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Technology Innovation Along the Education to Employment Pathway – Part II

Sean Dowling
March 29, 2017

In my previous post, I laid the groundwork for a discussion of how technology is enabling a re-imagination of the education to employment pathway.  This post will highlight a few companies and approaches related to how skills and competencies are developed by both educational institutions and employers and discuss new delivery models for that content.

We have seen interesting developments in both how educational programs are designed to develop skills, or to win edtech bingo, the pedagogical approach, and the delivery mechanism for skills development as an increasing percentage of education shifts online.  The trend of competency based education has gained momentum among educators, in which educational achievement is measured not by the number of credits earned or time in the classroom, but instead by what is actually learned – which happens on a different timeline and with different content for each individual.  Several universities have fully embraced this competency based approach, such as Western Governors University and Southern New Hampshire University’s College for America.  College for America has partnered with more than 100 employers, such as Anthem, McDonald’s and ConAgra Foods to design a curriculum consisting of real-world projects that is delivered entirely online.  Outside of the university system, groups such as General Assembly and Dev Bootcamp have created short, immersive programs to teach specific skills, such as mobile development or marketing automation, to help accelerate individuals’ careers.  Demand for such programs has grown tremendously, with more than 18,000 “graduates” across more than 100 learning accelerators and boot camps in 2016, up from just 2,000 in 2013.

Online platforms such as MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) from Coursera or edX originally were created to democratize learning by offering free online courses from the world’s top universities, and have seen tremendous demand, with more than 60 million registered users across MOOC platforms in 2016, according to Class Central.  However, MOOCs struggled to develop viable business models and saw very poor completion rates as the courses initially had limited tangible value beyond learning for learning’s sake.  Coursera has shifted its focus toward developing certificates and even full degrees around professional skills, while other platforms such as Udacity have focused on more of a direct link to employable skills in specialized areas.  Udacity’s “nanodegrees,” created in collaboration with corporations, such as its Android courses designed by Google or a self-driving car program designed by Mercedes-Benz.  This unbundling of degrees into discrete skills and competencies, requiring less of an investment in both cost and time from learners, is a major trend for both universities and employers.

Online models have reshaped the education to employment pathway as the technology for designing and delivering content has improved and students have become increasingly connected.  Online education has entered the mainstream, as more than 1/3 of higher ed students in 2014 took at least one course online and 15% of students earned their degree fully online, representing more than $20B of tuition spend.  Higher ed no longer reflects the common perception of young kids heading off to campus for four year degrees; the National Center for Education Statistics estimates that by 2020 42% of all college students will be 25 years or older, while other estimates already suggest that non-traditional learners already represent the majority of students.  Such individuals are likely to have families and still be working, and thus have lifestyles ill-suited to spending significant chunks of time attending classes in-person and appreciate the flexibility and cost advantages of online models.  We at Osage recently made an investment in Noodle Partners, a next generation online program management vendor that helps universities design, deliver, and administer online programs by leveraging best in breed education technologies stemming from more than $10 billion of VC investment in the space over the last decade.  We are particularly encouraged by Noodle’s potential to help drive a continued blending of the online and offline experiences such that learners can benefit from hybrid models that best meet their individual needs.

Corporations are increasingly recognizing the power of online delivery models and competency based education to revitalize their investments in business skills training, which Bersin by Deloitte estimates reached $20B in 2016 in the US, and was likely at least 2x higher globally.  Bersin suggests that “technology is revolutionizing” the corporate training market, with more than half of the hours consumed in training globally now delivered outside of a classroom-type setting, and expects that more cost-effective online delivery models will expand the addressable market further.  Forward thinking HR leaders are embracing the importance of training as a competitive advantage; in the words of Gail Jackson, VP of HR for United Technologies, “We want people who are intellectually curious.  It is better to train them and have them leave than not to train and have them stay.”  Certainly online corporate training has existed for a long time – we have all seen some version of a terribly awkward sexual harassment training video – with on-demand catalogs of content provided through a learning management system from companies like Skillsoft.  However, by incorporating the latest thinking in instructional design and technology advancements such as mobile and social, vendors such as Pluralsight or PracticeXYZhave made online training more interactive and immersive such that learning becomes a dynamic, interactive activity rather than passive ingestion of information.