news and events

BRIDGES Design Insights

Part 1: Understanding the Potential of Rural Community College Learners

The Lab’s new Design Insights publication series offers a glimpse into our human-centered design approach to make learning visible, portable, affordable, flexible, and relevant for New Majority Learners.

In this first brief, we share insights from initiatives led and supported by the Lab and introduce our BRIDGES Rural Design Challenge that makes the case for greater investment in rural community colleges. Funded by Ascendium Education Group, we launched this multi-year project in April 2020 to answer this question: How might we strengthen the capacity of rural community colleges to serve as critical economic growth engines for their learners and communities? 

With this design question in mind, this brief explores key barriers and opportunities in rural communities and offers early insights from the project that will be used to inform the development of new models for rural colleges. We explain how our approach, based in human-centered design, will build the capacity of rural community colleges to respond to their regional labor markets and enable greater economic agility for their learners and communities.

The brief offers five key insights that were collected by the BRIDGES team and gathered from interviews and surveys of more than 500 rural community members to help shape our understanding of rural places and their diverse communities:

  1. Rural communities demonstrate a deep commitment to place
  2. Experiences of belonging vary within rural communities
  3. Rural communities benefit from understanding their constituents
  4. Education may be seen as a value and a threat in rural communities
  5. Future efforts should be built from the strengths of rural communities – with rural community colleges at the center

From these design insights, we highlight opportunities noted by the colleges and their community members as they formulate models to prototype and pilot. Through our BRIDGES Rural work, we are deepening our understanding of rural places and people, using and building on their assets to develop innovations that address their unique goals and needs, and catalyzing economic opportunities to improve outcomes for rural learners and their communities.

Learn more and download the full brief here

Want to stay up to date with our BRIDGES Rural work? Follow us on Twitter @BridgesRural for frequent share-outs of our BRIDGES learnings and @eddesignlab for general Lab updates and opportunities to connect!

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Five Learner Insights about Designing Micro-Pathways

In April 2021, the Community College Growth Engine Fund (CCGEF), a national initiative to build 18+ employer-validated micro-pathways, hosted a series of learner feedback sessions across the country. Micro-pathways are defined as two or more stackable credentials that include a 21st century skill and lead to a median wage career in one year or less. In these sessions, the cohort of six community colleges and systems engaged directly with their learners to gather feedback on their micro-pathway prototypes, a critical element of human centered design used by the Lab. Learners helped to identify five key insights that include areas for improvement, potential barriers, and successes of the prototypes based on their experiences. Hearing directly from core stakeholders such as learners, employers, faculty, and others is a core component of designing micro-pathways as a new type of model that makes learning and skills visible, portable, flexible, relevant, and affordable.


Five Key Insights from Learners:

1. Learners need practical pathways with a clear return on investment (ROI)

“I think if people even knew about the job and knew how much it paid. I think that would encourage a lot of people. Because let’s be honest, I think money motivates people. It motivates me.”

“I wasn’t aware of the other opportunities my [credential] would lead to. I thought once I got my [credential], that was it. I would be interested in learning a lot more about that and I would bet that a lot of other drivers, after so many hours and so many miles, would be too.”

Learners appreciated the clear return on investment demonstrated in the micro-pathway prototypes. Understanding the total cost of pathways, in both time and money, as well as the value gained from the pathway was a key benefit of the micro-pathways. In order to understand that value, learners emphasized a need for high-level details from the outset of the program including skills, educational and career steps, and job opportunities. Having a roadmap of potential growth was highly valued by learners and often unavailable in traditional degree programs. Learners also appreciated the involvement of employer partners in the micro-pathway experience and wanted to be confident that employers would hire micro-pathway completers.

Learners also stated an appreciation for the focus on certifications as it provides a quick, feasible, and low barrier way to enter into the industry.

2. Learners need flexible micro-pathways that meet them where they are in their journey

“In the COVID world, more offerings being online, making it more flexible, where you don’t have to travel to the campus…I think that would make this even more attractive.”

“If I’m a practicing nurse, shouldn’t that hold weight? It has taken my journey, in particular, five years. If I had gone to [a 4-year university] I would have a bachelor’s degree in the time that I’ve spent at [CC] because it took me three years retaking things that I felt I didn’t need to retake because I’m a working full time nurse. I’m not only doing pediatrics, but I’m ex-Navy. I’ve got a lot of different experiences.”

Learners noted that they appreciated flexibility offered in these micro-pathways. This meant flexibility in format and timing of offerings, but also meeting the learner where they are in their journey. A working learner may need flexibility in their course hours because of their employment but may also need a pathway that can adequately account for and acknowledge their previous experience and skills. This requires designing micro-pathways that are offered in multiple delivery modalities that accomodate the life circumstances of learners.

3. Learners highly value hands-on and work-based experiences

“COVID screwed a lot of things up for the IT students because you really need hands-on experience. And I think what [CC] offers right now for the hands-on experience, it’s good, but, of course, COVID ruined everything. So I think if we get back on it [in-person], for hands-on experience, it’s really good.”

Learners viewed hands-on and work-based experience as highly valuable and necessary to gaining employment in their goal industry. In sessions for micro-pathways that did not include an explicit work-based experience opportunity (e.g. apprenticeship or internship) learners noted a need for including one. Learners also emphasized ensuring that work-based experiences with employers involved learners gaining real technical experience for their goal occupation.

4. Learners value opportunities to interact with industry professionals

“Having industry recruiters and department heads come and visit with the class and explain what their companies do and what kind of entry level positions they are looking to hire for was one of the best parts of the class. Having people that are actually ground floor explaining to you what it would really look like to get you in the door…would be crucially valuable.”

Learners viewed opportunities to interact with industry professionals as the most valuable parts of their courses and programs. These experiences provided them with opportunities to familiarize themselves with on-the-job expectations, skills, and more.

5. Learners need an advocate or supporter to help navigate their educational + career steps

“Our teacher was an engineer at one of the local companies here in town. He gave me some advice about things that should be on my resume so that I was able to find a job in the tech field.”

Learners noted a need for navigational support across the ecosystem and throughout their program, and upon completion and transition into the workforce.  Currently, many find that support in instructors or faculty but many noted an interest in deepened engagement and touchpoints with those  who work in their goal industry.


Next Steps for the CCGEF Cohort

Over the coming weeks, the CCGEF cohort institutions will continue to receive feedback for each of their selected micro-pathway occupations. Using the feedback identified during these sessions, institutional design teams made up of college administration and faculty will iterate  the design of their pathways and continue to build targeted learner supports. Learners will continue to be actively involved in the design process as co-designers to ensure that their needs are being met.

news and events

Announcing 12 Designers in Residence to Reimagine the Role of Higher Education

Dear partners and innovators,

Today, we are excited to announce the selection of 12 higher education leaders to join our Designers in Residence program. Spanning a diverse cross-section of communities, institutional positionality, and lived experience and expertise, the Designers in Residence will lean on their collective expertise and work as a design team to co-create a roadmap for colleges to serve as regional change agents leading efforts to close economic and racial opportunity gaps.

In 2021, 22% fewer students enrolled in higher education than prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, a number that increases to 30% for students from low-income high schools. Simultaneously, 42% of jobs lost during the pandemic may disappear forever, requiring postsecondary education to reimagine how learners are prepared to enter the workforce. 

Designers in Residence will tackle this reality by identifying the transformations necessary for higher education systems to build a more equitable future for the new majority learner—learners that higher ed was not designed for and often designed to keep out, including Black, indigenous, and Latinx learners, immigrant learners, first generation college students, and learners from low income backgrounds. 

The members of the Designers in Residence cohort include: 

  • Michael Baston, President, Rockland Community College
  • Bonita Brown, Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer, Northern Kentucky University
  • Ahmad Ezzeddine, Associate Vice President of Educational Outreach and International Programs, Wayne State University
  • Chanel L. Fort, Director of Academic Innovation and Learning Strategist, Fortified Learning Solutions, Stillman College
  • Rose Rojas, Interim Director of Workforce Strategy, Maricopa Community College
  • Adrian Haugabrook, Executive Vice President and Managing Director, Social Impact Collective, Southern New Hampshire University
  • Lisa Larson, President, Eastern Maine Community College
  • Cameron McCoy, Incoming Provost, Shenandoah University
  • Nicole McDonald, Assistant Vice President, University of Houston 
  • Jairo McMican, Dean of Student Learning/Director of Equity and Pathways, Central Carolina Community College
  • Ian Roark, Vice President of Workforce Development and Strategic Partnerships, Pima Community College
  • Stacy Townsley, Vice President of Adult Strategy and Statewide Partnerships, Ivy Tech Community College

The launch and development of this program builds off of the Lab’s extensive experience supporting and advising personnel at colleges and universities through ongoing initiatives such as the BRIDGES Rural initiative, the Community College Growth Engine Fund, and the UNCF Career Pathways Initiative. 

Meet the cohort and learn more.

Read the full press release from PR Newswire.

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How Interviews with 100s of Rural Learners are Shaping New Program Models for our BRIDGES Rural Cohort

Since our BRIDGES Rural initiative kicked off last spring, we’ve been asking: How might we strengthen the capacity of rural community colleges to serve as critical economic growth engines for their learners and communities? At the Lab, we always aim to tackle these big, messy, systems questions by starting with learners—learners who are attending our schools of focus, those in the workforce that are interested in or might benefit from re-engaging in college, learners who attended previously but were unable to complete, and potential learners in the greater community. Our work with five community colleges through BRIDGES Rural is no different. Since January, we’ve worked with our cohort to conduct comprehensive research with nearly 500 learners, institutional faculty, and other community stakeholders about their experiences.


What did we hear?

The communities involved in our cohort—spanning Idaho Falls, Idaho; Bangor, Maine; Canandaigua, New York; Marietta and Zanesville, Ohio—and the learners and stakeholders we heard from highlighted the rich diversity and strengths of rural places, underscored systemic and institutional barriers, and identified opportunities that exist to build on what works well. While unique themes exist at individual colleges, much of what we heard can be mapped across rural institutions. And, many of these shared themes in experience are true for learners beyond rural spaces.

#1 Many rural learners value connections to their homes and communities and want to feel this sense of rootedness more deeply at school

Strong relationships and consistent, accessible, transparent communication with faculty, staff, advisors, and other learners can support learners’ success.

#2 Learners need to feel embraced as their whole selves at their schools and in their communities.

Systemic inequities and dominant cultures have shaped vastly different experiences for learners based on race, gender, sexuality, age, and whether they are a caretaker or not. Historic underinvestment in diverse rural communities contribute to some learners experiencing a greater sense of belonging than others do.


#3 Learners want to build family-sustaining careers where they can grow, feel fulfilled, and contribute to their communities.

To make informed choices about their education and careers, people benefit from understanding the opportunities, earning potential, and possible paths associated with different careers in their communities so they can decide what their individual journey will look like and see the ROI of their education in terms of their goals. The fundamental structures of learning experiences need to be redesigned to align with learners’ hopes, goals, and life experiences and to reflect local career opportunities. Rural communities’ colleges can play a major role in preparing community members for in-demand jobs and in working with their broad-reaching networks to support economic growth and well-being.

#4 Learners benefit from opportunities to access learning and support in ways that meet them where they’re at and fit flexibly with their lives.

For rural learners, barriers related to childcare, transportation, distance, finances, basic needs, broadband internet access, belonging, and time can be interconnected in ways that make success in school feel out of reach, frustrating learners’ sense of growth and agency.


#5 Many learners need and want greater opportunities to combine work and learning, and rural community colleges have the potential to be “hubs” that connect community members with learning opportunities that address regional workforce gaps.

Partnerships are essential to this and should exist between multiple stakeholders in rural communities.


700 Ideas: What Happens When You Have a Holistic Understanding of Community Experience

Each of our five community college partners worked with the Lab to bring together comprehensive data about their learners’ experiences, their institutions, and their communities more broadly. We curated this research into virtual galleries that hundreds of people from across each school’s region explored. Based on what they learned through their gallery walks, the cohort collectively came up with almost 700 ideas to tackle their design question. These ideas range from focusing on holistic support, career development and employer engagement, advising, pathway design, diversity and inclusion, and more. Here are just a few examples:

  • Community-Powered Single Parent One Stop with multi-generational programming and resources, including transportation assistance, financial resources, and academic and career supports.
  • Provide industry-driven micro-pathways in partnership with employers large and small, delivered in a distributed way throughout the region for close proximity to learners and employers.  
  • Establishing a Chief Diversity Officer at the college to promote and celebrate diversity, equity, and inclusion across the campus and the broader community, informing learner support strategies, program and curriculum design, community outreach, and policy change across the institution.
  • Embed the college as a strong community presence with expanded student and community engagement outside the classroom through sports, volunteer opportunities, events, clubs, and more. 
  • Appalachian Arts College to re-enliven Appalachian culture and crafts, engage local artisans, and offer learners free tuition for working at the college.
  • Create “Roadmaps to Success” that will help learners to visualize the diverse number of ways to pursue career and personal goals from entry to completion.


Want to dig in deeper?

Feel free to peruse the BRIDGES virtual gallery walks within our community of practice, hosted by our partner Participate:

In March, we released “Walk in My Shoes”: An Actionable Learner Engagement Framework to Foster Growth, Belonging, and Agency. Many themes we heard from learners in our BRIDGES cohort echoed calls we’ve heard from our work with 100s of learners over the last seven years. This framework dives in a bit deeper to provide tangible suggestions that can better a learner’s sense of growth, agency, and belonging, and in turn, give learners the opportunities and resources they need to meet their goals.


How We Got it Done—Thank You to Our Partners!

Collaboration among the Lab, the BRIDGES Rural cohort, and key partners made these gallery walks and our research possible. Higher Ed Insight, our BRIDGES evaluation partner, compiled and visualized powerful quantitative data for our gallery walks. To complement this with qualitative data, Urban Rural Action helped the Lab team conduct interviews with learners and other community members, which you can learn more about in this Areas of Agreement podcast episode focusing on our collaboration. 


Up Next: Prototyping

Next up, the BRIDGES teams will prototype, test, and continue to iterate on their big ideas, moving steadily toward pilot launches in partnership with their communities. Want to stay up to date with our BRIDGES Rural work? Follow us on Twitter @BridgesRural for frequent shareouts of our BRIDGES learnings and @eddesignlab for general Lab updates and opportunities to connect!

Stay tuned for our series of insight briefs soon to be published about unlocking the potential of rural learners!  

news and events

Through the Voices of Learners: A Spotlight on Delgado Community College’s Single Moms Success Pilot

Faculty and staff at Delgado Community College participate in a gallery walk during a design session where they built prototype programs to increase single mother learner college completion.


In fall 2020, community colleges in the Lab’s Single Moms Success initiative (SMS) cohort began to launch elements of their pilot programs, all while grappling with the operational, emotional, and public health challenges posed by COVID-19. This week, we are excited to share a preview of Delgado Community College’s Single Moms Success pilot program: SMART – Single Moms Accessing Resources Timely. 

Throughout Single Moms Success, Delgado has demonstrated its strong commitment to offering single mothers in the New Orleans region greater educational opportunities to advance their careers and support their families. 

Forty-eight percent of children in New Orleans are raised by single moms, and 58% of single mother families in the city experience poverty. According to data from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), single mothers in Louisiana who graduate with an AA are 43% less likely to live in poverty and will earn $282,760 more in their lifetimes than those who have just high school diplomas, and those with a BA are 72% less likely and will earn $627,954 more throughout their lives than those with just high school diplomas. The relationship between education, career opportunities, and poverty for single mothers and their children has inspired Delgado’s Single Moms Success team to design a pilot program that will offer single moms the support and flexibility they need to persist in school and build fulfilling, family-sustaining careers. 

Delgado’s SMART (Single Mothers Accessing Resources Timely) pilot approach will enable 2,000 single mother learners to make progress simultaneously in their education, careers, and financial support of their families. Initial pilot element rollout began in fall 2020, and the full pilot will launch in fall 2021. 

Program Benefits 

  • Holistic Support 
    • Online + in-person case management 
    • Aunt Bertha for needs assessments and resource referrals
    • Scholarships + childcare vouchers specifically for single mother learners
    • Transportation assistance
  • Single Moms Community + Network
    • Single moms online community in the Delgado app
    • Proactive outreach + resource/support sharing from staff
  •  Learning + Workforce Support Tailored to Single Moms
    • Industry-aligned stackable credentials with opportunities for paid internships
    • Flexible asynchronous online courses
    • Orientation course specifically designed for single mother learners
    • Industry-specific career navigation

What We’re Learning through the Perspective of Delgado Learners

    1. Demonstrating to learners how you care personally about them can impact their engagement, student identity, and so much more.
      “The biggest thing was them knowing that they’re not alone. They have a safe place where they can share. They can come to me in my office hours. I want to promote their success in their education, their life goals.”

      – Shelly Planellas, the course instructor for Delgado’s orientation course design specifically for single moms 
    2. Holistic support and care for learners as whole people needs to happen both inside and outside the classroom.
      “This semester has been so emotionally tough on me. My first day of the Connect Success class, I probably looked like a mess because I had COVID. Then two weeks ago I lost my great-grandmother, who has been with me for my whole life, to COVID. This was the woman I would go to for everything. She babysat me, bathed me as a baby, cooked me sweet potato pie – I’m used to seeing her every day. I told Ms. Shelly I wanted to give up. I’ve never lost anyone. I’ve been part of five living generations together, and I’ve never known grief before. I was so nervous about my grades in handling the grief. This class is what kept me going. Ms. Shelly motivates me, the other students motivate me, we motivate each other.”

      Tarcelyn James, a single mom and nursing student at Delgado, on how Shelly has played a key role in her support system during an intense period of grief 
    3. Making sure faculty are informed about services and resources can support learners’ awareness and access of support.
      “The class turned out to be a class I really needed. There were some amazing people. Shelly was so great. She broke through all my layers. I even cried in the class. It was even just like therapy for me. I think I really needed that. Shelly didn’t let up. Most of my personal information I never tell anybody. Through the lessons and stuff she was teaching us, she gave us the strength we didn’t know we had. I’m a single mother. I have three boys… Different activities we did in the class brought back different parts of my life and made me rewind and process… Another thing with Ms. P – every resource, we knew about it. I’ve been at Delgado since 2017, 2018. I went to school at night, in the early morning. I never knew about any of the resources that Delgado had. Ms. P is everything. That class, I think I took the most seriously of any. I got so much out of that class… I would work from 4am to 1pm. I would take an early lunch at work and either go into the office or in the car so I wouldn’t miss that class.”

      – Tricilla Thomas, a single mother of three boys who is about to earn her Associate’s degree in business with a focus on small business entrepreneurship 
    4. Believe in single mother learners’ huge potential by supporting them to identify their goals, believe in themselves, and connect with resources and opportunities to reach those goals.
      “This class has been a mirror to my life because it made me reevaluate myself, challenge myself, better understand myself, feel more confident in myself… We did a mommy and me team project for Ms. Shelly’s class. Our team name was the ‘Never-Giver-Uppers,’ and our mascot was the eagle because baby, we soar high. We beat the odds.”- Tarcelyn James, a single mom and nursing student at Delgado,


For more information on Delgado’s pilot, and additional learnings and resources for how to engage learners in your community, read our recent release “Walk in My Shoes”: An Actionable Learner Engagement Framework to Foster Growth, Belonging, and Agency.

Additionally, stay tuned for more updates to come about the Single Moms Success cohort’s progress by following along with our work in the Innovator Network and on Twitter @eddesignlab and #SingleMomsSuccess. 

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New Release: An Actionable Learner Engagement Framework

Dear partners and innovators,

We are excited to announce the release of “Walk in My Shoes”: An Actionable Learner Engagement Framework to Foster Growth, Belonging, and Agency.

This actionable framework captures our vision, recommendations, tools, and insights for redesigning a learn-to-work journey that centers learners’ growth, agency, and belonging, featuring learnings from interviews with hundreds of learners for whom higher education was never designed.

Learner engagement and satisfaction of its underlying drivers have repeatedly been shown to predict persistence and retention, academic performance, completion rates, student satisfaction, and career outcomes. As a result, people’s engagement as learners can affect their economic mobility for the rest of their lives, impact key metrics for learning providers, and shape regional economic growth. 

Decades of research in psychology and behavioral science have shown that three key drivers—growth, belonging, and agency—have an outsized impact on learners’ engagement, success in reaching their goals, and well-being. Yet these are rarely discussed amid higher education’s ongoing crises. Leveraging core principles of Self-Determination Theory and the Lab’s seven years of work with learners and leaders in higher ed, our team has articulated a learner engagement framework, with accompanying insights and examples from our work to co-create new models with colleges and other learning providers.

Download the framework here.

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Education Design Lab Launches Designers in Residence Program to Strengthen the Role of Colleges and Universities as Regional Catalysts

WASHINGTON, D.C. (February,  2021) – Education Design Lab, a national nonprofit and leader in the design, implementation, and scaling of new learning models for higher education and the future of work, today announced the launch of a new national program that will lead a design team of leaders from colleges and universities in co-creating the future role of colleges in their communities. 

The 2021-2022 cohort will bring together a design team of 10 visionary thinkers and doers from post-secondary institutions who are the go-to people at their institution or system engaging in the development of regionally-focused partnerships that are driving college access, economic mobility, and workforce readiness. Beginning in May 2021, the Designers in Residence will work as a design team to co-create a vision that centers the needs of their learners within a new “school-to-work” economy, and provide the start of a roadmap for other institutions and innovators seeking to build and scale this ideal system. 

Each Designer in Residence will receive a $5,000 stipend to support their work on campus and a $5,000 grant award for their home institution upon completion of the program, for a total direct investment of $10,000. Designers in Residence will work alongside the Lab in shaping a national discourse, learn and train in the Lab’s learner- and employer-centered design process, iterate new strategies for their work, and lead the start of a life-long network of leaders across the country seeking to reshape higher ed and the learn-to-work journey.

“With degree participation rates severely impacted by COVID-19, particularly for students of color, colleges are seizing the moment to act as regional catalysts in creating opportunities for their learners,” said Kathleen deLaski, president and founder of Education Design Lab. “The leaders selected to participate in this Designers in Residence program will help to catalyze a community of practitioners who are honing effective practices within regional systems of higher education and workforce development—at a time when collaboration across sectors is sorely needed.”

Over the past seven years, the Lab has worked successfully with more than 100 colleges and universities, from HBCUs and religiously-affiliated institutions to public universities and community colleges. The Lab specializes in supporting colleges and universities co-design new models and approaches to respond to the changing needs of learners and employers.

The launch and development of this program builds off of the Lab’s extensive experience supporting and advising personnel at colleges and universities through ongoing initiatives such as the BRIDGES Rural initiative, the Community College Growth Engine Fund, and the UNCF Career Pathways Initiative. This program is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and views expressed by the program do not necessarily reflect positions or policies of the foundation.

Interested applicants can apply between now and March 21, 2021. To submit an application or nominate someone for this program, please visit


Read the press release on PR Newswire 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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vsbl Platform Creates Hope for Rapid Adoption of 21st Century Skills Micro-credentials

Describe something as visible, and it means it can be seen. 

Describe a person as visible, and it means they are recognizable. 

Visibility is generally a good thing. It engages our senses and provokes our thoughts. It enlightens us. It gives us something to work with. We appreciate visibility.

When we launched a beta pilot of our vsbl platform in early 2020, our goal was to make learners visible; seen and recognized for the skills they have. In the midst of a global pandemic, over twenty 2 and 4-year institutions and organizations signed on to offer the Lab’s 21st Century Skills Micro-credentials (our first product on the vsbl platform). Learners who successfully completed the rigorous learning experience would earn a digital badge, a micro-credential that demonstrates competency and an intentional effort to acquire the most in-demand employability skills. In what will be a historically tight job market for years to come, our pilot partners, located in the US and abroad, recognize it is mission critical to provide learners with the opportunity to acquire 21st century skills and to offer a portable, digital credential that verifies their skills and makes them visible to the world.  Skills rather than degrees are the currency of choice for employers, and 21st century skills, in particular, are in even greater demand as companies seek to build a nimbler, resilient, interculturally fluent workforce. 

We are increasingly concerned that if we do not democratize 21st century skill acquisition and make it feasible and affordable for all institutions and organizations to do this with more intention, then learners of all kinds, but especially those who have been historically excluded from opportunities, will be passed over for by employers. 

Join the movement to make learning and 21st century skills visible. 1200 colleges have signed up for our 21st Century Skills Toolkit over the past three years and now we are ready to scale delivery of these Micro-credentials. 

How vsbl works

The vsbl platform was designed with our partners in mind. You need flexibility to offer the experience in multiple ways. You need dependability so the technology is not cumbersome. You need answers to your questions, help with your ideas, and support along the way. 

During the pilot, we focused on all of these areas. We successfully tested our ability to connect the vsbl platform to existing Learning Management Systems (LMS) through Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI), which enables the content to flow seamlessly into systems like Canvas, D2L, Moodle, and Blackboard.  In some cases, our partners did not have an LMS, so we hosted their learners directly on the vsbl platform–a feature often needed for employers, high schools, and community-based organizations or institutions seeking to engage non-matriculated learners, like incumbent workers. We were even able to test our mobile application which we knew would be vital for learners who are using their mobile devices as the primary way to connect to the Internet.  For those with connectivity issues, the content was made available to be downloaded and accessed offline.

Three of the Lab’s Eight 21st Century Skills Micro-credentials


Once connected, pilot partners were able to access learning modules from one or more of our eight Micro-credentials and enroll their facilitators in a brief interactive online course to familiarize them with the modules and accompanying technology. Facilitators earned badges upon successful completion of the training.  

The most common integration of the content was directly into an existing course. Like nutritional supplements, faculty would layer in the 21st century skills, turbo-charging their course and providing their learners with a recognizable credential and a more complete learning experience. 

We recognize that every organization is unique. vsbl offers the flexibility to integrate the modules in whatever way you see fit.

  • In some cases during the pilot, the modules were offered as a co-curricular standalone learning experience and in one case as a substitute for internships lost to COVID.
  • One of our international partners used the Critical Thinking course as an “education-to-employment initiative” to create employable engineers.

  • Pilots were conducted across multiple academic departments including engineering, nursing, and accounting, as part of other liberal arts courses and through Career Services. 
  • The skills offered (in order of interest) were Critical Thinking, Resilience, Intercultural Fluency, Empathy, Oral Communication and Initiative. 

Overall, nearly 400 learners participated in the pilot and close to 200 badges were awarded, demonstrating that being present is not enough to earn the badge. Learners needed to successfully complete the four end of module assessments, called Proving Grounds, which challenge learners to prove they know how to activate the skill when called upon. 

See additional use cases of the Lab’s Micro-credentials.


The vsbl learning experience

Grounded in learning theory, the interactive online modules challenge learners to apply what they are learning to the real world, to reflect on and question their experiences, old and new, and to assess their skills through a series of performance based simulations and activities. This format makes it stickier for learners and helps them understand and articulate their skills on a much deeper level. 


Learners in South Africa access the Critical Thinking course within vsbl.


Start making your learners vsbl today!

We are at a critical and exciting juncture in the history of learning. Education will either shy away from the moment and continue to uphold the status quo or respond to the moral imperative to course correct and help learners level the playing field to demonstrate what they know and become discoverable to employers.

Micro-credentials are gaining steam as a way to provide shorter-term learning that is more responsive to what the workforce needs. The technology and structure of digital badges enables learners to be more machine-readable by applicant tracking systems and discoverable by employers, through skill tags, which can be a gamechanger for learners who do not have a network to give them a leg up in the hiring process. For six years, we have been leading the charge on designing rigorous micro-credentials with employers and educators. We have poured our knowledge and expertise into our 21st Century Skills Micro-credentials, testing and iterating and are now proud to be able to offer vsbl, a best-in-class solution to the skills gap. 

 Key features of vsbl:

  1. Comprehensive online modules grounded in our nationally-recognized and globally utilized 21st century skills competency framework 
  2. Ability to connect to a learning management system for an integrated learner experience
  3. Access to employer-validated, performance-based assessments and rubrics that provide the learner with a self-assessment balanced against the perspectives of “others” such as peers, supervisors, and mentors
  4. 21st Century Skills Facilitator training for consistency of delivery
  5. Mobile compatibility to meet learners where they are

The buzz about vsbl is building and the Lab’s team is standing at the ready to help you launch your 21st Century Skills Micro-credentialing initiative. As a thank you to our Innovator Network, whose support helped the Lab arrive at this exciting moment, anyone who signs up by April 30 will receive an additional 50 badges at no cost.

Contact us to take advantage of this limited opportunity or to learn more (


Get started with vsbl today!

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