The Coming Era of Alternative Credentialing

by | Apr 10, 2015 | Business Trends

Thomas Frey Futurist Speaker the coming era of alternative credentialing

Earlier this week the DaVinci Institute became the first organization in the world to offer Microdegrees® to the graduates of the Institute’s coding school, DaVinci Coders. People who complete courses in Ruby on Rails, JavaScript, Swift/iOS, and Game Development will all be on track to receive this new form of credentialing.

Working as a launch-partner with Atlanta-based Edevate, the Microdegree® is new form of digital credential that certifies someone has completed 1,000 hours of learning in a professional discipline. Completing a Microdegree will be the equivalent of a full year of undergraduate upper level courses.

According to Gordon Rogers, President and Cofounder of Edevate, “Our goal is to reinvent credentialing. This is similar to the introduction of iTunes, which offered consumers the option to purchase a single track instead of the entire album.”

Expanding the notion of credentialing, Edevate plans to offer Microdegrees to students completing Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), coding schools, and other competency-based programs. The Microdegree is similar to Udacity’s Nanodegree, but it is institutionally agnostic, meaning that it can be earned by combining programs offered through many different institutions, with the freedom to stack and blend different types of educational experiences.

Students who are granted a Microdegree will receive a printable PDF diploma along with a digital badge linked to a transcript that describes the educational experience they just went through.

Microdegree candidates can also test out of certain courses by completing an Educational Testing Service’s Major Field Test. Major Field Tests are comprehensive undergraduate and MBA outcomes assessments that measure a person’s knowledge and understanding in a certain field of study.

At the DaVinci Institute, we’re excited about breaking the mold of traditional credentialing, but our sense is this is just the beginning of many new cracks that will be forming in the ivory towers of traditional education.

Here is an expansive view of the options you will have with alternative credentialing over the coming years.

Udacity’s Nanodegree

Last year, Sebastian Thrun and his team at the innovative education company, Udacity, launched a new form of credentialing called the “NanoDegree.”

Working in partnership with AT&T, Udacity is offering online courses focused on entry-level software skills that can be completed in less than a year. The cost to the student is roughly $200 a month. As part of this arrangement, AT&T will offer paid internships to some of the NanoDegree graduates.

So far AT&T is the only company that has committed to hire graduates holding the NanoDegree credential, and only 100 in total, but it’s a start.

Even though AT&T was the only one making the commitment, other companies like Cloudera, Autodesk and Salesforce.com have all endorsed the degree.

For many years, companies like Cisco and Microsoft have offered certification programs that provide tech workers with specialized skills to work with their products. This adds a unique twist to professional credentialing.

But Sebastian Thrum has much bigger plans for the NanoDegree than just certification programs, sighting, “The intent is to make this a new industry-wide platform.”

Enter Edevate’s Microdegree

Much like Sebastian Thrun at Udacity, Edevate’s founders, Gareth Genner and Gordon Rogers, are disruptive thinkers determined to blaze new trails in higher education.

In addition to the DaVinci Institute, Edevate is in discussions with a number of MOOCs and coding schools as well as regionally accredited colleges and universities that are interested in both adopting Microdegrees and granting transfer credits.

Taking it one step further, Edevate has already curated over 8,800 free & low cost educational resources on their website, www.edevate.com, that can be used to earn MicroCredits towards a Microdegree. Through the Edevate platform, users can maintain a lifelong Universal TranscriptTM of their educational experiences and growing bank of credentials.

Learning and MicroCredits

Learning takes time, but not always the same amount of time.

With DaVinci Coders we’ve found that 1,000 hours of proficiency is usually enough to gain an entry-level position in the industry. But not everyone is cut out to be a computer programmer, so some will still not be qualified even after 10,000 hours of work.

For this reason, the idea of 1,000 hours of learning is based on averages – an average learner, spending 1,000 hours, gaining an average level of proficiency.

At the same time, learning happens in far smaller units than 1,000-hour blocks, so we also created the MicroCredit based on just one hour of learning, and fractional MicroCredits for the ultra tiny learning bits.

From a credentialing perspective, how important will it be in the future to validate every hour of learning? To some, it may be far more important than you realize.

Thomas Frey Futurist Speaker microdegree 5
Eighteen MicroCredit Scenarios

Here are a number of MicroCredit scenarios designed to expand your thinking and help you grasp the significance of this opportunity.

1. Watching a Movie – If someone goes to a movie, and takes a short test afterwards, should they be eligible to earn 2-3 microcredits? Is this a cultured learning experience equal to reading a book? If this option is made available, movie studios will jump on this in a heartbeat as a way of validating their value.

2. Reading a Book – Similar to the movie scenario, every publisher in the country will be interested in offering credits for people who read their books and take a test.

3. Watching TED Talks – TED conferences attract brilliant speakers who make their topics fun and interesting. Since these talks are generally around 20 minutes, could 3 TED talk, followed by short tests, be valued at 1 MicroCredit?

4. Playing Video Games – Even though video game cultures often get trashed in academia, those who master the intricate skills necessary to earn high-level rankings know it’s not easy. Once again, if game developers were able to grant MicroCredits inside their games for certain levels of achievement, it will instantly change our cultural perspective on the game industry.

5. Foreign Travel – With foreign travel becoming increasingly common, it tends to hold less value today than in the past, but is still recognized as a significant form of learning. Will someone create an (X*travel=Y*MicroCredits) algorithm?

6. Filing for a Patent – The process of filing for a patent is a noteworthy accomplishment that may be worth several MicroCredits.

7. Producing an Event – Events range from small to huge. But producing a successful event is a unique form of learning that will cause others to take notice. Again, is there a MicroCredit algorithm that can be applied?

8. Memberships – Credit by association. Should association memberships come with MicroCredits? The credibility of an association adds to the credibility of you as an individual.

9. Start a Business – Launching a business is a significant learning experience regardless of how successful it becomes. Did someone say “MicroCredit algorithm?”

10. Published a Book – Writing and publishing a book is a major accomplishment worthy of MicroCredits.

11. Produce a Documentary – There is something noble and noteworthy about producing a documentary, and the entire exercise puts documentarians into a class of their own. On a learning scale, what is that worth?

12. Foreign Travel with a Cause – Whether you’re working with Engineers Without Borders creating bridges or water systems for desolate villages, or working with Teachers without Borders and teaching young people a much needed craft, foreign travel that is tied to a cause will be worth far more in MicroCredits than travel by itself.

13. Serve on a City Council – Local elections have a way of validating your status in the community and serves as a wonderful learning experience.

14. Commissioned Artwork – Artwork is only as important as the artist who tells the story. Commissioned art brings with it a rare form of learning as well as a unique position of honor.

15. Learning a Foreign Language – Learning a language in a classroom setting is vastly different than learning it on the streets of a foreign city. Each level of proficiency could be worth multiple MicroCredits.

16. Creating a High-Traffic Website – The size of your digital footprint is directly proportional to your online status. Should increased status be recognized with MicroCredits?

17. Becoming a Dog Breeder – Dog breeders learn things that cannot be taught in a classroom. They also hold prominence in social circles far beyond the pet-owner community.

18. Being Elected to a Higher Office – When people vote someone into office, it’s a unique and powerful way of telling the world they are important. Until now, there has been no way of credentialing this kind of learning experience.

The 18 examples above are just a tiny slice of spectrum when it comes to assigning credits and MicroCredits to our daily learning experiences. Many questions remain, but the key to a brighter future may come in the form of automating the assignment of MicroCredits to our best and brightest.

Categories and Taxonomies for MicroCredits

The examples above are all vastly different kinds of learning. Learning languages, filing patents, creating art, or producing a documentary all involve unique forms of learning.

Should Microdegrees be formed around a single topic or a combination of multiple topics?

Colleges have created specific taxonomies for categorizing credits like math, social sciences, humanities, etc.

But MicroCredits are far more granular in nature, creating the potential for new ways of grouping and qualifying skills.

Over time, Edevate will become a credit bank for MicroCredits and other types of life-learning achievements. As we move further down the path of alternative credentialing, many of these questions will get sorted out.

Final Thoughts

When someone hands you a resume in the future, how important will it be to list the 5-7 Microdegrees you’ve earned over the past few years? Will it be more important than your B.A. in fine arts?

If someone watches 1,000 TED videos, will they be better educated than someone who earns a traditional college degree? In many cases yes, but it doesn’t come with the “hands-on doing” that creates a well-rounded learning experience.

The type of learning that comes from building your own home, or programming your own wearable tech, or starting your own distillery are far different than sitting in a classroom learning abstract concepts. These types of experiences have been grossly undervalued in the past, at least from a credentialing perspective.

On one level, Microdegrees need to be hacker-proof, scam-artist-proof, rigorously monitored, with checks-and-balances that make them highly valued in the marketplace. In short, they need to be “micro prestigious.”

At the same time, they also need to add meaning and expand our notion of what’s truly valuable in life. This, in turn, will force us to rethink what makes something credit-worthy.

Many of life’s greatest experiences have been undervalued because of our narrow perspective of authenticating value in learning. Over the coming years, we’ll see a huge need to reskill our workforce, and as this unfolds, Microdegrees, or something like it, have the potential to become the most recognizable credential in the world.”

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