A new chapter for the Lab: Bill Hughes is now President + CEO See Announcement
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Video: BRIDGES Rural Summer Convening at Finger Lakes Community College

Our BRIDGES Rural team has had a busy 2022, visiting our partner community colleges across the country.

That tour culminated in a final Summer Convening on July 19-20, when members of our college design teams gathered in Geneva, New York, to talk about their pilot projects and next steps forward (including the Rural Education Community of Practice, which is open to all).

We are so grateful to all of our college partners; our funder, Ascendium; and especially our friends at Finger Lakes Community College (FLCC), who hosted the Convening.

While we were in the Finger Lakes region, we shopped at Wegmans (best grocery store ever?)  … and sipped rosé and riesling made by student winemakers at FLCC’s Viticulture and Wine Center.

We also captured a few highlights from our scenic visit … which featured a boat ride on Seneca Lake!

Watch the video:


To learn more about our multi-year BRIDGES Rural project, start with our project page.

Details about the college pilot projects are explained in BRIDGES Rural Design Insights Part 2: Designing + Piloting a New Approach to Economic Agility in Rural Communities.

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Passing the baton: Reflections from Lab Founder Kathleen deLaski

Kathleen deLaski (in the front row) and team co-designing with learners at George Mason University in January 2014, during the Lab’s first design challenge.
Kathleen deLaski began prototyping the Education Design Lab in 2012 with a passionate group of innovators inside and outside of higher education. They incorporated as a national nonprofit in 2013 and haven’t looked back … until now. When Kathleen decided in early 2021 that she wanted to encourage a new generation of executive leadership, the Lab’s Board began a national search and chose Bill Hughes to succeed Kathleen. He began as President last fall, and takes over as CEO on Aug. 1, 2022. Kathleen will remain involved as Board Chair and as a senior advisor.

How do you mark the end of something? Like other baton-passing founders, I am surprised by my own strong instincts to eulogize about my decade developing and growing the Education Design Lab. I’m not sure why, partly because it feels like the capstone of a 40-year career and I need to make sense of it in that context. But partly because, under our next talented leader, Bill Hughes, the Lab will evolve, as organizations do and should, as this emerging field of equitable skills-based learning and hiring comes into its own. In Google Maps terms, I suppose I am dropping a pin in the journey to mark a midpoint destination, not knowing the next destination for me or the Lab.

And that is the odd thing about birthing a nonprofit, rather than a book, a painting, a family foundation or even a privately held company. My ending is a handoff, a book with many more chapters to be written. And so, call me a political creature … a third-generation Washingtonian who cut my teeth in journalism at ABC News, politics as a political appointee at the Department of Defense, navigating early tech-bro culture at AOL, brand management at Sallie Mae. I was taught: At least try to control the narrative of your own journey.

So, to honor all those who inspired and grew the Lab, here are a few “chapter outlines” to chronicle my take on the Lab’s beginning, the start of an experiment that became a series of pilots that became a movement…. A community of committed social entrepreneurs where I had my favorite job ever and met many of my best friends.

Chapter 1: Premise building: The broken pipeline

In the beginning … in 2012 … we gathered a group of like-minded people who were passionate about higher education and what the stats were painfully showing: a new majority of learners were being left behind. It was the year of the MOOCs, “disruption” was in the air and in the pocketbooks of the venture capitalist scouts. I was a governor-appointed board member for George Mason University in Virginia, Chairman of the Academic Affairs Committee. And even though our tagline was “Where Innovation is Tradition,” we struggled to move a huge public institution to new ways of addressing equity and new models of education. And, weirdly, it felt like a race against time. How do we disrupt ourselves before the private market changes the education game forever?

Our premise started picking up steam: If we believed education was the best lever for economic mobility, and we knew that 60% of Americans do not attain a degree and our shortage of skilled workers gets worse every year, how might public institutions change to serve these needs? This single graphic compelled a lot of people to stand with us in the beginning and ask “How Might We…”

From the Lab’s first website home page, 2013.

The Lab was incubated at George Mason University the first year, thanks to the senior team there and President Angel Cabrera feeling strongly about exploring what an “inclusive” public university might accomplish. We road-tested our concept for a “design challenge,” meant to bring all parts of a college together to reimagine a problem or barrier through the eyes of what we later termed “new majority learners.” The first challenge, “How might we capture learning outside the classroom in ways that will be meaningful to employers?,” was seen as exploration of how to level the hiring playing field for learners who had to work outside of school (and thus couldn’t land unpaid career-related internships) or whose best resume skills came from lived experience. That challenge led to our internationally recognized framework for 21st century skill assessment, our eight-year badging campaign, and now, “XCredit.”

Chapter 2: Finding our people

It turns out people are the key. Which makes sense, since the Lab was founded on the principles of human-centered design, and the mission has always been how to unleash human potential by reimagining education and training equitably.

In our world, it takes two kinds of people to make the magic: Intra-preneurs at institutions and education designers to support and facilitate empathy, experimentation, and transformation.

We have learned through our Innovator Network that the Lab is most beloved for being a “strategic friend” to those innovators at colleges who want to be pushing their teams and leadership toward transformation, but they sometimes feel lonely and in need of a toolkit, a methodology, or an intervention. I love how my LinkedIn network has become a sort of “Dear Abby” for public college warriors trying to do what they can inside a bureaucracy. I think of Luke Dowden, who approached me at a conference five years ago, and is today leading the country in micro-credentialing strategy with and for the San Antonio community college system. Or, an assistant director of Employer Relations at a public college in Louisiana, just starting his journey, who writes, “How do I up the game with employers?” And now employers are writing to us as well, wanting to design from the other end of the hiring pipeline.

The other group that makes me beam proudly: Our own designers and the small part we have played in defining a new cross-competency job role for social impact organizations. What is an education designer? We have shaped the role to include four key competency categories: (1) Human-centered design facilitation, (2) storytelling/marketing, (3) product/project management, and (4) innovation strategy. It also helps if our designers have spent time in more than one sector, e.g., higher ed, business, nonprofit, government.

What is the work? 1. Helping stakeholders build a shared understanding of the needs and motivations of New Majority Learners and other “customers,” particularly employers. 2. Facilitating a testable, viable roadmap for change. The first goal requires skills in empathy, facilitation, and creativity to draw out decisive insights and motivational storytelling. The second goal takes strategy, innovation, partnership development, implementation, and prototyping skills to move new prototypes and pilots forward in large and resource-constrained institutions. And we know we are getting it right, because our partners and the field are often hiring away our talent.

My heart brims with pride (and battle scars) losing our beloved team members to far larger organizations. But they go on to really cool roles like Chief Innovation Officer at the U.S. Department of Labor, Chief of Staff at the federal Employment and Training Administration, Head of Design at Calbright College, President of Centri Tech Foundation, Vice President of Economic Mobility and Workforce Innovation at Rockland Community College. And that’s just naming a few. It reminds me of a talk I heard before the Great Resignation, where the dynamic speaker was telling all us CEOs that our best employee value proposition should be: “We’ll help you get your next job.” Easier said than done, enduring the churn. But in our case, I think it’s because we’ve helped create a new job role: social impact designer, and many, many organizations see ours in action and want that mix of skill sets.

Chapter 3: Proof of concept

When we started the Lab, there were few models for social impact design processes. IDEO and a few consulting firms and researchers, like the fabulous Jeanne Liedtka, gave us some direction. But with immeasurable early help from design thinker Dawan Stanford, we attempted to build what we believe to be the first “vertical” in social impact design, a whole organization devoted to “designing education toward the future of work.” Our sturdy tagline has served us well. Our 2014 prediction of “The Learner Revolution” has played out in several ways. We no longer have to pitch the unbundling of higher education for the benefit of inclusivity. It’s happening all around us. And we seldom have to pitch the value of human-centered design as a valuable tool to rethink what learners want and need.

A human-centered design process encourages you to form a question, build an understanding of the user, test through prototypes, pilot, and launch. Our partners, mostly at colleges, have co-designed 100 pilots, 24 have gone to scale, and 22,000 learners have so far felt the direct impact of a new model or process aimed at breaking down the barriers for everyone to have a shot at meeting their own career and life goals. Some of our scaling initiatives include: The Community College Growth Engine Fund, which forms communities of practice around rethinking the degree as a series of “micro-pathways” to allow learners ultimate flexibility to come in and out of the workforce with meaningful credentials. Our BRIDGES design challenge has helped rural areas remap their many assets with the community college as a driver. (Here’s a list of the Lab’s top 25 design challenges.)

And the Lab’s barrier-busting innovation agenda for the future is exciting as we have drawn in dozens of regions, cities, states, and employer-led groups to approach these new models across systems and other stakeholders.

So, this is where my staff-level story ends. A few more chapters of the Lab’s journey could be foreshadowed, and I point to the paper we released this spring: Skills Visibility: Why and How a Skills-Based Economy Can be More Equitable. But it is not for me to predict. My new role as Board Chair of the Lab will be an excellent perch from which to support Bill Hughes and share the amazing ride with our diversely talented and generous team. I have not determined what my next pursuits will be beyond the Lab. I am convinced that our increasingly complex world needs more social impact designers. I want to help nurture them to “fight back” across today’s soul-crushing set of global issues. I believe that having the ability to break down big, hairy, audacious problems into smaller human-centered design questions, and tackling those, actually provides the thing that doomsday scrolling is sapping us of. And that’s hope.

Influencers along the way

The Lab’s vision was helped by a broad array of thinkers beyond the Lab (to name a few): by Tom Friedman and his 2011 book, “That Used to Be Us,” about America sinking under the weight of its increasingly complex problems; by Jim Shelton at his desk at the Department of Education saying that we need a DARPA for education; Steve Case (my former boss) and his book about how the “Third Wave” of the digital revolution would require entrepreneurs to prioritize people, partnerships and policy; Antoinette Carroll and the Creative Reaction Lab’s equity design work that centers on shifting our institutional power to others; Ibram Kendi’s “How to Be an Antiracist”: “The only way to undo racism is to consistently identify and describe it — and then dismantle it.” Michael Peter Edson, at the United Nations at the time, telling us to persevere: “We need new organizations, nimble and responsive, that can initiate and manage the problem-solving in between and among aging bureaucracies.” And Michael Crow, Paul LeBlanc, Sue Ellspermann, and Michael Sorrell at Arizona State, Southern New Hampshire universities, Ivy Tech Community College, and Paul Quinn College showing us how a college can reinvent itself at scale.

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A new chapter for the Lab: Bill Hughes is now President + CEO

Letter from outgoing CEO Kathleen deLaski

I am so pleased to mark today, August 1, 2022, by handing the management reins officially to Bill Hughes, new CEO of the Education Design Lab.

Bill has already enriched our lives since joining as President last October. He brings wide and deep experience in ed tech, digital transformation, organizational change management, and even micro-credentialing, which as a new field and a signature strategy for the Lab, is very lucky for us. And most importantly, he has a huge passion for rewiring the broken pipeline between school and work that has left 60 percent of American adults without the “golden ticket” … a college degree.

The timing is very good for this transition, as the Lab is at a crossroads. As I describe in my reflection essay, which charts the Lab’s first decade, we have ridden the reinvention-of-college wave from problem statement to ideation to prototyping to piloting and now, many, many groups have formed a movement in support of skills-based learning and hiring.

As the field matures, the Lab is growing and finding increased demand for our exploration design work as we learn with our partners that unbundling college is not enough. New paradigms are emerging that reshape the relationship between school and work, between instructor, coach, learner and technology, between learning institutions, employers, and public agencies. I am excited to still have a seat at the table as Board Chair and senior advisor, because I don’t want to miss the next chapters supporting Bill and our uniquely thoughtful and fabulous team, and our amazing partners and funders.

Letter from incoming CEO Bill Hughes

I am honored Kathleen has entrusted me to lead the Lab through this transition from groundbreaking start-up to an organization that fully realizes its potential for impact and transformation at the intersection of learning and work. I look forward to expanding and applying the Lab’s discoveries and learnings in an evolving skills-based ecosystem that is more important than ever before.

We must reimagine the pathways to opportunity in America, because neither citizens nor employers benefit from the status quo. There are too many talented yet underemployed or unemployed people, and too many unfilled jobs in growing industries. There are not enough affordable career pathways, and where they exist there are too many barriers to make them accessible for a large number of citizens.

As the Lab moves forward and expands our impact, we will continue to be the skilled and trusted innovation partner the sector has come to rely on. I look forward to helping write the next chapters.

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How to market micro-pathways: 5 insights to help community colleges reach adult learners

The six colleges and systems in the first cohort of the Lab’s Community College Growth Engine Fund— CCGEF or the Fund, for short — are in pilots for their 30+ micro-pathways with adult learners as their key target audience.

Micro-pathways are two or more stackable credentials (including at least one 21st century skill) which are validated by employers and lead unemployed, displaced, and low-wage workers to median-wage occupations and on a path to a degree.

Marketing this new class of credentials has not been business as usual for the colleges’ marketing and communications departments.

“Our colleges and systems are utilizing a variety of marketing strategies. With micro-pathways being so new, we may not see the promise of some of these right away,” said Dr. Lisa Larson, head of the Community College Growth Engine Fund. “As a human-centered design organization, we realized that one of the best ways to determine optimal marketing strategies is to ask learners.”

To do that, the Lab hosted three, 45-minute virtual marketing feedback sessions open to learners who were completing coursework in their micro-pathways. There was geographic, occupational, gender, and racial diversity across learners engaged in the sessions.

Below are five marketing insights gleaned from learners in our feedback sessions.

1. Adult learners respond to a variety of marketing strategies.

“I found out about my micro-pathway on Facebook. It was a simple post and very straightforward application that was linked to the post. It was quick and easy.”

“The first time I saw the poster about the micro-pathway, what grabbed my attention as a mom is that I can participate after I pick up my kids and everything. That program is going to be after that. And being virtual is important, too.”

The learners we spoke to found out about their micro-pathways in a variety of ways. Some learners discovered their micro-pathways through digital means, such as keyword searches, Facebook, the college website, or through email outreach from the colleges. Others mentioned physical assets, such as seeing flyers and/or posters nearby or on campus. Some found out through word-of-mouth from their employers or other professional contacts. From what we heard from learners, it is important to cast the net wide when marketing micro-pathways to appeal to different preferences.

2. Showcase learner testimonials and success stories on your micro-pathways website.

“Add success stories, links from YouTube, where people tell about how their program went, what you can expect, the pros and cons, and what types of employers they received feedback from.”

Learners stated that testimonials and/or videos from micro-pathway completers should be included on micro-pathway websites. They shared that it is important to them to hear stories from others that completed these programs to understand how the programs impacted them and the jobs they were able to secure as a result of completing the micro-pathway. This is something to consider as colleges begin to have micro-pathway completers.

3. Partner with employers to promote upskilling to their employees.

“Have a (college) representative come in while we are at work. That is the top way to reach adult working learners.”

With micro-pathways designed to help individuals in low-wage occupations move into median wage or higher positions, upskillers are a key target audience. Upskilling may be with a learner’s current employer. One example is Seattle Colleges’ Health IT micro-pathway, designed with employer partner Seattle Children’s Hospital. The hospital included information in their company newsletter including their offer of paid scholarships. On the other hand, we spoke to other learners who shared that marketing by their employers did not exist and that it has a lot of untapped potential. The learners had great ideas for colleges to help local employers get the word out to their employees, such as creating posters that can be posted in hallways and/or break rooms, providing brochures or flyers to distribute, and having a college representative come talk about the micro-pathway(s) with employees during work hours.

4. Most important messages for adult learners: Affordability, flexibility, and an accelerated timeline (a year or less).

“The timeline – you can finish in a year and get your dream job – some people might think about going back to school even if it’s been a long time. You’re just meeting once a week, I can do that. Micro-pathways kind of say that, but they might now know what a micro-pathway is.”

From the learners, we heard messaging about the very nature of micro-pathways and the design criteria are paramount.

Design criteria are the principles or aspirations that the pathways should meet. They should serve as parameters or guardrails for our designed solution in order to meet the needs of the learners and other stakeholders. The micro-pathway design criteria focused on those three areas include:

  • Can be completed in one year or less
  • Offered in a flexible delivery format
  • Affordable cost
5. Advisors are the critical link between the website and enrollment.

“The website is fluid and has all the information I was looking for. I was able to contact people from the website.”

We heard from learners that they appreciated the ability to reach someone at the college directly through the colleges’ micro-pathways website and have their questions answered. Advisors from the college also played an important role in learner decisions to enroll and start classes. It was clear from the learners who met with advisors that these individuals had a major impact on their decision to take classes and work toward earning the credentials in the micro-pathway. The advisors carefully listened to the learners and helped them select pathways that were in demand locally and aligned to the learners’ interests.

The Lab and our partner colleges are still learning how to best market micro-pathways. As with anything new and innovative, it’s going to take some trial and error. However, we are grateful for the insights provided by our micro-pathway learners and believe this will help to shorten the learning curve.


This article by Valerie Taylor is part of the Lab’s work helping community colleges innovate and transform through the micro-pathways design process. Learn more about the Community College Growth Engine Fund here, subscribe to our email newsletter for updates, and follow along on Twitter: #Micropathways.

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How we move forward after the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade

Like most of America, the Lab has been grappling with the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

It affects us — not only as a national nonprofit with employees working remotely across the country — but it also affects the learners we serve.

Let’s be clear what the issue is.

First, we need to be clear as to what Roe accomplished and what overturning it has done.

Whatever your views on reproductive choices, Roe had enabled those choices to be made by individuals and their families. Overturning Roe has now put state governments in charge of these decisions. Some state governments empower the individual with choice, while others restrict and legislate them.

As we see in our work, systems that are not designed to empower the individual have an inequitable impact. Those who have economic and social power can craft their own experiences; those without adequate resources are left at the mercy of systems that work against their interests — such as going to school to get a better job and support their family.

So, how do we move forward?

We remind ourselves of our core values:

We are learner-driven.

The heart of the Lab’s work is to design for and with new majority learners. And so we must center these learners as we move forward in an America that no longer guarantees reproductive rights. Access to safe reproductive healthcare and services and options has a direct impact on economic opportunity and mobility — and a lack of access most acutely impacts low-income women and women of color.

Just like our design process, we must start from a place of empathy and understanding. We ask about needs and goals, trying to design communities that promote growth, agency, and belonging for all people, especially those who have been underinvested in and face barriers to opportunity.

Here are just three voices of the hundreds of learners we’ve interviewed during our Single Moms Success Design Challenge:

+ “I have so many other situations to deal with that are way bigger than school. But in order for me to get where I want to go, this has to be my starting point.”

+ “It’s hard to figure out how to not always feel alone or just to deal with things when it gets difficult because I don’t have any help. It’s just my child and me. Sometimes I think, ‘Am I crazy? Is it me? Why is this whole thing not working? Why?’ “

+ “Right now just about everything could break me down.”

What does empathy look like for your institution and your community? How might we center learners who are too often invisible?

We believe education is the most important lever for economic mobility … and economic mobility can break the cycle of poverty.

New majority learners — many of whom are of reproductive age — are trying to better their lives and the lives of their families. Their reproductive choices significantly impact their options. Intentionally or not, the Supreme Court’s decision and state laws limiting their rights will set this group back. Our tangled systems will be even more challenging for these learners to navigate.

The reversal of Roe v. Wade could also deepen the existing health inequities for indigenous and rural communities – where access to safe reproductive options is already a challenge, and where pregnant people struggle to find perinatal care close to their homes.

This court decision blocks economic mobility – not only for people who are or could become pregnant, but for the families and communities who depend on them.

We are biased toward action.

The Lab will continue to navigate the unfolding impacts of this decision in the way we approach all challenges: Through collaboration, partnership, and community.

As an employer, we are seeking out thoughtful responses to support our employees and our stakeholders. One example is JFF’s call to action, Employers: Act Now to Preserve Abortion Access—It’s an Economic Issue and a Business Issue, and their Impact Employer Model for guidance on how to meet the needs of employees in these uncertain times.

We will continue to support our institutional partners. Most of them are community colleges, which already struggle to serve learners facing the highest systemic and environmental barriers to education and work. Their efforts just got more difficult.

The Lab is proud to use human-centered design to better understand America’s workforce problems — and to design solutions that promote prosperity and economic mobility, especially those for whom current systems were not well designed. This Supreme Court ruling may fracture our United States, but we won’t let it stop us.

We’re all in this together.

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How Alamo Colleges are scaling digital skills badges in Texas

UpSkill SA! — a partnership between Alamo Colleges, Goodwill San Antonio and the Education Design Lab — led to the Alamo Colleges District creating more opportunities for students to earn marketable skills badges. The district issued 851 badges in Fall 2021 to students who demonstrated  21st century skills mastery inside their traditional academic courses. 


“By 2030, at least 60 percent of Texans ages 25-34 will have a certificate or degree” – that was the overarching goal of the 2015 Texas Higher Education Strategic Plan known as 60x30TX.

The state’s 2022 plan, Building a Talent Strong Texas, aspires to the same goal, but includes more adult learners: “at least 60 percent of Texans ages 25-64 will have a postsecondary credential of value by 2030.”

Luke Dowden, Chief Online Learning Officer/Associate Vice Chancellor for the Alamo Colleges District and its AlamoOnline division, comprised of five community colleges in the San Antonio region, has been on a mission to meet that 60×30 goal sooner rather than later. That path opened up in early 2019 when Dowden and two of his District colleagues, Instructional Designer Amber O’Casey and Online Learning Coordinator Eryn Berger, joined forces with the Education Design Lab (the Lab) and Goodwill San Antonio to launch UpSkill SA! in partnership with Palo Alto College. Their work is focused on the creation of meaningful additions to the district’s catalog of noncredit digital badges and for-credit, stackable, certificate programs that now typically include courses embedded with badges. 

UpSkill SA! offers Goodwill frontline employees (called team members) tuition-paid enrollment in a series of three non-credit online badges in resilience, collaboration, and creative problem solving — called “SkillsBooster” — and a 21-credit Level 1 Certificate in Logistics Management that incorporates the creative problem-solving badge into the first course of the certificate program. As noted on the UpSkill SA! project website, the idea was to “quickly upskill incumbent retail workers to prepare them for careers in Advanced Manufacturing and other growth sectors that can enable their social mobility.”

Dowden explained the entire UpSkill SA! effort was well thought-out with a highly supportive Goodwill staff comprised of professional counselors, a career navigator, and an enrollment coach that worked in concert with Palo Alto College enrollment professionals. “An advising team of faculty and program coordinators were ready to work,” Dowden added. “Goodwill would do the internal marketing and vetting, and then their career navigator would begin working with our enrollment coaches to get them [team members] through the admissions process so they would not get hung up there.”  

See related story: COVID didn’t stop these working moms from earning stackable credentials through Goodwill San Antonio and Alamo Colleges


Alamo Colleges Boost Badges + Certificates

Their efforts thus far have been hugely successful, despite being severely waylaid by the pandemic. For instance, a Goodwill San Antonio Digital Literacy program, which helps potential enrollees garner the foundational digital skills needed for studying online, was developed and implemented through lessons learned during the piloting and launching of UpSkill SA! in 2019. More significantly, UpSkill SA’s development of its SkillsBooster and the Level 1 Certificate programs became the spring board that helped to enable the entire Alamo Colleges District to boost the integration of more marketable skills badges into academic courses. 

“The certificate program, which was really our first attempt at embedding marketable skills badges into academic coursework, has exponentially expanded our work,” Berger said. “Now we have an initiative called Course + Badge [launched in the summer of 2020], where we train our faculty on how to embed digital skills badges into our academic courses, and they are the Education Design Lab badges.”  

Through Course + Badge, faculty undergo a semester-long training that teaches them how to map competencies and embed marketable skills badges into their academic courses, and about 100 faculty have completed the training to date. After successfully completing the training, they become credentialed badge specialists who can offer marketable skills badges in all their courses. 

Encouraging numbers

All this work has led to some impressive results. For example, in late 2019 and early 2020, 54 Goodwill employees earned a total of 72 badges through UpSkill SA’s SkillsBooster digital badges program offered at Palo Alto College. Since then, 1,258 skills badges have been earned by students through the scaling up of digital badge offerings throughout the entire Alamo Colleges District, with 851 digital badges earned during the Fall 2021 semester alone. “We’re getting really positive feedback,” Berger said. “It’s helping us to socialize badges around the district.”

Student testimonials

“We reorganized our team with people dedicated just to the development and support of micro-credentials at the Alamo Colleges,” added Dowden. Working with Goodwill San Antonio through UpSkill SA! “really influenced what we are doing, and we are excited about it. We think you need to be able to have something as evidence that you have skills, and our students are confirming that.”

“I took this course while applying for new jobs,” said a working adult learner who earned a resilience badge during the summer 2021.  “Believe it or not, the exercises forced me to really think about my previous experiences. I had an interview a few days ago and I was so relaxed and confident because of the exercises. The interviewer loved me, and I start my new position on Monday.”

Another learner who completed the Goodwill SkillsBooster program said “the experience brought to light strengths and knowledge that I did not know I possessed. During the exercises I often found myself sharing the reference articles and questions with others. Writing out the responses helped me reflect on how I handle situations. Multiple times I was able to apply what I learned directly to things actively occurring in the workplace.”  

“I was able to go to work every day and help my team members on how they can meet their goals,” said another Goodwill employee who completed the SkillsBooster program. “It felt great.” 


Want to learn more?

Here’s how to contact the Lab.

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Rural Matters podcast: The incredible work of Education Design Lab + partners

Rural Matters podcast cover

A podcast interview with the BRIDGES Rural project team, including Leslie Daugherty, Kathy Temple-Miller, Dana Cotton, and Joe Davis. Interview by Michelle Rathman. Published April 10, 2022.

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My first year at the Lab

Maureen Isimbi (from left), Miriam Swords Kalk, Leslie Daugherty, and Emily Caplinger in Bangor, Maine.
By Maureen Isimbi

April 19, 2022, will mark my first year at the Education Design Lab. It has been one of my most life-changing experiences, and I am forever grateful for such a great opportunity.

My journey to becoming a “Labbie” started earlier than most people may know. In 2020, when I was in my senior year of college, my dream job involved human-centered design and education. When I put both terms in a Google search, the Lab popped up first. I immediately searched for Lab employees on LinkedIn so I could connect with them. I connected with Miriam Swords Kalk, a Senior Education Designer, and she was kind enough to talk with me about the Lab’s work which I, of course, found fascinating.

At the time, there were no entry-level positions available. However, in the spring of 2021, I searched again for Lab career opportunities and was very happy when I found out a few positions had opened. I applied and was offered a position as an Education Design Intern alongside Bryana Ellis, who would become one of my closest friends at the Lab.

My education background is in Engineering Psychology, also known as Human Factors Engineering, which is defined by the Tufts Human Factors program as an interdisciplinary field that incorporates aspects of engineering, psychology, computer science, cognitive science, kinesiology, and others to design and build products that are easy and safe to use.

Therefore, when I started my internship, I remember feeling so happy because I was in a space where I was talking again about human-centered design and design thinking, concepts that my previous job was not covering. My Lab onboarding experience included a free course by UVa professor Jeanne Liedtka, “Design Thinking for the Greater Good: Innovation in the Social Sector,” which refreshed my mind on the basics of developing equity-based, human-centered design projects.

However, I quickly realized human-centered design in the education field is relatively different from the engineering design thinking I was more familiar with, such as conducting user research and improving user experience for tech products and machine interaction. In education, I have learned to be more intentional and conscious in co-designing inclusive solutions for learning and career needs in very distinct communities, which requires empathy and the humility to admit you don’t have all the answers. I have also had to learn many American higher education terms such as credentials, stackable pathways, and other “Lab language” like new majority learners, micro-pathways, and 21st century skills.

After five months of my insightful internship, I had the privilege of being offered a full-time position at the Lab as an Assistant Education Designer. My role has entailed assisting senior education designers, primarily those who work with the BRIDGES Rural initiative and the day-to-day operations of the Participate platform. I have also enjoyed offering support to other Lab projects such as T-Profiles with employers, XCredit, and the Community College Growth Engine Fund.

During my first year at the Lab, I have learned so much about digital transformation in education; human- and equity-centered design; and rural community development. As an international student, there are a lot of American states from which I hadn’t even met anyone, but working at the Lab, particularly with the BRIDGES Rural initiative, gave me the opportunity to visit one of our cohort institutions in Bangor, Maine, for our first in-person convening in the summer of 2021. I also recently had the opportunity to attend the Rural Day that was organized by the National Legislative Summit in Washington, D.C., where I met educators from different rural places across the U.S., such as Iowa, Nebraska, Pacific Islands, etc. I look forward to our upcoming spring campus visits to Idaho, Ohio, and upstate New York.

In addition to the exposure to different higher education terms and places, working as an Assistant Education Designer at the Lab has taught me different skills such as project management, creating spaces for community engagement, networking, the future of higher education, and leading design projects, all through team collaborations and the Lab’s frequently organized education design activities.

Going forward, I’m excited about the opportunity to continue learning and growing with my fellow Labbies. I look forward to leading more projects. I am especially interested in global projects and have joined the effort of connecting the Lab with international institutions and individuals, particularly from African regions. I plan to continue contributing to the realization of the Lab’s vision to co-design scalable education models that are more affordable, more relevant, more visible, and more portable for learners.

And for future interns and employees, I hope my experience inspires you to join the Lab and be assured that Labbies are always ready to support you with any gaps in your knowledge or experience. We all come from different backgrounds in education, age, race, and ethnicity, but we are continually creating an environment for personal and professional growth, empathy and compassion, so every team member can fully thrive in their work.

Maureen Isimbi is an Assistant Education Designer at the Lab, primarily supporting the BRIDGES Rural project and Participate operations. She’s a graduate of Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, and is originally from Kigali, Rwanda.



news and events

Skills Visibility: The next frontier of the Learner Revolution

A (l)earner mom works on her laptop while her two children play at home in the background
A Letter from Kathleen deLaski, Founder and CEO, Education Design Lab

It’s been eight years since we introduced the construct of the Learner Revolution with the Lab’s first white paper.

We predicted technology and changing learner attitudes would force the unlocking of degrees to empower all learners to disintermediate their education, choosing their learning pathways on their own terms. By 2019, our second Learner Revolution white paper named the beginning of the shift from degrees to skills as a more equitable, inclusive currency for being hired and promoted and suggested how colleges could transform to serve learners in this new paradigm.

Now it’s 2022, and the Learner Revolution has joined forces with the Skills Revolution.

Who would have predicted then a global pandemic? Or the national racial reckoning after the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and many others? Both sets of events accelerated the pace of interest toward more inclusive, skills-based learning and hiring models. They coincide with the readiness of a set of national standards and technology capabilities that still need “human trials” before being ready for prime time. If you haven’t heard about “learner wallets” yet, several major pilots are coming online by the end of 2022. If we can get those trials right over the next few years using the equity vision of many players, we could begin to close the wage and skills gaps that plague this country.

Do we understand this opportunity? Do we see the potential? Are we mitigating the risks?

This paper — Skills Visibility: Why and How a Skills-Based Economy can be More Equitable — attempts to organize that thinking as more than the sum of the interesting parts that are emerging. We attempt to organize it into a new talent ecosystem vision made possible by the skills-based learner revolution. And to urge that we act now to consider the promise and the risks as these tools, standards, and practices begin touching humans. And to design accordingly before it is too late.

Think about it. We move away from a world where a $200,000 history degree gets me a job interview because blue-chip companies only come to the best campuses to interview candidates. We are now tantalizingly close to a world where my skills are telegraphed digitally to any employer around the nation, or even the world, looking for that skills cocktail. And it works the other way: all employers looking for certain skills can feed into a real-time skills ticker tape, signaling to learners and the learning providers that serve them what combination of skills will yield employment.

The magic of this vision, coming to a job market near you in the next two to five years, is “visibility.”

You may not see it happening, but several sectors are leaning in. Technologists are creating the data infrastructure and “digital wallets.” Machine learning companies are scaling skills translation and assessments. Learning institutions are ramping up micro-credentialing strategies with competency-based stacks and one-off badges, attempting to translate their degrees and learning outcomes to a language that speaks to employers. Employers are open to looking at talent differently; in fact, they have to, with the labor shortages and 10-year outlook for new entrants to the workforce. And perhaps most importantly, to enable all of this, learner views about degrees are changing.

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated these changes with millions of people leaving lower-wage jobs and positions that do not align with their career goals or economic needs. The call for more skills training and programs that closely align to employer needs is being heard at local, regional, and national levels. Without a shift to skills, politicians see the economic growth drag that is predicted to slow the economy down by $1.3 trillion by 2030.

Before we turn to the paper, let us honor the degree and its important signal value for a learner’s confidence and (for now) required entry to regulated fields such as medicine, teaching, and law. Nothing we have said should be construed as disrespecting the degree. We simply recognize that expecting it as the gateway to professional success has been an exclusionary practice for so many, and we need alternatives.

These alternatives must be driven by the needs and goals of learners most harmed by the existing system, and not just by their needs and goals, but by these learners themselves. People are incredibly resilient, and many of the learners we’ve worked with over the last eight years have solved for their problems despite operating within a system setting them up to fail. It is on us as systems leaders and decision-makers to change the system itself, and to capture this turning point, this moment, so that all people have what they need to succeed on their own terms.

This paper addresses what that will take at the ecosystem level. And, it calls us all to action.

Download: Skills Visibility: Why and How a Skills-Based Economy can be More Equitable

news and events

The Lab’s top 3 hot takes from SXSW EDU 2022

Pictured from left: Don Fraser Jr., Leah Moschella, Miriam Swords Kalk

Education Design Lab team members are excited to return to in-person conferences, and SXSW EDU 2022 has been the biggest so far. Three Labbies each shared their most impactful takeaway from the March conference in Austin, Texas.


1. We’re not going back to normal

Leah Moschella, Senior Education Designer: Like many others, it had been two years since my last large-scale, in-person conference, and attending SXSW EDU in early March did not disappoint. The energy of the event was palpable as colleagues and partners from around the nation exchanged real-time connections, hugs, and laughter. Attendees crowded vendor tables, and speakers were flooded with thought-provoking questions and insights. As I boarded the plane home, I couldn’t help but think, it’s almost as if things are getting back to normal.

However, the message of the speakers, sessions, and vendors was clear: Education and workforce leaders cannot go back to normal. Instead, now is the time to innovate and reinvent to build more effective, transformative partnerships across education, workforce, and the community.

Dr. Miguel Cardona, U.S. Secretary of Education, affirmed the call to reinvent in an inspiring morning keynote: “We’re closer to a reset in education than ever before. We’ve already been disrupted, so why are we building it back the way it was when it didn’t work for everybody?” Cardona spoke to how shifts in access to remote learning could support opportunities to embed work-based learning models into the school day. Leading global employers such as Deloitte spoke to the growing interest and efficacy of digital mentoring opportunities. During the global pandemic, we saw education and workforce systems reimagined overnight, and now is the time to consider how these innovations can continue to benefit learners as they navigate their earn-and-learn pathways.

2. Practices + policies must shift to enable equity- and learner-centered futures

Miriam Swords Kalk, Senior Education Designer: “This is the moment to make sure that all students have purpose, self-determination, and connection to communities. This is our moment to transform and do right by our learners.” This quote from Dr. Amy Loyd of the U.S. Department of Education brings together so many of the messages that spoke loudest to me during SXSW EDU.

People from far-reaching corners of this giant education world spoke to the need (always, but especially now) to shift the focus of education systems from controlling and regulating students to supporting them along paths toward their individual goals – and how this shift is necessary for us to make headway toward more equitable futures in education and the workforce. Dr. Monique Umphrey of Austin Community College discussed bringing learners in as co-creators of their learning experiences rather than just consumers of higher ed, saying, “We don’t need to be patriarchal with learners. We’re here to help them self-actualize.”

Acknowledging the responsibility that learning providers have to design environments that respond to learners’ needs – both tangible and psychological – resonates strongly with the approach to human-centered design that we utilize at the Lab, especially with our engagement framework. As Dr. Gregory Fowler of University of Maryland Global Campus said, “We need to make our colleges student-ready rather than our students college-ready.”

Dr. Leon Prieto of Clayton State University and Dr. Chanelle Wilson of Bryn Mawr College spoke about how decolonizing curricula – and education systems more broadly – inherently entails shifting from top-down, command-and-control environments to deeply supportive learner-centered models that encourage learners’ self-determination. So much of what they discussed – from making assessment more participatory, future-focused, and formative rather than judgmental and unidirectional, to co-designing learning experiences in partnership with students – underscored how supporting each learners’ sense of growth, belonging, and agency is a critical component of making education more equity-centered.

Practice shifts by learning providers must play a critical role in pivoting higher ed’s focus to sit squarely with learners who have been underinvested in, but we can’t stop there. Policy changes at the state and federal levels need to become more human-centered, seeing education throughout people’s entire lives as a public good rather than a private service. Amari Fennoy of NAACP, Chelsea Miller of Freedom March NYC, and Jemere Calhoun and Mary-Pat Hector of Rise spoke powerfully about the impact of student loan debt on Black learners and their families – how absolute student loan forgiveness and truly free college could have a major impact on narrowing racial wealth and pay gaps and stimulating our economy. Rewinding to the beginning of our lives, Cody Summerville from Texas Association for the Education of Young Children highlighted how early childhood education must also become a strong area of financial investment by federal and state governments in order to equitably support young learners’ brain development, parents’ flexibility to work, and early childhood educators’ access to family-sustaining wages.

3. Shorter, cheaper, BETTER

Don Fraser, Jr., Chief Program Officer: Those three words played over and over in my head as I left sessions. They played in my head when I finished talking shop with old and new friends, even after hours. Shorter. Cheaper. Better. Yes. Yes. And well, sort of. Maybe? It depends. Are we tackling better? The consensus at SXSW EDU was no, but the call for better was an enthusiastic and resounding, we must!

Whenever the economy has had a very specific need, our education system has historically stepped up to meet it — to create certificates or degree pathways that positioned learners to satisfy employers and fill emerging job roles. Given the pace of change and technological advances, however, it has become harder for higher education to respond quickly to market demands and be the learning provider of choice. This created a marketplace for other learning providers to fill in skills gaps that meet the needs of the workforce. The value proposition for these learning providers has been that the investment is tailored to the market (in ways bulkier certs and degrees aren’t) and SHORTER than what a two- or four-year college offers. And in comparison to the rising costs of a higher education, these programs are sometimes CHEAPER. Learners of all types voted with their feet, trying these shorter, cheaper options … but with mixed results.

Much to my delight, the acceptance and growth of micro-credentials, competency-based learning, and credit for prior learning have enabled higher education to get back in the game, to be more responsive, to stand up programs that meet the needs of a rapidly evolving, skills-based economy. To offer shorter and cheaper.

Community colleges have led the sector, but four-year colleges are churning, putting learners at the center to create responsive programs. It’s a call to action all of higher ed must embrace. I was particularly inspired by the session, “Future-Proofing Higher Ed: Serving New Demographics,” with Kate Smith, President of Rio Salado College; Gregory Fowler, President of University of Maryland Global Campus; and Justin Lonon, Chancellor-elect of Dallas College. Three leaders talked passionately about how centering learners leads to more responsive programming, and for most learners, they need shorter and cheaper.

But how are we addressing the quality of the new programs we’re rapidly standing up? No matter where they’re offered, we must design and build better programs. In our parlance, better means the program is (a) well-aligned to market needs, (b) provides increased entry and exit points, (c) leads to jobs with family-sustaining wages, (d) allows the learner to be nimbler in the workforce, (e) provides greater visibility into the skills needed to grow in the field, and (f) is offered in a flexible format.

That sounds like a lot because it is. But that’s what better has to be. That’s what better can be.

“Two out of three ain’t bad,” is fine if you’re Meatloaf, RIP, but learning providers cannot settle for SHORTER and CHEAPER. Our programs must be BETTER.