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Show What You Know

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It's the beginning of the end of pointless post-secondary. Thousands of young people accumulated mountains of debt from college degrees that aren't worth much -- they didn't learn much and they aren't employable. The last two days in GettingSmart.com I've discussed the increased focus on outcomes and the development of new options in the American post-secondary landscape. Today we'll do a quick drive by of the emerging credentialing and skills verification space.

There are at least seven market drivers that make this a dynamic and important category:

  1. Online learning: In the very near future, most post-secondary students will do at least some of their learning online. Increasingly high school and college students are blending their own learning by choosing from online options.
  2. Competency-based learning: K-12 is gradually shifting from a system based on time to a system based on learning. Higher ed will follow, particularly associate degree and certificate programs. Low cost higher ed options are following the lead of competency-based Western Governors University.
  3. Online assessment: Moving tests online enables adaptive assessment (a shortcut to identifying learning levels) and on-demand end of course exams. Developments in essay scoring and richer performance tasks are enabling better and cheaper tests.
  4. Informal learning: The fact that almost anyone, anywhere (with broadband) can learn almost anything means more people learning stuff outside of school and looking for a skills recognition system like the Mozilla badge project.
  5. Job training: Military and corporate employers have become much more sophisticated about creating rapid pathways to mastery. Outgrowths of the UK secondary testing system, often administered by Edexcel, have made certification common across the Commonwealth countries.
  6. Professional certification: There is a long history of using tests to certify professionals including doctors, lawyers, accountants.
  7. Hiring productivity: Major employers continue to seek more effective means of surfacing and differentiating between candidates using reliable measures of knowledge and skills.

Like diplomas, credentialing is a market signalling activity -- credentials tell the world what you know and can do. With all of the new learning options, it is becoming more important to have widely recognized means to show what you know and can do. For employees, skills verification includes a variety to make sure new hires can do the work.

There are three categories where I'm seeing more start-up activity, let's call them test, show, and go. (Sorry, I'm not identifying individual start-ups just yet.)
  • Test: general and job specific business knowledge tests, approaches include standardized and crowdsource
  • Show: portfolios and recommendations
  • Go: career and learning management

We'll also see an intersection between Common Core assessment (i.e., MasteryConnect, a Learn Capital portfolio company) and the whole badging and gamification movement. These achievement recognition systems will motivate and manage learning in competency-based environments.

A generation from now, the show-what-you-know category may be as important as diplomas. In the meantime, it will be fun to watch.