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SXSW EDU: 8 sessions we’re excited to attend in 2023

We agree with the organizers of #SXSWEDU: Society’s true rock stars are educators!

The 2023 conference +  festival will bring learners, practitioners, and entrepreneurs together March 6 through 9 in Austin, Texas. 

And once again, a team of “Labbies” from the Education Design Lab will travel to Austin to learn, network, and be inspired. 

Here are the sessions we’re most excited to attend, along with some conversation starters for five of our Labbies.

Be sure to reach out in the SXSW EDU Social tool to connect!

Miriam Swords Kalk

Head of Design Practice | Bio

Why I’m excited: How do I pick just one?! These four sessions piqued my interest because they focus on centering the perspectives and experiences of learners and workers who have been historically underinvested in. To continue deepening our understanding and practice of equity-centered design, we at the Lab need to keep learning how people in different education and workforce contexts engage with their communities to collaborate with those most deeply impacted by injustice.

  • Elevating Student Voice via Equity Centered Design
    Monday, March 6, 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. CT | Session details
  • Noxhegalactica: Redefining Success
    Tuesday, March 7, 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. CT | Session details
  • Decolonizing Schooling: Indigenous Ed Initiative
    Tuesday, March 7, 1 to 2 p.m. CT | Session details
  • Funders’ New Bet on Grassroots to #SaveChildCare
    Thursday, March 9, 10 to 11 a.m. CT | Session details

Conversation starter: I’m obsessed with learning about how we engage with learning and work and how learning and work environments can be designed to best support deep engagement and well-being, especially for learners and workers who have been underinvested in. Come chat with me about equity-centered design, self-determination theory, and baking! 

Brian Rubin

Senior Education Designer | Bio

Supporting Black, Latinx, and Indigenous Learners
Monday, March 6, 4 to 5 p.m. CT | Session details

Why I’m excited about this session: It’s what I’m currently focused on at the Lab, and it offers an opportunity to hear from and network with others who are looking at the same issue.

BTW: This session features Dr. Adrian Haugabrook of Southern New Hampshire University, who was part of the Lab’s first cohort of Designers in Residence. Applications for our second cohort are open until March 17.

Conversation starter: I’m excited about designing for the future of work and preparing future leaders to lead, particularly those who have been overlooked or excluded.


Matthew Aranda

Associate Education Designer | Bio

The Power of Together: Solving the Skills Gap
Monday, March 6, 4 to 5 p.m. CT | Session details

Why I’m excited about this session: I appreciate that this session acknowledges how skill development needs to be an ecosystem approach, as “No one college can solve the talent needs of our nation or even a region.”

Conversation starters: My favorite topics include DEIB, student support services, 21st century skills, and digital transformation.

Jordan Lin

Senior Manager of Innovation | Bio

Engaging Employers in HS Work-Based Learning
Tuesday, March 7, 1 to 2 p.m. CT | Session details

Why I’m excited about this session: I’m a big believer in work-based learning and the need to more intentionally connect education to meaningful employment opportunities. I haven’t seen this done at a high school level — but I’m excited to learn more!

Conversation starter: I love to talk about cultivating ecosystems that enable life to thrive — whether plants or people!


Nalini Ravindranath

Manager of Foundation Partnerships | Bio

We Are Not a Stereotype: Imagining Asian Education
Tuesday, March 7, 4 to 5 p.m. CT | Session details

Why I’m excited about this session: In the aggregate, Asian learners demonstrate high rates of success in education, but disaggregated numbers often show a far more complicated picture that is as diverse as the Asian community. I’m excited to learn about strategies to identify these equity gaps and address them.

Conversation starter: I love to talk about making systems more equitable AND about outdoor adventures … hiking, climbing, anything really!

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Let’s talk LERs: Experience You virtual launch is Jan. 25

On Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023, at 2 p.m. ET, the T3 Innovation Network and Education Design Lab will launch Experience You.

The current state learning and employment records (LERs) target newly issued records rather than previous achievements. Experience You is a new initiative that will explore how new technologies can convert massive amounts of unstructured data (e.g., transcripts, resumes, and employment history) associated with an individual’s education, employment, and experience into structured, machine-actionable data about knowledge, skills, and abilities for self-verification.

Experience You seeks to galvanize a community of data and technology vendors and researchers in developing AI tools to quickly and accurately translate past education, work, and life experience into structured, machine-actionable data in the form of a useable LER.

Join us on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023, at 2 p.m. ET to learn more about the initiative and how you can participate.


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5 must-see Lab sessions at the 2022 IMS Digital Credentials Summit

IMS Digital Credentials Summit graphic

It’s been a long time since so many of us can come together — in person — for a professional conference.

Seven Labbies will travel to Atlanta for the 2022 IMS Digital Credentials Summit from Feb. 28 to March 2.

The summit brings together leaders in higher ed, workforce development, K-12, business, and philanthropy to share progress around this simple concept: Digital credentials can provide better ways to reward credit and link to opportunities than current paper transcripts, certificates, and resumes.

Our team is participating in five sessions, ranging from a design-thinking workshop … to a sneak peek at the Lab’s next Big Idea. (More on that in the weeks ahead!)

While all five sessions will be presented in person, two sessions will available to watch online during this hybrid conference.

The presentations are listed below in chronological order (with the two virtual sessions noted with ? ).



Workshop: Badge, Pitch, and Plan—Design a Digital Credentialing Strategy

Feb. 28, 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. EST
(Separate registration required; registration available on-site)

Engage in design thinking by prototyping a badge, a pitch, and an implementation plan for launching your own micro-credentialing strategy. Workshop session led by Tara Laughlin and Matthew Aranda, both Education Designers at the Lab. 


2. ?

Visibility: The Path to Equity in our Skills Based Economy

Feb. 28, 5 to 5:30 p.m. EST

Lab Founder and CEO Kathleen deLaski presents this general session about our next big idea. This will be a sneak peek and dialogue about the Lab’s visibility framework. We are on the cusp of a set of capabilities that can solve for economic mobility IF we engage learners, earners, employers and colleges in ways that demonstrate the value proposition of a skills-based ecosystem. Who needs to do what and how do we get there? 


3. ?

Stories of Scale: Microcredential Strategies Revisited

March 1, 9 to 9:45 a.m. EST

Lisa Larson, Head of the Lab’s Community College Growth Engine Fund, joins this panel discussion about community colleges pursuing strategies to stack skills-based training and micro-credentials into degree programs. Also includes Luke Dowden (Chief Online Learning Officer / Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic Success, Alamo Colleges District); Amber O’Casey (Instructional Designer, Alamo Colleges District); Lesley Voigt (Director of the Digital Credentials Institute, Digital Credentials Institute, Madison College). 



Bootcamp to Education Practitioner: Meeting Maine’s Need for Paraeducators

March 1, 11:45 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. EST

Miriam Swords Kalk, a Senior Education Designer at the Lab, joins this session to outline an innovative delivery model that uses micro-credentials to educate individuals with limited classroom experience and helps them gain skills necessary to be effective paraprofessionals in the classroom. In addition to program components, participants will learn about effective recruitment strategies discovered during the pandemic, year-one program results, and how, with the support of the BRIDGES Rural project, they used learner-centered design to improve the program for the 2021 school year. The session also includes Emily Doughty (Educator Effectiveness Coordinator, Maine Department of Education); Megan London (Education Co-Chair, Eastern Maine Community College); and Jane Loxterkamp (Education Co-Chair, Eastern Maine Community College). 



Wellspring Participant Roundtable: Meet Institutional and Workforce Pioneers

March 1, 3:15 to 4:30 p.m. EST

Naomi Boyer, the Lab’s Executive Director of Digital Transformation, joins this roundtable discussion about Wellspring, a multi-year initiative of the 1EdTech Foundation and IMS Global to accelerate the adoption of an education-to-work ecosystem based on open standards.  Institutional, employer, and workforce representatives will discuss the development of an outcomes-focused, skills-based curriculum. What planning and preparations were necessary, what challenges did they encounter, what opportunities do they see and what are the implications for future program design and development? Also includes Scott Chadwick (Chief of Corporate Partnership Acquisitions, Maryville University); Katie McKenzie (Director, Professional Skills Development, Rung for Women); Kim Moore (Executive Director, Wichita State University); Michelle Navarre Cleary (Director, Learning in Public, College Unbound); Dee Nighswonger (Director, Sedgwick County Developmental Disability Organization); Bethany Toledo (Executive Director, Ohio Association for Direct Support Professionals).


The full agenda and registration information is available on the conference website.

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Education Design Lab’s #Micropathways Initiative Celebrates Year 1 with New Report and 2nd Cohort

+ New report: The Lab unveils 30+ micro-pathway models and design insights from the first cohort of the Community College Growth Engine Fund
+ New cohort announced: Four major community college systems join the Fund
+ National Convening: College leaders, employers + funders gather Wednesday, Jan. 19

WASHINGTON, D.C. (JANUARY 18, 2021) — Education Design Lab, a national nonprofit that designs, implements, and scales new learning models for higher education and the future of work, today announced the release of its Year 1 insights in a new report, along with the second cohort of colleges participating in the nationally recognized Community College Growth Engine Fund (the Fund) initiative that designs micro-pathways, a new class of credentials.

New report

We’re at a pivotal moment for forging the robust changes needed to better serve new majority learners. As community colleges continue to address inequities amplified by the pandemic, the Lab releases its latest Design Insights Brief, featuring 30+ micro-pathway models co-created through its human-centered design process. Insights include:

  • Learners need practical pathways with a clear return on investment (ROI) as well as flexibility in format and timing.
  • Employers see the micro-pathway co-design process as transformative to deepening their relationships with community colleges.
  • For community colleges, the micro-pathway design process can serve as a gateway to institutional transformation.

Cohort 2 announcement

Building on the momentum of the first cohort, which included Seattle Colleges (WA), Pima Community College (AZ), Ivy Tech Community College (IN), the City University of New York (NY), Prince George’s Community College (MD), and Austin Community College District (TX), the Fund announces four new colleges and systems for Year 2 (and their sector focus areas under consideration):

  • Colorado Community College System (Energy + healthcare)
  • Maricopa Community Colleges in Arizona (Advanced manufacturing + IT)
  • Bunker Hill Community College in Boston (Healthcare + IT)
  • The Community College of Philadelphia (Healthcare; STEAM life sciences + technology; and transportation + logistics)

Dr. Lisa Larson, Head of the Community College Growth Engine Fund: “Learner attitudes about school and work are shifting, employers are at the table looking for new solutions, and community colleges are on the brink of change. There has never been a more pressing moment to figure out what the next generation of community colleges are and, importantly, how to get there. So far, we’ve seen firsthand how the Fund’s Micro-pathway model and design process can serve as a gateway to community college transformation.”

“We are thrilled to partner with the Education Design Lab and roll out this exciting approach to program design at our colleges,” said Joe Garcia, Chancellor of the Colorado Community College System. “This collaboration keeps us at the forefront of work-based learning innovation and will help us meet the needs of our growing adult learner population.”

Dr. Steven R. Gonzales, Chancellor of Maricopa Community College District: “This generous support and investment from the Community College Growth Engine Fund will enable our East Valley colleges to strengthen community partnerships to support new pathways to employment in high-demand fields.”

Dr. Pam Eddinger, President, Bunker Hill Community College: “With the average community college student around 27, it is a necessity to have career tracks in the workforce for the adult learner.”

Dr. Donald Guy Generals, President, Community College of Philadelphia: “Now, more than ever, it’s important for students to have access to intentional, industry-recognized training that will help them obtain family-sustaining jobs.”

National Convening

College leaders, employers + funders will discuss the transformative micro-pathway initiative during a National Convening on Wednesday, Jan. 19. The virtual event is from noon to 3 p.m. EST. Register:

What are micro-pathways? Co-designed with learners and employers, micro-pathways are defined as two or more stackable credentials, including a 21st century skill micro-credential, that are flexibly delivered to be achieved within less than a year and result in a job at or above the local median wage.

About Education Design Lab: The Lab is a national nonprofit that co-designs, prototypes, and tests education-to-workforce models through a human-centered design process focused on understanding learners’ experiences, addressing equity gaps in higher education, and connecting new majority learners to economic mobility. The Community College Growth Engine Fund, led by Dr. Lisa Larson, is a design accelerator set up just before the pandemic to help community colleges lean into a future role as regional talent agents. We want to thank the Charles Koch Foundation,, and the Walton Family Foundation for their early investment as well as the Arizona Community Foundation, Jeffrey H. and Shari L. Aronson Family Foundation, Ascendium Education Group, The Beacon Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Carnegie Corporation of New York, Citizens, deLaski Family Foundation, Garcia Foundation, Patrick J. McGovern Foundation, the Carroll and Milton Petrie Foundation, Robin Hood Foundation, and the ZOMA Foundation. This brief does not reflect the position or opinions of investor partners.

Download the brief:

Join the Lab’s #InnovatorNetwork: Twitter +  LinkedIn + email newsletter

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An Inside Look: From Prototypes to Pilot Design with Our BRIDGES Rural Cohort

In July 2021, we convened with our BRIDGES Rural cohort institutions in-person for the first time, after everyone was fully vaccinated.


This last July, the Lab’s BRIDGES Rural team alongside design partners and stakeholders from each institution in the BRIDGES cohort gathered at Eastern Maine Community College in Bangor, ME. The result? Two days spent in-person full of thought partnership, prototype iteration, and community building. 

Over the past six months, the BRIDGES Rural cohort has demonstrated that transformational change can happen quickly if you are open-minded to possibilities, hungry for learning, action-oriented, and committed to building more learner-centered, equitable futures.


“Human-centered design has really allowed us as an institution to step back, take some time, and trust the process, as well as get feedback from all stakeholders, including our students because they are our stakeholders, to help us make solid decisions in our pilot moving forward.” – Tracey Porter, Zane State College


Working in a totally virtual manner since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed us to rethink many parts of our design process. Virtual gallery walks and convenings have allowed our partners and their communities to access events from wherever they are, and introduced them to different technology platforms where they can continuously connect and collaborate with us and one another. The progress the BRIDGES teams made in the last six months–while they worked remotely, while COVID cases spiked in their communities, while bringing learners back to campuses, and so much more–exceeded expectations of what we thought was possible. We deeply value the online community of practice we’ve built through BRIDGES, which offers our partners the opportunity to learn from people across the country they otherwise may never interact with, and yet there will always be something special about working together back on-campus. 

Leading up to the in-person convening, we created and tested video prototypes of each institution’s new models with a variety of key stakeholders: current, prospective, and stopped-out college learners in their local communities; a variety of employers, economic developers, and representatives of community-based organizations; faculty and staff from their colleges; fellow cohort members; members of the Lab team; and national rural higher ed and workforce thought leaders and practitioners. 

The feedback each institution received directly informed how each team transformed their prototypes into pilot designs during the two days. Core to the Lab’s work, pilot designs must fulfill a set of agreed upon and data-informed design criteria that reflect the Lab’s and each initiative’s theory of change. 


Design criteria for the BRIDGES Rural initiative pilots:

  • Increase access to employment opportunities with living wages
  • Address learners’ needs, including growth, belonging, and agency, with a focus on those who have been systematically underinvested in and underserved
  • Enable institution to develop stronger partnerships with employers and community based organizations
  • Create models that are sustainable and scalable
  • Impact learners of focus who have been systematically underinvested in and underserved
  • Make learning visible, portable, affordable, flexible, and relevant for new majority learners


Different sessions during the July convening provided an opportunity for cohort teams to dive deeper into these design criteria, with further input from experts to support them in evaluating the extent to which their prototypes met these criteria, and how they might incorporate new learnings into their prototypes. 

We kicked off the two days with Dr. Naomi Boyer, the Lab’s director of credentialing products, who spoke on the importance of making learning visible in the digital skills economy. After in-depth brainstorming with their cohort community of practice on how teams might connect their learners with the digital skills economy, the institutional teams worked to incorporate these learnings into their prototypes. Employer feedback and validation was top of mind as the teams explored the potential impact of micro-credentials and badging in their communities.


“To design a strong local skills ecosystem that stimulates economic vitality, all contributing members must be engaged in the co-designed experience. In the development of career micro-pathways, response services, and credentials, identifying new and innovative ways to digitally showcase what learner-earner ‘know and can do’ can simultaneously nurture a robust talent pipeline AND attract new business.” – Dr. Naomi Boyer, the Lab’s director of credentialing products


Building on this, the convening welcomed an employer panel to discuss what the future of work looks like in their given industries. Many of the employers present spoke about rapid changes in their industries and emphasized that they do not have two to three years to fill open job vacancies–they need to hire people now and want to work with their local colleges to develop creative ways to support learners. This led to thoughtful discussion of the value of earn-and-learn models and of curricula infused with 21st century skills, which employers specifically called out as some of their top priorities. 


“It was interesting to hear so many of the employers talk about how they wanted learning-oriented employees and how 21st century skills, badges, and micro-credentials are the signals that employers want and need as they hire new employees.” – BRIDGES Rural cohort faculty member 


Across people in the cohort and on the employer panel, the topic of affordable housing for workers and learners resonated strongly. The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in increased demand for real estate in rural areas that was already at the tipping point before so many more people found themselves with the opportunity to work remotely. As the wealth disparity continues to grow in these rural destinations, more and more multi-generational families find themselves priced out of their own hometowns. This exacerbates other barriers—we dive into these in depth in Design Insights, PART 1: Understanding the Potential of Rural Community College Learners, published in June 2021—like transportation for employees and learners as they are forced to move further away from their workplaces. 

Earlier this year our evaluators and partners at Higher Ed Insight asked each BRIDGES Rural cohort team what kinds of changes they hope this human-centered design process will bring to their learners, their institutions, and their communities. These ranged from better understanding all of the learners in their regions to developing more localized pictures of their economies, and from creating stronger alignment between faculty and the local industries to  community-wide awareness that higher education and training can support individuals reaching their career goals.

During the July convening, HEI led the cohort teams to explore how they wanted to update and add to these early vision statements, after being immersed in learner and community voices for the past six months. 

Each of the five cohort teams emerged from the event with a pilot design focused on building their college’s capacity to serve as an engine for economic growth in their region, as well as an action plan for how to bring this pilot to life, including ideas they will start to operationalize this week. 


“The feedback on our pilot was so helpful! I am really excited about helping learners find their voice and their path, as well as identify their support teams (these are all part of our pilot project). I loved hearing from the employers on the employer panel yesterday, and I am excited to keep thinking about what we learned from them and how we can incorporate these thoughts into our work moving forward.” – Megan London, Early Childhood Education faculty, Eastern Maine Community College 

“I love the feedback we’ve gotten from our fellow cohort members that is helping us to improve our pilot model! My biggest takeaway from the convening is the power of the BRIDGES theory of change and how we can use this in our work college-wide and system-wide.” – Lisa Larson, president, Eastern Maine Community College


The early pilot designs developed by the BRIDGES Rural cohort provide inspiring examples of how colleges can build models that simultaneously center historically underinvested learners and drive toward greater economic growth and agility in their rural regions. To wrap up the convening, teams drafted headlines describing the impact these pilot programs aim to have in the future.


Future-forward Headlines + Visioning for the BRIDGES Rural Pilot Programs: 

  • CEI connects the community with training and jobs that meet people where they are! 
  • Go far while staying here
  • Micro-Pathways Bring BIG Career Results
  • WSCC supports lifelong learning while driving the local economy
  • Achieve your dreams at ZSC while providing for your family


During the fall of 2021, BRIDGES Rural institutional teams will continue to gather feedback on their pilot designs from learners and other stakeholders in their communities. Each team will receive an additional incentive grant to help support and sustain their pilots as they work toward their January 2022 launch. We look forward to seeing how the BRIDGES Rural community of practice carries each pilot design to successful launch, producing the economic impact people in these regions are hoping for.

Check out our BRIDGES Rural July Convening video for an inside look at our work (also available below), and follow the teams as they move from pilot to implementation on Twitter @BridgesRural. Learn more about our BRIDGES Rural initiative here

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Join Us 3/3: Redesigning Higher Ed to Support New Majority Learners’ Engagement

Dear partners and innovators,


The past year has accentuated the ways in which higher education is out of step with the life experiences, perspectives, and goals of new majority learners—students historically considered “nontraditional” who make up the majority of learners today.

In response to the upheaval of COVID-19, a worrisome drop off in enrollment among communities of color, and a national reckoning on race, many institutions are feeling a heightened sense of urgency to redesign systems and programs to remove barriers and generate opportunities for new majority learners. That redesign must start with better understanding these learners so that institutions can support their deep engagement with their learning and their success in reaching their goals. 

Join us on March 3 @ 12-1pm EST for “Redesigning Higher Ed to Support New Majority Learners’ Engagement”

Featuring: the release of “Walk in My Shoes”: An Actionable Learner Engagement Framework to Foster Growth, Belonging, and Agency and a roundtable discussion of insights from the the first in the Lab’s Toolkit publication series and expert perspectives in how institutions are rethinking learner engagement. 

The discussion will feature:


“Walk in My Shoes”: An Actionable Learner Engagement Framework to Foster Growth, Belonging, and Agency will be available for download on March 3, 2021. This toolkit centers an engagement framework two years in the making, based on interviews with hundreds of learners for whom higher education was never designed. Research and work in the field demonstrate that this can best be facilitated through focusing on learners’ sense of growth, agency, and belonging.

Register Now

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Why Micro-pathways

Why Micro-Pathways?

We didn’t need the coronavirus to get us pondering the question “Is college worth it?” But it certainly speeds up our need to find the alternatives. 

Coronavirus gives us the moment to put a stake in the ground and clarify for high school, community college students, or any younger or older adult who wants to upskill, what is the new ticket to their American Dream. Roughly 60% of Americans say they have lost hours or their jobs entirely, according to a new Strada tracking poll. And many say they would hope to reskill to a different career entirely. 

We feel particular urgency to design through this crisis with underserved populations, as COVID-19 is leaving a devastating wake of rippling impact for them. And going back to college, which has been a safe harbor in previous recessions, doesn’t feel safe because of rising costs, tenuous savings for middle and lower income learners, and frankly, the relevance and length of many degree offerings. 

At the Lab, we argue that micro-pathways will be an important bridge to the future in this new agile and uncertain age. What is a micro-pathway?  You’ve heard Udacity and edX (two learning platforms) recommend nano-degrees. You may have heard that the number of “micro” credentials on offer has doubled in the past year to more than 700,000. Certificates and non-degree programs are the fastest growing learning offerings at community colleges over the last year. These are all attempts to break down degrees into targeted units of learning. And units that name the skills employers are asking for in job postings. But even the community colleges offering them believe we all need a more user-friendly and explainable way to organize and stack these options for learners.

We define a micro-pathway as “two or more stackable credentials that can be packaged as a validated market signal connecting learners to employment in high growth careers.”


Download Micro-pathways Explained, a quick primer on micro-pathways by the Lab. 


It is most important as a kind of subway map to show consumers where they can go to hop on a reliable transport to marketable skills. It shows the stops along the way, the transfer stations, the fastest route, a destination, and other places they might go if they change their mind along the journey. For a high school student, it is critical to be able to test different skill-building journeys, but to understand how they might link together into a degree.  

As we speak, billions of dollars are being invested by companies hoping to win parts of the race shifting us all toward a skills-based economy. Artificial intelligence, precision data skills assessment, virtual reality training environments.  At the heart of this, the part providing navigation, relevance and motivation for the learner, will be that subway map of micro-pathways.

We see five key data points that a quality micro-pathway must address to help learners navigate the rising sea of opportunities as colleges, employers, content providers rush to fill the “if-not-degree-now-what” space.

1)  Verified regional data confirms salary increases If this is a “stack” of 2-3 credentials or certifications, each one must demonstrate a reasonable salary bump toward median wage income or higher.

2)  Can weave school and work together: As 70% of college learners are working at least half-time, it’s essential that micro-pathways can be completed in parallel to work, or even through the workplace (as we are designing with several partners). 

3)  Stackability: that those skills “stack” towards a degree and/or recognized industry certifications in a portable way (which means you can earn some skills with one provider and others with the next provider and not have to start over).

4)  Fast, with milestones: the credential can be earned quickly. Meaningful, salary- bumping milestones, toward a recognized pathway credential that can be earned in nine to 18 months.

5)  Includes 21st century skills: as the liberal arts degree loses influence, we must still bring credentials for critical thinking, collaboration, problem-solving into the shorter-term pathways. These skills improve hire-ability across all jobs and are the most critical for moving up a career ladder to management.

COVID-19 Criteria 

6)  Remote or online delivery. This one no longer needs an explanation, but paired with  #2 above, makes sense with or without a pandemic.


I was scheduled to moderate a panel at the postponed ASU-GSV conference last April called, “Who Will Solve the Skills Gap: Colleges, Employers or Tech Giants?” By the time we hold the panel next fall, COVID-19 will have pushed us closer to the answers. We know what learners need to navigate the future, and many players are trying to step up. With the stats out this week showing how coronavirus is taking a much greater toll on communities of color, both health-wise and economically, all our colleagues in the school to work and employment space seem energized to move faster.  

We already hated the outcomes data for community college and university success for low-income and historically under-represented populations. And now we have more reason to design the user-friendly subway map for more agile optionality. Perhaps on the other side of this crisis it will no longer be controversial to say “college for all” is an outdated model…IF micro-pathways can deliver proud economic futures AND be a bridge for those who want to take the subway all the way to a baccalaureate.

Share your thoughts, feedback, and/or ideas about micro-pathways with us!
tweet @EdDesignLab #micro-pathways #CCGEF

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The Lab celebrates 5th anniversary with The Learner Revolution event

The Learner Revolution panel discussion | Ken Eisner (Amazon Web Services), Ángel Cabrera (George Mason University), and Kathleen deLaski (Education Design Lab)

Last week, we released our anniversary paper The Learner Revolution: How Colleges Can Thrive in a New Skills and Competencies Marketplace. We’ve been energized by the response our reflections and insights have garnered, not only from publications like Inside Higher Ed  and Education Dive, but also from fellow travelers in the field.

We celebrated the Lab’s 5th anniversary and The Learner Revolution’s release with an intimate dinner and fireside chat featuring George Mason University President Ángel Cabrera and Amazon Web Services Senior Manager of Worldwide Education Programs Ken Eisner, moderated by our very own Kathleen deLaski. An interactive conversation followed, sparked by a trio of discussants who shared their reactions with us: Wendi Copeland, Goodwill Industries International Senior Vice President of Strategy and Advancement; Frank Britt, CEO of Penn Foster; and Rufus Glasper, President and CEO of the League for Innovation in the Community College and Lab board member.

The panel discussion followed a core theme of the of the Learner Revolution paper—partnerships. How do employers and institutions alike need to align, collaborate, and innovate in order to “thrive in a new skills and competencies marketplace?” How do we work towards a postsecondary landscape that is equitable, relevant, and accessible?

Key takeaways from the discussion:

“We should not be embarrassed in higher ed to backward map our curriculum to align with jobs.” –Ángel Cabrera

“Education needs to be more modular and fluid, the four-year terminal degree that’s supposed to last your entire 60-year career isn’t cutting it anymore.” –Ken Eisner

“The couple million people who come to [Goodwill’s] door, or 36 million people who come online — they’re looking for a better opportunity. How do we lower the friction and increase the access to opportunity, and help people believe, or maybe doubt their disbelief, that they can’t make it? To me, that’s part of what [The Learner Revolution] is talking about.” –Wendi Copeland

Stay tuned for more of The Learner Revolution panel discussion. We’ll be sharing video coverage in the coming weeks.

This moment in higher ed and the future of work is so critical to our shared goal of creating greater economic opportunity for today’s learners and communities. We look forward to continuing to engage with you as we grow our efforts at the Lab.

The Learner Revolution is here and we are so excited to be on the journey with you.


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Self-Directed Learning Experts Help Us Design a New Badge

Self-Directed Learning Symposium participants contribute their thoughts on the components of a new badge.

What’s in a name? For the past couple of years, there has been one microcredential in our suite of skills yet to be piloted.  No one denies its importance, but it has been the most difficult to capture conceptually and express as a teachable skill–self-efficacy.  Is self-efficacy a skill, though? We felt it was the best placeholder to help people understand the Lab believes there is an important interpersonal skill that has not been captured in our other 21st century skill digital badges.  

Up until last month, we couldn’t quite put our finger on it.  We knew it needed a better name and that there had to be a body of work to support our thinking.   Self-direction! Yes, maybe that’s it! Last month, the Lab was invited to speak about our work on 21st century skills to a diverse group of educators at the 32nd annual International Society for Self-Directed Learning Symposium, and it became much clearer. Malcolm Knowles, a leader in the field of self-directed learning describes “self-directed learning” as “a process in which individuals take the initiative, with or without the help of others, in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating their learning goals, identifying human and material resources for learning, choosing and implementing appropriate learning strategies, and evaluating learning outcomes.”

A decades-old body of research feels more relevant than ever as learners are able to (and in some cases expected to) continue to “skill up.” In a DIY learning ecosystem, self-direction is a needed skill, maybe even a “gateway skill” to the others.  With the assistance of a group of thought leaders, the Lab now has a clearer path to credentialing it!


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GMU’s Resilience Badge Takes Off

This month George Mason University issued the Resilience Badge to a third cohort. The Resilience Badge is one of eight 21st Century Skills digital badges that the Lab developed with a dozen university partners. A diverse group of 36 students traversing varying majors, academic years, and student populations, joined together for their final meetup signifying the end of their badge earning journey.

Over the course of three years GMU has scaled their Resilience Badge from four badge earners in Spring 2016 to 82 this Fall, demonstrating their commitment to the Resilience Badge as a truly valuable credential as opposed to something that’s ‘nice to have’. Some students participated in a five-week hybrid workshop to earn the badge, while others will receive the badge through integration with a well-being course offered by GMU.

Several students shared their experience earning the badge with us after the workshop remarking on how these skills they learned are highly valuable to all students, and shouldn’t be exclusively taught to those with foresight to sign-up for the badge. Others commented how they were already able to start using some of the mindful practices they learned to manage their work-life balance and work more effectively with others on their work teams.