employer Support for a Certification Culture that Disintermediates Higher Ed?

Photo by Avi Richards
Photo by Avi Richards

Ryan Craig, education venture capitalist and author of the 2015 book, College Disrupted: The Great Unbundling of Higher Education, walks us through the Utopian scenario of a whole new class of teaching institutions that will unbundle education. These new organizations will provide another more cost effective option for a large number of students, sparing them from the expense of the classic ivy covered wall setting of the higher education. They may give up the typical bells and whistles of the undergraduate experience, but instead they will gain concrete measurable skills in demand from employers. THe learning opportunities will be delivered inexpensively online or to large groups and may happen in a more institutional setting like a classroom in an office park.

Sajith Pai, an employee of The Times of India (India’s largest media group) and well-known blogger who specializes in learning on his blog,  reviewed Craig’s main chapters and calls out three key developments that may prove a boon to future generations of learners (and may mean extraordinary success to the company that can also deliver these services to larger economies like China or India):

“Competency-based learning or education (CBE): This starts with capabilities required by employers and works backward to build assessments to judge / measure capabilities, and then determines the required curricula. Done well, CBE reduces the cost of delivery of online education by half. It is also higher on efficacy as it replaces the credit-hour model where you have to demonstrate mastery in an arbitrary period of time.”

Companies  like Coursera, Udemy, EdX, Kahn Academy and hundreds of other smaller players have already flooded YouTube, Facebook, and Google with their training modules. Married together with an assessment revolution among American employers, where they truly review candidates based on certified skills, these sites could be the key to a true upheaval in the intersection between higher education and employment, with significant consequences for old-line colleges. For now, these courses are wonderful add-ons to a job seeker’s resume, showing engagement and skills, but they are certainly not going to substitute for a degree program in bricks and mortar institutions…for now.

Add to this interactivity in the learning environment. Right now we already have algorithm-driven “smart” testing platforms such as Testive where questions grow ever harder as the learner becomes more competent in answering. Also called “Adaptive Learning,” Sajith Pai has this to say about a platform that sharpens the curve as the learner improves:

“Adaptive learning: Combining adaptive learning with CBE is the killer app of online education. While adaptive learning is distinct from CBE, it usually accompanies it. Adaptive learning allows students to learn at their own pace by varying each future lesson in accordance with their performance or progress thus far. Adaptive learning is seeing a surge thanks to the availability of telemetry data due to tablet / phone usage. Telemetry data includes stuff such as movement in tablet, is student switching in and out of the program, ambient noise etc. Factoring in this data enables better program and delivery design.”

We can imagine that if testing can be leveled, automatically, then human resources departments may begin to take these online certifications more seriously because the system can then deliver a consistent level of  significant rigor in the learning process.

Lastly,  Ryan taps into the preferred environment of his audience: gaming and media.  21st Century learners have grown up with attention spans that respond directly to how engaged they are with imagery and movement of text and pictures in any given app or site or program.  So, he feels that along with interactivity, “gamification” will also drive the future of learning online. As Sajith Pai summarizes:

“Gamification: In video games, players are able to focus energies due to interactivity and competition. Thus integrating rewards and recognition such as badges, leaderboards, challenges into curricula can help enhance student engagement and improve outcomes.”

Lastly, Craig insists that models that allow learning to happen in chunks of intense focus are more appealing than the typical short “credit-hour” model.  When a student is engaged, an arbitrary stopping point based on a bell ringing and class “letting out” can be replaced with an online system that can enable a learner to choose duration of study, by what Pai calls a state of, “flow, or a zone of intense focus on learning. This can be done by enabling an environment of challenging work that stretches the individual, with clear goals and consistent feedback.”

In upcoming blog posts, I will review online certification programs such as those that Microsoft and Google currently offer.  These are certainly worthwhile endeavors that while they do not currently substitute for a degree, certainly can support your candidacy in a number of entry and mid-level jobs.  Already, these certification programs are coming into their own.

To read Pai’s full summary, visit here: http://sajithpai.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/College-Disrupted-a-summary.pdf

 

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