Need-to-Know-News: Micro-Credentialing Movement in Higher Ed & Active Learning Trumps Lectures

This ‘Need-to-Know’ blog post series features noteworthy stories that speak of need-to-know developments within higher education and K-12 that have the potential to influence, challenge and/or transform traditional education as we know it.

credit1) The Micro-credential Movement in Higher Ed
The latest trend in higher education is micro-credentialing, the non-traditional education path where students gain skill sets in a specific area and receive a credential. Case in point, Udacity announced this week a new nanodegree (Udacity defines nanodegrees as ‘curriculums designed to help you become job-ready)’— the Android nanodegree in partnership with Google. Another example—Penn State’s College of Business also launched this week an online bootcamp course, ‘Supply Chain Leadership Academy’, to educate “supply chain leaders of tomorrow in leadership and best practices in holistic supply chain management”.

The micro-credentialing trend is driven by business entities that have a real (or perceived) workforce skill gap, where jobs can’t be filled due to lack of qualified applicants. Google reports it has thousands of jobs to fill given a dearth of qualified applicants. The Linux Foundation, also offering a certificate course in partnership with edX, reports it has over 50,000 open jobs.

MOOC providers and select higher education institutions are leveraging the apparent skills gap, using their platforms to build their online program offerings with credentialing options for a fee. A good idea. The target market is not traditional higher education students, but non-traditional students that are already in the workforce and are looking to further their careers and/or switch career paths. Alison.com is a platform offered credentialing in specific skill sets long before MOOC providers began doing so. Though Alison’s business model is different from MOOC providers such as Coursera or edX. Students aren’t the revenue source but advertisers, featured on the platform, are.

Sampling of micro-credential programs and associated fees:

  • edX’s Linux System Administration Essentials course, “This Linux course is for those just starting their career in IT as well as professionals with experience on other operating systems who want to add Linux to their portfolio”. Fee: $399
  • Stanford Online, Professional Certificates, “Our professional certificates offer short, focused courses that give you tools and techniques you can apply right away“. Fee: $1295 per online course; required number of courses vary by certificate.
  • Udacity’s Nanodegree – “All the course content is free online, but the $200 per month pays for the non-scaleable parts of the degree: project grading, feedback, instructor mentorship, assistance and a final certification”. Option to receive reimbursement of 50% of tuition upon completion.
  • Digital Literacy & IT Skills Diploma Courses, Alison.com. Free with option to pay nominal fee for paper certificate delivered via mail.
  • Coursera’s Specializations – “Master a skill with a targeted sequence of courses”. Fee: $95 per course, with a fee for the ‘capstone project’, e.g. Business Foundations Specialization = $595 for four courses and capstone project.
Screen Shot 2015-06-05 at 9.40.20 AM
Screenshot of recent email from Coursera announcing upcoming Specialization certificates. ‘Specializations’ consist of a two or more courses on focused area.

Insight: This non-traditional student population, which micro-credentials target, is an emerging market and such options are a boon to working or unemployed adults seeking skill development. It’s a positive development in higher education. Employers appear receptive to micro-credentials. However, micro-credentialing is favorable provided the programs provide quality learning resulting in tangible, applicable skill sets. The majority of the credentials require not only a financial investment, but a significant investment of students’ time and energy. It’s buyer-beware; credentials do not guarantee a job, though the courses backed by business entities likely have higher placement rates than those without a business affiliation.

2) The Case for Active Learning over Lectures*
This is not new news, but worthy of review—evidence that performance of students engaging in classes that primarily offer active learning is improved over classes involving primarily lectures. A significant study on active learning was released last year; it provides compelling evidence on active learning benefits specific to STEM subjects in higher education (Freeman, et al., 2014). Researchers conducted a meta-analyses of 225 studies in published and unpublished literature that documented student performance in courses with at least some active learning versus traditional lecturing.  Though intuitively we might know that active learning is more effective for learning, there’s now solid evidence to back it up:

The data reported here indicate that active learning increases examination performance by just under half a SD and that lecturing increases failure rates by 55%. The heterogeneity analyses indicate that (i) these increases in achievement hold across all of the STEM disciplines and occur in all class sizes, course types, and course levels; and (ii) active learning is particularly beneficial in small classes and at increasing performance on concept inventories.

Implications: Is the lecture dead? Absolutely not, but to increase student learning, retention and success, involving students in active application of concepts should be the norm not the exception. However, implementing active learning is challenging for many educations, and especially for online courses, yet it can be done with deliberate, thoughtful development of a course learning strategy. Below are links with suggestions and examples of active learning applications. One of my favorite examples of active learning, is an online literature instructor Laura Gibbs, who creates assignments using online platforms—blogging platforms, Pinterest, etc. where students engage with content, each other and the Internet community.

References:

Feature Image: by GotCredit on Flickr

6 thoughts on “Need-to-Know-News: Micro-Credentialing Movement in Higher Ed & Active Learning Trumps Lectures

  1. Thank you Debbie for posting about Active Learning. Very timely since I am supposed to be presenting on this topic to a group of lecturers next week! I particularly appreciated the additional resources you posted, including the OTAI. What I like about this resource is that it attempts to link the activity type with the pedagogy and instructional aims.

    My question is: do you know of any other resources similar to the OTAI? I am keen to explore other resources in a similar vein.

    Thank you in advance.

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  2. Please, please, please stop repeating this nonsense about a “skills gap”. There is no evidence of a skills gap among the US workforce. See my post: http://econproph.com/2014/04/07/no-skills-shortage/ or any of Paul Krugman’s posts on it: http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/?s=skills+gap . It’s total nonsense. It fails every tenet of good economics.
    If there were a skills gap in the labor market the price of labor would be rising! But it isn’t. Wages haven’t risen for over 15 years. What these employers want is indentured servants. They want to continue to pay below-market-clearing wages while locking in the employees to long-term status because the company paid some minor small tuition fee for their school. At the same time, the firms want universities to help pick up the tab for designing job-specific, employer specific training.

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    1. Hi Jim, I completely agree – I purposefully used the words ‘apparent’ and ‘perceived’ in context of skills gap given that there is NOT a skills gap. I also included the latest BLS employment data for May 2015 which also reflects there are people looking for work, which supports your thesis that there is in fact ‘supply’.

      Furthermore as you mentioned, I also see employers not willing to train and develop their employees, but state they are looking for experienced employees with a long list of requirements, many of which are technical skills that can be developed on the job. No wonder the millennial generation of young employees are wary of employers and seek to be free agents. I also do not see companies like Google that create campus-like work cultures as exemplary employers, but one that seeks to squeeze every ounce of work out of their employees by trying to keep employees productive way beyond an 8 hour work day. This post is more of an informative post — reporting on what’s going on in higher ed — this topic needs a dedicated post of its own.

      Thanks Jim for highlighting this critical issue.

      Like

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