news and events

In Response to COVID-19

the Lab team

Dear partners and innovators,

One of the few things we can feel certain about is that your inboxes and social media feeds are overwhelmed by COVID-19 statements from schools, businesses and service providers. What can we add? We are feeling a sense of hopefulness based on the outpouring of care and ingenuity we see around us.

Many of our partners were already on the front lines, innovating and leading their learning institutions toward a more equitable future. Now they are being asked to deliver the future today as millions of Americans are let go from their jobs, and we face an unprecedented sense of urgency to enable displaced workers to chart new pathways to skills — and opportunity. If you are struggling to suddenly homeschool your two or three children, that’s a huge task. Imagine also the task of responding to the needs of thousands (or in some cases, tens of thousands) of new learners, as are many of the colleges and other education institutions that we serve.

The pandemic has exposed fault lines created by one-size fits all learning modalities. It has brought home the troubling reality that millions of working and parent learners already faced, when it comes to working and learning without child care, reliable tech and broadband, or a home. It underscores the tenuous nature of the gig economy and reminds us that 70% of learners are paying for college by working at least half-time. Perhaps it will also remind us that the lion’s share of learning was already happening beyond the classroom– and make ever more clear the importance of credentialing skills and experience developed on-the-job and in life. We are all taking a class right now in resilience, collaboration, empathy and problem-solving. Funny that those are the skills employers value most. 

As troubling as they are, each of these realities presents design opportunities. One of our Lab designers sent this slide around on our newly created #RemoteOperations Slack Channel last week, reminding us to practice what we preach:


What could be? How might displaced workers from a hotel chain laying off 100,000 workers connect to a global grocery delivery company that needs to hire 100,000 workers?  How can we cross-walk the skills required for one’s job today to an entirely different field or industry? What adjacent skills are close enough to a new occupation to justify a bridge program in four to six weeks? Three months? Or generally.

We may get through this health crisis in a matter of months, but if we’ve learned anything about the volatile nature of a connected world economy, it is that a more agile workforce will protect our economic well-being. 

At the Lab, we were already working on micro-pathways to address the codification of high-demand skill sets, but coronavirus urges us to think much faster. We have started Project BrightSide as an internal team effort, recognizing that, without the travel and many of the external deadlines, we have time to focus on defining demand and building proof points for what skill validator tools might replace the college degree. We’re doubling down on solutions through the lens of “new majority learners,” for whom economic disruption is first to hit and last to reward.  So, we are working on visible, short term credentialing pathways to help learners see their own skills, to understand what it takes to shift to high demand opportunities, and to have help choosing and making those shifts. We are anxious to partner if this is on your mind, too. And we are intent on adding the 21st century skill credentials into these pathways, such as resilience, empathy, collaboration. They now seem more important than ever. 

If you have ideas or want to share awesome work-arounds you are seeing in response to this crisis, we are gathering “good design” anecdotes, so please share. If you need a solution, we are here to crowdsource through our Innovator Network.