news and events

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.

news and events

We’re Asking Our Education Designers: How Might We Future?

At the Lab, we’ve long talked about the fast-changing learn-to-work ecosystem. In this series, “How might we future?”, we ask Lab education designers to share their thoughts on how we adapt to and stay learner-centric in a (newly) virtual higher ed world. 


Leslie Daugherty

BRIDGES Rural + Seamless Transfer Pathways

How might we both adapt to and stay learner-centric in a newly virtual higher ed world?

I think the answer starts with digging deeper into the phrase, “newly virtual learning world.” For a lot of learners, learning in a completely virtual environment is new. Sure, they probably experienced it in some fashion last spring, but the fall will and must look different. In design, we call this prototyping, and it means constantly checking in with the learner to see what is and what is not working for them as they strive to reach their goals. We learn from these questions and adjust where and if possible. Communication is key, as well as patience and understanding. Things will look and feel differently, and that is not always a bad thing, but it is a new thing, and we all need to give each other a little grace as we navigate and iterate.

What questions would you like institutions to consider at this time? 

How are our procedures and processes, both new and old, impacting our historically underinvested learner communities? Again, as we think about design, we think about designing for the extreme user. This pandemic is greatly impacting these learner populations, so we need to create processes and procedures with their needs in mind. If we can solve their barriers to access and completion, all learners will benefit. We also need to go back and look at our antiquated policies. What were our assumptions when it came to what success looked like in a virtual environment? How has this pandemic challenged those assumptions, and what might that change as we move forward?

What are you currently reading / listening to / watching? 



Elisabeth Fellowes

Creativity for COVID + Community College Growth Engine Fund

How might we both adapt to and stay learner-centric in a newly virtual higher ed world?

COVID shook things up in education in a big way, which helped accelerate long-needed changes in an often slow-moving field. One of the most important shifts we’ve seen is a push towards competency-based education, which offers a much greater level of personalized learning. Adapting to this newly virtual learning world while staying learner-centric requires the redesign of learning experiences to serve each learner equitably. With the rapid increase in remote learning brought on by the pandemic, we are seeing the true importance of flexibility in education—competency-based education offers an effective way to address learner needs while creating a meaningful and engaging learning experience.

What questions would you like institutions to consider at this time? 

How are you ensuring equity of access for all of your learners in this newly virtual environment? While there has consistently been inequity of access throughout the history of higher education, this quick shift to virtual learning has shone a spotlight on disparities in technological access. Lack of access to the internet and/or to hardware like a laptop creates a huge barrier to learning virtually. As you design and redesign your virtual learning experiences, keep this at the center of your design rather than trying to create workarounds after an experience is already designed.

What are you currently reading / listening to / watching? 



Brandon Zhou

Lab Summer Intern working on Rural BRIDGES + Creativity for COVID

How might we both adapt to and stay learner-centric in a newly virtual higher ed world?

As a learner, I think it is important to be fearless in imagining the future and challenging the status quo. Given the state of the world, I’ve felt a personal need to embrace ambiguity and uncertainty. Even more so now, institutions can play a pivotal role in supporting learners. 

As a community, we need to be thoughtful and intentional in our actions. Especially as we continue in this virtual learning world, empathy and kindness have a greater impact as they are integrated into our daily interactions. 

What questions would you like institutions to consider at this time? 

Individual experiences are just as valuable as the “big picture.” How do you capture and value individual stories in a diverse landscape? Institutions can be thoughtful in their relationships by listening to learners and being open to collaborative iteration.

What are you currently reading / listening to / watching? 



Isaac Agbeshie-Noye

UpSkill SA! + UNCF Career Pathways Initiative

How might we both adapt to and stay learner-centric in a newly virtual higher ed world?

Quite simply, we need to constantly reimagine who we understand our learners to be. I often remind my design partners that the students that they interacted with even a year ago are different from the students that they see today. In an age where the world is evolving in front of us faster than our systems can keep up, our institutions are only as sustainable as our ability to adapt to meet learners where they are.

What questions would you like institutions to consider at this time? 

How are you fostering a culture of innovation? Unfortunately, many stakeholders in our education ecosystem are not investing in talent in ways that allow them to weather the storm of change. It is important for institutions to consider how they inspire and invest in people to design new approaches to address long-standing issues. Are there incentives in place to reward faculty and staff for collaborating to develop new programs? Are there funds or resources set aside specifically for testing new ideas?

What are you currently reading / listening to / watching? 



Matthew Aranda

Micro-credentialing @ the Lab (BadgedToHire, 21st Century Skills Micro-credentials), vsbl Platform Development

How might we both adapt to and stay learner-centric in a newly virtual higher ed world?

Be ready to provide radical support to students.

COVID-19 is highlighting previous racial and economic disparities, made only worse in this crisis. Underserved and under-resourced learners are experiencing greater negative impacts on health, economic security, and education, not only for themselves personally but also in their families and communities. One of the key things we can do to best serve learners in this moment is to center solutions on their needs and to practice greater empathy. 

We’re seeing many institutions respond to this moment by keeping learners at the center and doubling-down on their commitment to their students and communities at-large. Across the country, educators and administrators are offering guidance and sharing practices on how the education system can best support learners now. Dr. Manuel Rustin, a high school teacher from Pasadena, CA, advocates for giving students all A’s in face of increased responsibilities at-home. Consider what it takes and what it means for both educators and learners to shift learning environments from the classroom to online. Embrace best practices for how to employ culturally-affirming teaching in virtual learning communities.

What questions would you like institutions to consider at this time? 

Are we keeping track of what COVID-19 is showing us is now possible? Before this crisis, lots of institutions were talking about online courses being years away. Now, learning providers from K-12 to higher ed have pivoted to deliver all instruction online. This is a new power; this is a new responsibility. How are institutions approaching this to benefit underserved learners?

What are you currently reading / listening to / watching? 


Tara Lifland Baumgarten

Micro-credentialing @ the Lab (BadgedToHire, 21st Century Skills Micro-credentials), vsbl Platform Development

How might we both adapt to and stay learner-centric in a newly virtual higher ed world? 

Adopt better pedagogy! Students around the world are protesting and questioning why their tuition isn’t going down now that the experience is entirely online. They are demanding a better product. Online learning (read: the difference between online learning and emergency remote teaching) has to go through a way more stringent course review processes than that of F2F (face-to-face) courses. Let’s use this opportunity for everyone (those new to teaching, and those who have been teaching the same course for 20+ years) to take another look at the intentional design of our curriculum. One of the most rigorous components of an online course review is a concept called ‘alignment’: every resource, activity, or tool used in an online course must explicitly tie back to a learning objective. 

One challenge for the newly learner-centric virtual learning world: In addition to learning objectives for your course, ask from a learner perspective, “What’s in it for me?” If you can’t tie your activity or reading to something actionable for the learner, rethink why you’re using that resource in the first place or how you can tweak it so it’s readily apparent to a learner why they’re doing this and how it’s going to help them in the future.

What questions would you like institutions to consider at this time? 

To those teaching online: What is one experiment you can try with your online class that you couldn’t in your F2F environment? This time apart has provided a very humanizing experience, particularly for faculty who often have a power dynamic with their learners. A short, very imperfect video with your dog, in the kitchen, or in between episodes of your favorite show can help you connect with your learners in a very personal way. Check out the #humanizeOL hashtag on Twitter for other ideas!

What are you currently reading / listening to / watching? 



Binh Thuy Do

Single Moms Success Design Challenge, Seamless Transfer Pathways Design Challenge

How might we both adapt to and stay learner-centric in a newly virtual higher ed world? 

For too long, institutions and organizations have operated in a constrained mode. We say things like “we can’t because [insert all the reasons here]”. But the last few weeks have demonstrated that we must and we can.

As institutions and organizations adapt to this “new normal”, I invite designers to imagine (or reimagine) what experiences could look like for learners. Consider how you can meet learners where they are and be open to continual feedback in the spirit of continuous growth. Don’t let perfection stand in the way of progress. Solicit honest feedback on what works and what doesn’t in helping learners and workers stay motivated and engaged in their experience.

What questions would you like institutions to consider at this time? 

How are you infusing learner or stakeholder voices into your own processes to ensure the co-creation of solutions that are engaging and motivating for all parties? What strategies are you employing to move beyond soliciting input and truly make it a collaborative co-design process?

What are you currently reading / listening to / watching? 


Brian LeDuc

Catholic University of America – Tucson, GraduateNYC

How might we both adapt to and stay learner-centric in a newly virtual learning world?

With 10 million people already filing for unemployment and 26%+ of adults surveyed suggesting they will seek (online) education institutions to reskill for their next role, the opportunity to serve local communities with workforce-driven pathways has never been greater, or more uncertain. This approach offers opportunities for leaders of small and medium-sized businesses to engage with local talent while they skill up and earn a degree or credential.

In Tucson, AZ, we’re seeing this solution develop in real-time: a 4-year university partnered locally with the community college to develop a place-based model to earn and learn while retaining local talent. Together with community stakeholders, they are shaping the student experience, curriculum, and in-class projects. This localized, place-based online-first approach may be the adaptive strategy to withstand enrollment headwinds. And, with traditional enrollments for next fall already showing signs of falling short of goals, higher education institutions are being called to adapt and serve their communities more dynamically (and for a broader student audience) than ever.

What questions would you like institutions to consider and look towards at this time? 

Many institutions are feeling the ground move beneath them as their value propositions shift from core strengths (like delivering a strong on-campus experience in small, relationship-driven classrooms) to new competencies (like moving instruction and student services online). By taking note of their value proposition and inventorying their core strengths and capabilities, institutions can build strategies against what they’re already doing well to highlight, package, or position themselves differently in light of the current environment. They can also use this moment as an opportunity to establish a learning roadmap for developing new competencies and capabilities and set up a more adaptive organizational strategy.  

What are you currently reading? 

news and events

Two Pathways, One Purpose

The first cohort for Skills Booster—every participant in the cohort successfully earned the Lab’s 21st Century Skills Resilience Micro-credential.


Over the past 15 months, the Lab has worked with partners in San Antonio, Texas, to design and launch two upskilling pathways to expand career opportunities for frontline workers. So far, Goodwill Industries of San Antonio, our employer partner, has seen substantial gains among program participants in productivity, collaboration, and leadership, skills essential for positioning frontline workers for middle-skill jobs. 

Last December, we shared a primer on upskilling as a way to prepare employees for the future of work. Fast forward six months: COVID-19 and the resulting economic downturn have highlighted the need for quick and effective solutions to shift displaced workers to fill high-demand roles during the pandemic. Upskilling, which builds on existing skill sets, provides a solution for employers to quickly pivot their workforce to meet new responsibilities (e.g. hospitality workers move to roles in grocery and delivery), much in the same ways that some industries have had to evolve to answer the country’s call for in-demand services (e.g. ventilators and hand sanitizers). COVID-19 has revealed how valuable frontline workers are to our safety net, and, yet, those jobs come with incredible risk and instability. A focus on upskilling honors these essential positions as entry-points to middle- and high-skill roles that offer more long-term stability and mobility to workers.

In February 2019, the Lab, in conjunction with Alamo Colleges, Goodwill San Antonio, and Palo Alto College, embarked on a journey to build two upskilling pathways, SkillsBooster and Certificate Plus. Using the Lab’s 21st Century Skills framework as a foundation, the two pathways were designed to serve incumbent frontline workers interested in careers in advanced manufacturing and logistics. We  piloted both programs starting last Fall, and so far, we are seeing some promising results! So far, Goodwill San Antonio, our employer partner, has seen substantial gains among program participants in productivity, collaboration, and leadership, skills essential for positioning frontline workers for middle-skill jobs. In this piece, we discuss each of the pilots, preliminary results, and insights that will inform future iterations of the program.


SkillsBooster: Quickly Developing In-Demand Skills

SkillsBooster packages three of the Lab’s 21st Century Skills micro-credentials into one cohesive online learning experience. To enable learner success in the new online learning pathway facilitated by Alamo Colleges District, participants went through a customized orientation prior to beginning the program to quickly enhance their digital literacy and ensure completion of the course.

With nearly 50 participants across both pathways to date, employees are actively engaging in learning new skills, such as resilience, collaboration, and creative problem solving. To incentivize completion of the 13-week learning experience, Goodwill San Antonio provided 2 hours of paid work time each week for participants to complete course activities. This created buy-in from managers and from employees alike, furthering a culture of professional development and accountability while encouraging managers to monitor performance changes in their direct reports that could be attributed to the program. Employees were able to directly apply their learning to their day-to-day work, in part due to the intentional design of the “proving ground” assessments developed in collaboration with Goodwill San Antonio. Each micro-credential culminated in an activity that connected these skills to actual work situations in the workplace.

Managers are seeing the benefits of SkillsBooster right away. Based on an internal survey of managers who supervised the SkillsBooster cohort, the percentage of team members in the cohort who were classified as “Role Models” or “Capable and Effective” increased by 35% (from 47% to 82%) after earning the first badge, Resilience.


The pilot also has taught us many lessons about how to best support employees. Many who participated in SkillsBooster had interest in furthering their education through a certificate or degree program. As a result, SkillsBooster also provided an opportunity for employees to build their self-confidence around completing academic work and serving in leadership roles. Participants noted that they were able to apply the lessons to their work and lives right away:

Certificate Plus: Pairing 21st Century and Technical Skills 

Certificate Plus paired the Lab’s Collaboration Micro-credential with BMGT 1301: Supervision, a required course within the Logistics Management certificate program. Why logistics? In San Antonio, the logistics field is experiencing job growth at twice the national rate. By integrating the Collaboration Micro-credential with the certificate, we wanted students to be able to quickly earn a credential that they could use to market themselves while they continued to complete the certificate requirements. Partnering with the course’s faculty member, we mapped sub-competencies to specific lessons and connected course assignments to the micro-credential’s “proving ground” assessments. As a result, once students completed the course, they also satisfied the requirements to earn the micro-credential without doing anything additional.

Goodwill San Antonio incentivized participation by providing a last-dollar match, which covered all program costs after financial aid was disbursed and ensured that participants would not pay out of pocket for the program. GWSA also covered the purchase of books and other course materials! Though participants are still taking courses within the certificate program, we were excited to see that 19 of the 22 students who enrolled in the course passed it and earned the micro-credential. This stat is impressive, given that for most of the learners, this was their first college course in some time after re-entering higher education.

Similar to SkillsBooster, Goodwill San Antonio  team members are seeing the benefits of the Certificate program almost immediately:

  • 100% agree that the learning experience will help them to achieve their goals
  • 94% of participants strongly agreed or agreed the course increased their collaboration skills
  • As one employee noted, “I think, in the long-term, the impact [of] Certificate Plus is going to be phenomenal for the participants and for Goodwill.”

Managers also saw gains in performance after employees completed the first course:

  • 57% strongly agreed that the team member has sufficient collaboration skills to perform well in their current role after the training – including the ability to focus on solutions, actively listen, consider diverse perspectives, and strengthen relationships to get things done (compared to 29% prior to the training)
  • 64% rated the productivity of the team member very high, up from 25% prior to the course


5 Early Lessons

Both pilots have taught us a lot about designing for the incumbent worker population while providing opportunities to test new approaches in marketing, program design, and instruction.

Here are 5 things that we have learned from our upskilling work so far:

  1. Know your audience:
    These types of programs have to be sensitive to the barriers that would keep employees from participating and completing. At the beginning of the design challenge, the team spent time unpacking barriers, such as time, cost, motivation, and transportation.
  2. Collaboration is key:
    While creating alignment across multiple stakeholders can be difficult, coalescing around shared goals and expectations will make partnerships more sustainable and resilient over time.
  3. Sweeten the deal for employees:
    Employers can incentivize the upskilling effort to increase participation and encourage completion. The Goodwill San Antonio team proactively addressed potential barriers to completion by offering paid work time, a last dollar tuition match, and support for books and materials.
  4. It takes a village:
    Getting managers involved in recruitment and tracking employee progress expands the network of support for employees as they pursue upskilling opportunities.
  5. Iterate, iterate, iterate:
    Both pilots helped the partners to iron out hiccups, question assumptions, reimagine how content is administered, and build additional pathways. We paid attention to how employees were engaging with the program and used their feedback to inform how we could better support future cohorts.

In the future, we look to broaden employer relationships to foster even greater access to middle-skill jobs, include more 21st Century Skills Micro-credentials into training and development programs to allow employees to earn stackable credentials, and expand the number of certificates available to support growth in other sectors, such as information technology and business administration.

news and events

Six “College Hacking” Trends to Watch in 2020

By Kathleen deLaski and Tara Lifland

When we first predicted the “Learner Revolution” in 2014, we talked about it as a trend that might take hold by 2030. The Learner Revolution is a world where the college degree becomes just one option for professional career preparation, where learners might hack their own path to attain skills in shorter courses or micro-degrees. Their credentials might be delivered by a mix of colleges, employers, or experience providers at any point in their lives.
By early 2019, to celebrate the Lab’s fifth anniversary, we wrote about how quickly public views on the importance of the college degree had softened as enrollments at two- and four-year colleges, and particularly graduate schools, were declining.

At the start of the new decade, experimentation and attitudes about new models to support the Learner Revolution are dialing up at an even quicker pace. We have identified six developments and trends to keep an eye on as we step into the 2020s.


1.  Employer-Driven Pathways

With 7.4 million U.S. job openings in mid-2019, it’s no wonder employers are getting desperate not just for talent, but talent with skills of the future. Last July, Amazon made waves by pledging over $700 million to upskill more than 100,000 of its U.S. employees, expanding its “Cloud School” training to community colleges in northern California and the state of Virginia (after the announcement of the new headquarters in northern VA). The list of blue chip companies not requiring four-year degrees for professional roles got longer in 2019, with JPMorgan Chase Chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon penning a year-end piece in Fortune Magazine called The Future of Work is Skills, So Stop Worrying about Degrees.

At the other end of the spectrum, we see enterprising companies in many states taking matters into their own hands. We are impressed with Sundt Construction Company reaching out to Central Arizona College to co-design stackable pathways for heavy machine operators to move into construction management careers. Sundt couldn’t find the workers—now they’ve got 200+ learners in stackable short-term certification programs ready to work while they pursue an associate’s degree that articulates seamlessly to a bachelor’s from Northern Arizona University. 


2.  Rise of “Education as an Employee Benefit”

They say talent is the new oil, a scarce and valuable resource, and increasingly, employers are providing “education as a benefit” to attract and retain employees. Some employers are approaching this benefit with the help of companies like Guild Education, which shot past a billion dollar valuation last November. Guild helps brand name companies like Chipotle, Disney, and Walmart curate education offerings for employees, tapping into federal or state tuition reimbursement programs.

Hot valuations can be more a sign of hype than reality, but this one signals that employers and employees are buying into “The Weave” model that we are helping colleges consider, making a bet that because 70% of all college learners are also working 15 hours or more, successful models will increasingly blur the lines between work and school, over a lifetime. While many groups are innovating in this space (InStride, Sunlight, Outset) the opportunity is still largely untapped; the 400,000 working adults Guild has helped represent just 3-5% of employees at their partnering companies. 


3.  Competencies, Not Degrees

“Within the decade, all but the most exclusive learning providers, old and new, will compete for students at the competency and experience level rather than at the degree level. That is the principal paradigm shift of the Learner Revolution.”

We made this statement in our 2019 white paper, and have been watching for signs that colleges or other learning providers are shifting their marketing to lead with workforce competencies, rather than degrees. 

So far, we see a lot of four-year colleges pitching experiential learning, opportunities to solve real world problems, and efforts to translate the liberal arts degree. Many community colleges and some four-years are incorporating certifications, such as Google’s IT certification, right into coursework, but not many colleges are breaking out to market their best competency offerings beyond their own students. 

Our favorite example of this is “Sneaker Essentials” school, a genius play by Fashion Institute of Technology to market a short-term program offering specific competencies to get hired into the hip world of footwear design. You can scroll through the videos graduates and wannabes post; many of them accentuate that the learners already have a college degree, but need different competencies to launch their dream career. Online competency courses—the sweet spot for providers like General Assembly for half of the last decade—have been retrofitting college graduates for careers in IT, digital marketing, and UX design. But, it’s newish to see slick offerings coming from colleges in competencies such as footwear design, like the “Sneaker Essentials” course sponsored by pop culture website Complex. The price tag for this course is $1,000, which seems reasonable if employment outcomes are well-established. But one accepted applicant, who calls himself Deadstock Quality on YouTube, resorted to a funding plea from his hospital room, underscoring that, as we start the new decade, federal financial aid does not cover a build-your-own-pathway “competency” approach to postsecondary education.


4. Hacking Pathways

More than ever, learners today are embracing the do-it-yourself mindset and hacking together their education. A survey from Pearson found that 84% of learners look for more self-service education as they get older, looking for learning resources that are just-in-time and just-in-place. An organic support and guidance community, illustrated by this example from a Google IT certificate earner, has sprung up on YouTube, where learners are helping each other make sense of the proliferating choices. Massive open online courses (more popularly known as MOOCs) were heavily criticized for most of the last decade, but they continue to build as the backbone of the hacked competency pathway model. While college and university enrollments in the U.S. dropped the past eight straight years, over the same period, through 2018, total cumulative enrollments in MOOCs grew to 101 million. 2019’s most popular Coursera MOOC that learners completed: artificial intelligence.

And, for learners who need help hacking their own future, we particularly like models like this one of our own that is seeing early success with Goodwill San Antonio (San Antonio, TX). We are currently designing and managing a pilot with an advanced logistics certificate micro-pathway, co-designed with Alamo Colleges District and funded by Walmart, that embeds the Lab’s 21st Century Skills Badges to help incumbent workers build collaboration, creative problem solving, and resilience skills. Employees get time off the retail or warehouse floor to upskill.


5. Employers Are Coming to the Credential Translation Table

With more targeted, skills-based hiring on the rise, we’re starting to see evidence that employers are willing to hire based upon these one-off courses disconnected from the degree. In our own efforts to build proof points at the Lab, we asked dozens of employers last fall from our three BadgedToHire regions (San Jose, CA; Albuquerque, NM; and the state of Maine) which hiring tools they expect to leverage the most in the future (3-5 years out). The college degree didn’t make it into the top five, but digital micro-credentials did. And employers in the Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s T3 Innovation Network are translating job descriptions to be usable in the increasingly dominant search engines that they use to find candidates. 

Another area we’re paying attention to: the movement in HR from talent management to talent experience platforms that give employers a way to share and track competency maps. This shift will allow employers to understand company-wide skills gaps and publish routes to promotion. For competencies to be a meaningful currency within an organization, they need to be broken down well beyond the degree level. Here’s a look at how some of these platforms think about displaying competencies (note, no sign of degrees). As 2019 neared its close, a leader in the talent experience marketplace, Degreed, acquired Adepto, a company that specializes in talent management for gigwork.



6. Data to the Rescue?

The more data we have on careers and credentials, the less dependent we are on the bachelor’s degree as a proxy. Where all pathways used to end with a bachelor’s or associate’s, we are beginning to have competency-level data that can tell a job seeker the precise skills they need for a specific role so they can “stop out” or try to combine the degree path and a better paying job. In 2019, we ramped up our use of market-level data to help colleges build “opportunity occupation” pathways, to borrow the phrase coined by the Federal Reserve Banks of Philadelphia and Cleveland in their report last spring. We’ll be doing a lot more of this work in 2020.  

Of course, we are all concerned about too much data and too many sneaker schools pitching to learners. Credential Engine is tracking credentials for a national registry, their count doubled in just the last year, up to 738,000 discrete credentials. They have not tackled the difficult and important work of recommending “stacks” based on employer feedback or validation, yet. It’s hard for a nationwide directory to bite off that level of high quality social good, but we hope curation and employer validation platforms will emerge early in this next decade and not be owned by one of the big tech players. While they could scale quickly, we are concerned about privacy and transparency of data. One path to scale is to start at the city and state level. Colorado announced a holiday present for us all just before Christmas, am ambitious project called C-Lab, which gives us one model.  

C-Lab’s employer, learning institution, and policy partners are testing the “learning economy protocol,” that is a map of all the competency types in the state of Colorado to leverage blockchain technology, which allows all existing units of learning (online courses, work experience, LMS data, all nodes in the graphic below) to connect to one another to help a learner tell their competency story via one package. 



It’s a precursor to exciting work. Many players are working to develop a learner records “backpack,” where the learner owns and stores all of their records of competencies and certifications. For the Learner Revolution that we predicted five years ago, a self-sovereign tool to own and display your learning, from all parts of your life, where you can choose to make all or part of it digitally discoverable to increase your networks and opportunities, is essential. If we can get it right, it will help address the problems that the Lab was created to tackle: making learning more accessible, portable, visible, and relevant.   

news and events

HBCUs Excel at Supporting Black Students. Here’s Why Strengthening Their Career Outcomes Matters.

Faculty members from Jarvis Christian College and Florida Memorial University work on bettering their respective campus pilots to improve career outcomes for their students.


Historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) were founded with the principal mission to educate African-Americans, providing pathways to opportunities for a population that was systematically excluded from active participation in higher education. 

These institutions have been steadfast in their support of Black students, despite resource constraints due to a lifetime of underfunding compared to their predominantly White counterparts. At the Lab, we believe that if we can both enable traditionally under-resourced institutions to reimagine their programming and co-design with them new models to enhance career outcomes, we can scale these initiatives to positively impact all learners across the higher education ecosystem. In other words, designing for resource-constrained institutions and underserved learners—in human-centered design, we might say “extreme users”—will address the needs of the many. 

HBCUs are incredibly diverse: public and private, two-year and four-year, small and large, some religiously affiliated, liberal arts and research universities. Given this diversity, they are known for their rich institutional cultures and family environments. A 2015 Gallup study revealed that Black students who attend HBCUs are twice as likely to recall experiencing support measures than Black students who attend non-HBCUs. These support measures include having a professor who cared about them as a person, having a professor who made them excited about learning, and having a mentor who encouraged them to pursue their goals and dreams. 

And, the payoffs are evident. The Thurgood Marshall College Fund notes that HBCUs are responsible for large percentages of African-Americans in prominent roles: 40% of Black doctors, 50% of Black engineers, 50% of Black lawyers, and  80% of Black judges are HBCU graduates.


Gallup USA- Funds Minority College Graduates Report, 2015: Black students who attend HBCUs are twice as likely to recall experiencing support measures than Black students who attend non-HBCUs.


Despite HBCUs’ successes in connecting Black students with opportunities, Black students still experience many barriers on the pathway from college to career. In ACE’s recent Race and Ethnicity in Higher Education Report, researchers found that Black students are among the most likely to receive financial aid, the most likely to borrow money to fund their education, and the least likely to complete their undergraduate education. Just last May, billionaire Robert F. Smith pledged to satisfy all student loans for all 400 members of Morehouse College’s Class of 2019, an attempt to best position graduates to start their careers without the financial strain of paying off college debt. For Black graduates, unemployment rates were also among the highest, and median annual earnings for bachelors’ earners age 25 and older were among the lowest. To address these long-standing opportunity gaps, the UNCF Career Pathways Initiative (UNCF CPI), launched in December 2015 and funded by a grant from the Lilly Endowment, partnered with 24 HBCUs and predominantly Black Institutions (PBIs) to develop sustainable programming to improve career outcomes for graduates. 

Over the past year and a half, the Lab has served as a technical assistance provider for a cohort of 14 institutions out of the UNCF CPI 24, leveraging human-centered design to prototype and test one pilot on each campus. The goal? Transformational impact on career outcomes for graduates. The pilots vary in size and scope, from actively engaging industry leaders in the curriculum design process at Tougaloo College to using the Lab’s 21st Century Skills Badges to convert traditional work-study jobs to “micro-internships” at Oakwood University.

Many of these initiatives are not new to higher ed. However, each pilot is designed and tested with the learner at the center—a co-design and iterative process that allows these initiatives to better address the learner needs on each campus. To these HBCUs, we’ve brought (and are still bringing!) our tools, design process, and expertise in education-to-work models to support this cohort of 14 institutions in engineering new approaches that will enhance career outcomes for their students.

Through this work thus far, we have identified four key learnings:

1. The thirst for demonstrating 21st Century skills is real.
Each of our design sprints with the 14 institutions made one thing clear: campus leaders have deep interest in ways to further develop their students’ 21st century skills. This interest among higher ed leadership is not new. Contrary to popular belief, however, students on our HBCU & PBI campuses understand and see a need for better developing these skill sets. At the University of West Alabama (UWA), a PBI, the Lab is supporting UWA’s core team to actualize UWA 201, an online second-year co-curricular experience. As part of the intake process for the new program, students were asked to identify which skills they most need to develop in order to be successful in their desired careers. Without prompting, students named communication, problem solving, and collaboration—the exact 21st century skills that employers are asking for.

2. Strengthening student employability starts with understanding the world of work.
HBCUs, like all colleges and universities, are mission-driven institutions focused on preparing students to become active and engaged citizens. If we are to redesign the models at each of our 14 CPI institutions to improve career outcomes, we need to create a collective understanding of the world of work that students are entering, now and in the future. To build this understanding, we turned to our gallery walk tool—a curated series of artifacts, journal articles, infographics, and other data sources—to inform campus leaders of the challenges that their graduates will face post-graduation. The result? Institutions identified key needs to build social capital, provide access to networks, develop skills, and promote career exploration as important cornerstones of improving student employability.

3. To enhance career outcomes, faculty and business leaders need to connect early and often.
Coming into this work, the entirety of our 14 institutions understood the importance of employer partnerships in addressing opportunity gaps. Together, we are actively exploring how these new relationships can be built and sustained over time at each campus. Tougaloo College, for example, is creating an employer resource council to foster regular communication between business leaders and faculty. This initiative has the potential to both directly connect students to jobs and build buy-in among faculty. 

Employer-institution partnerships are deepened when faculty are actively engaged in the process and can incorporate their learnings about employer needs into the classroom. Although learners on campus are the primary users in each pilot, faculty and employers must be considered as secondary users. Initiatives dependent on strong employer partnerships need to be responsive to employer needs so that they can, in turn, be responsive to learner needs.

4. Leveraging existing resources and institutional champions go a long way.
Addressing available resources is critical, especially for HBCUs that have been traditionally under-resourced and underfunded. To guide prototype development, we often turn to our Napkin Pitch tool. The Napkin Pitch acts as a guide for taking a big idea and narrowing in on who it serves and how we will know that it’s working. To confront historical disparities, we developed a second iteration of the tool: adding a “bring/build/buy” map to help teams narrow in on how their institution might leverage existing and new resources.


Our Napkin Pitch in action: LeMoyne-Owen College’s first iteration of their prototype for an online program focused on 21st century skills development.


In the same vein, building on-campus champions that leverage existing human capital is critical for designing new programs. Often, campus representatives were one or two staff members who were charged with advancing most of the CPI initiatives on their campus. As a result, when points of contact transitioned out of the institution, the work had to be restarted or stalled while new team members were onboarded. To promote continuity and build institutional support, we are working with each of our HBCU teams on capturing concepts and building champions that can advocate for projects from the design stages through implementation. At Xavier University, for instance, a partnership between the CPI director, Career Services, and faculty creates a shared approach to program implementation that spreads the responsibility across multiple stakeholders rather than focusing on the talents of one person.

Through our work with this cohort of 14 institutions, we have deepened our understanding of how human-centered design can be used to build innovation capacity and put learners at the center at institutions that are historically under-resourced. Despite their constraints, HBCUs have been a pathway to success for so many Black students and continue to provide safe, nurturing environments. By both enabling these institutions to rethink their programming and co-designing with them new models to enhance career outcomes, the consequences for all of higher ed are clear: positive impact for all learners across the higher education ecosystem. Our work over the last year and a half with UNCF Career Pathways Initiative has helped us to learn about how diverse the needs are at each institution. We look forward to sharing more lessons learned in a forthcoming white paper to be released in May 2020.

To learn more about the Lab’s work on UNCF’s Career Pathways Initiative, visit our project page

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Future Proof: An Upskilling Primer

Retail workers at Goodwill San Antonio.


As part of our “Future Proof” series, we’re covering the future of work landscape and the tools, pathways, and trends for designing educational programs that equip learners for an evolving workforce—past issues covered skills mapping and 21st century skills curriculum mapping as key tools. In this “Future Proof” spotlight, the Lab’s education designer Isaac Agbeshie-Noye provides a primer on upskilling, a human capital trend, and shares examples in practice and lessons learned to date from our upskilling initiative in San Antonio, Texas.


Here’s a primer:

What is upskilling? 

Upskilling is the practice of teaching current employees new skills that prepare them for more advanced responsibilities in the workplace. 

What is an example of upskilling? 

Upskilling looks different depending on the organization—think an education benefit, an apprenticeship program, or professional development that aims to retrain or re-tool employer capacity. Regardless of its form, an upskilling practice (or program) is an opportunity for employees, particularly those in low-skill or entry-level positions, to develop skills that will take their careers to the next level. 

Upskilling isn’t new. Many large-scale, for-profit companies have designed internal practices of upskilling to keep their business, and their workforce, competitive. AT&T’s Future Ready establishes and embeds professional training to equip employees with the skills needed for a set of jobs identified as key for the future of the company. Another, Amazon’s CareerChoice program covers tuition and fees for employees pursuing degrees in growth industries (such as transportation, healthcare, mechanical and skilled trades, or computer science and information technology) and provides a pathway to connect employees with employers in need of talent. 

How does upskilling fit into the future of work?

The future of work presents a new landscape:  40% of US  jobs are predicted to be lost to automation over the next 15 years, digital and tech-enabled services are on the rise, and 21st century skills (also known as “soft skills”) are and will become the most critical. 

Upskilling has become a key human capital strategy to proactively prepare current workers for the evolving digital economy. From an operational standpoint, the value is clear. Companies can take an active role in training up staff to assume open roles without investing as much in recruiting / onboarding new talent; professional development programs lead to increased retention and employee satisfaction; and such training programs can better position companies to be more attractive and competitive in the marketplace.


What is the benefit to partnerships between higher ed institutions and employers looking to upskill their workforce? 

Upskilling does not have to pit higher ed against employers. Instead, upskilling provides a rich opportunity for the two sectors to partner. Employers still heavily rely on colleges and universities to produce graduates that can fill open jobs. As education providers, colleges and universities can work in close partnership with employers to provide upskilling opportunities to incumbent workers, particularly with businesses that cannot afford to run their own upskilling programs. We have seen some large examples of this: Starbucks with Arizona State University or Chipotle with Guild Education, to name a couple.


At the Lab, we believe that investment in upskilling can lead to stronger local economies, reduced income gaps, and a more nimble workforce. 

We are on the ground working with Goodwill San Antonio, Alamo Colleges District, and San Antonio Works, with support from Walmart, to design and build a talent pipeline for fast-growing middle-skill jobs in San Antonio, Texas. Our target population, Goodwill “team members” (or employees) are largely adult learners (over age 25) that have completed high school or earned a GED, are highly motivated in furthering their education, and are mostly working in retail services. The goal? Build opportunities for incumbent frontline retail workers to develop 21st century skills in order to advance their careers, and, ultimately, create a scalable model for a non-profit upskilling program that partners local education institutions with big regional employers.

Currently in San Antonio, we are piloting two pathways to upskilling featuring the Lab’s 21st Century Skills Badges: Skillsbooster, a 21st Century Skills Badge bundle, and Certificate Plus, a certificate pathway with a Badge embedded into the introductory course. Both pilots aim to provide incumbent workers the necessary skills to ascend into advanced roles. Testing these programs with Goodwill’s frontline retail workers allows us to learn from and design for a population that is in danger of being left behind in a rapidly-changing knowledge economy. 


Here are three things that we have learned in our work thus far:

1. The barriers to upskilling are just as important as the upskilling pathway itself
An upskilling program is only as good as one’s ability to access and fully engage with it. Upskilling efforts have the potential to fall flat if employers are not intentional about ensuring that everyone has access to them.

In San Antonio, we worked closely with Goodwill San Antonio to identify and understand fundamental barriers that had prevented employees from participating in prior upskilling programs. While an online learning experience is the most accessible approach for employees, we have learned that it can also create an additional barrier for learners who are unfamiliar with using computers or navigating online environments.

Access to financial resources also continue to be a barrier for employees looking to upskill. Many employers feature tuition reimbursement programs that incentivize degree and credential completion, but finances become a barrier for those who cannot afford to make the initial investment in their education and/or who don’t qualify for federal financial aid. Goodwill San Antonio realized this and evolved their current tuition reimbursement policy into a “last dollar match” program. Through a third-party billing relationship established directly with Palo Alto College, the organization is able to cover the remaining tuition costs for the certificate program after financial aid has been awarded.

Employers of low-skill workers should consider both building in digital literacy training and financial supports as pathways to upskilling.

2. Collect data early and often to justify the upskilling investment
Many have tried to quantify the return on investment for upskilling initiatives. Recently, in a Lumina Foundation study, Cigna saw a 129% return on investment in upskilling efforts around education benefits. In order to best understand how upskilling is benefiting a company, employers need to invest in their capacity to track and measure employee development and performance. In collaborating with Goodwill San Antonio, our design process unearthed a host of questions related to outcomes and success metrics. As a result, we have learned about performance indicators that are important to capture to understand how the program is advancing Goodwill’s mission to “change lives through the power of work.By leveraging demographic information, program satisfaction data, and other measures, such as program completion, job performance, and employee retention, an employer will be able to determine which interventions are most effective for their team members, as well as create more pathways for talent to transition into middle-skill roles.

3. It takes a village
In a mission-oriented organization like Goodwill San Antonio, the ongoing professional development of employees is a top priority. As a result, managers and senior leaders all needed to buy into an upskilling strategy. In order to position frontline retail workers to take advantage of upskilling programs, Goodwill San Antonio underwent a transition—moving their Talent and Development department, which oversees professional development, out of Human Resources and into its Mission Services division. The result? Upskilling became a strategic goal by which the organization will measure its impact in the coming year. With increased attention paid to training and development, Goodwill employees on all levels have a shared understanding that the time spent learning new skills in a classroom (or online) is just as important to production goals as their time working on the floor.While senior leaders set vision and allocate resources for employees to upskill, managers have a key role in recommending participants, assessing performance, and helping employees to make connections between the course content and real work situations. This “all hands on deck” approach normalizes upskilling across the organization and creates a culture of care that supports frontline workers.

For upskilling programs to be truly successful as the global work landscape shifts, they must be designed with the needs and experiences of both the employee population at-hand and the organization itself in mind.

Interested in learning more? Explore upskilling and its role in the future of work at:

To learn more about UpSkill SA!, visit our project page

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6 Things You Should Know About Single Mother Learners on Your Campus

Members of the Delgado Community College design team, including several single mother learners, collaborate to prototype solutions that address the needs of single mothers.


In Spring 2019, the Lab launched the Single Moms Success Design Challenge, a two-year, student-centered design and prototype process aimed at dramatically improving attainment rates for single mothers who seek to obtain a degree or high-quality credential from a community college. In “Designing for Single Mother Learners,” the Lab covers what we’re hearing from single mother learners and how understanding their needs is the first step in establishing a set of criteria that programs must meet to allow for single mother learners to succeed.

Single moms make up 11% of all undergraduate college students, and research shows that college success helps them build family-sustaining careers and contribute to their local economies. Over the past several months, the community colleges participating in the Single Moms Success Design Challenge (SMSDC) – Delgado Community College, Monroe Community College, Central New Mexico Community College, and Ivy Tech Community College – dove deep into understanding the experiences faced by single mother learners. Through a series of design sessions facilitated by the Lab, the schools gained important insights for ideation and prototyping of potential solutions to dramatically increase single mothers’ attainment of degrees and high-quality credentials.

To a single mother learner, her children always come first. While this may seem obvious, we’ve observed that institutions don’t intuitively understand this insight. When designing solutions for this population, institutions must first recognize this core value as fundamental to the single mother learner’s experience. By including single mother learners in our design process and creating space for institutions to understand their unique needs and perspectives, the Lab is paving the way for a new set of college solutions to boost their success. From over a hundred conversations with single mother learners, we’ve identified six things you and your institution should know to better support these students.


1. A degree or credential opens doors to family-sustaining employment and careers.
Single mother learners often return to college so they can better provide for their families.


2. Single mother learners face complex challenges.
While many single mother learners return to school to lift themselves out of poverty and provide for their children, few colleges are designed to holistically support students who face the kind of  life circumstances and parental obligations that these students often experience.


3. Meeting basic needs is essential, but only the beginning.
Colleges can play a vital role in supporting single mother learners by providing resources to address basic needs, financial strain, and child care, but they cannot stop there.


4. Time poverty is a reality and a barrier to college completion.
Single mother learners face time poverty, scheduling limitations, and immense stress in balancing work, family, and school. Flexible educational models and creative collaboration with workforce and community partners could help schools provide career-relevant learning opportunities that give single moms the time and space to learn and work.


5. Empathy matters.
Lack of empathy and understanding from faculty, staff, and other students can have a major impact on single mother learners’ access to support and resources, sense of belonging, and engagement in school.


6. Single moms need clearly defined educational pathways to success.
To help single mother learners keep making progress in their learning, schools should support them in defining paths through college to family-sustaining careers in growing industries.


These insights provide a small window into the wealth of information single mother learners have shared with our SMSDC cohort teams, guiding them toward opportunities for transformational change. For a more comprehensive summary of what we’ve learned so far from single mother learners throughout our design process, please see our cross-campus themes, which hold relevance across many institutions.

Our work centers on impact. As this design challenge unfolds, we’ll assess the impact of educational models that aim to support single mother learners in unlocking their potential, and we’ll share with you what we discover. For now, we recommend taking that crucial first step – talk to single mother learners at your school. Understanding their experiences will help you prepare to design pathways to equitable futures for your students.

Explore these resources to continue learning about single moms and other parents in college:

To learn more about the Single Moms Success Design Challenge, visit our project page

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How to Map Your Curriculum to Durable Skills

We find skills and curriculum mapping fascinating, and after our dive into the basics of skills mapping and a conversation with an excited group of skills mappers, it’s clear that you do, too. In “Future Proof,” the Lab covers everything you need to build your curriculum for the future, tackling big concepts, key drivers in the space, and the tools and resources needed for you to get it done. 

21st century skills — otherwise known as soft skills, durable skills, human skills, or mobility skills — are the future of work. The last time we dove into skills mapping, we aimed to help our partners better understand it as a key tool for designing educational programs that better equip learners for the needs of an evolving workforce. Lab partners IBM and Goodwill, for example, have begun using skills maps to build their own internal curriculum for employees to further their skill sets. Nimble universities are using skills maps to reassess their educational offerings and rebuild from scratch (read: WGU Skill Mapping Approach).


So, what do you do if you’re not able to quickly and drastically redesign your curriculum to meet employer’s skill needs? 

Meet 21st century skills curriculum mapping. While skills mapping uses the skills the employment sector is seeking to develop curriculum, curriculum mapping allows faculty, staff, and administrators to use their existing curriculum as a foundation to tag 21st century and other in-demand technical skills. As a result, campuses are better able to equip learners with an identifiable skill set.

Skills mapping uses employer-driven skills as a foundation for building educational programs, while 21st century skills curriculum mapping uses a campus’ existing program to identify where top 21st century skills are already being taught.



What’s a 21st century skills curriculum map?

A traditional curriculum map illustrates how a program’s courses and requirements introduce and reinforce student learning outcomes. A 21st century skills curriculum map is a map or grid that identifies which foundational 21st century skills a learner must develop by the end of their program and where those skills are embedded. This often requires a translation of learning outcomes to skills and competencies (emphasize: skills should be employer driven).


What’s an example of a 21st century skills curriculum map?

A 21st century skills curriculum map for any institution might start with both cataloguing the course work and requirements for one undergraduate major and acquiring a list of foundational employer-needed skills (think: a skills map or the Lab’s T-Profile). 21st century skills curriculum maps may also address a singular course. Working with both sources of data, institutions would cross-walk them: Where am I already teaching 21st century skills? Where could I better embed these skills into my course or program?


How are colleges and universities using 21st century skills curriculum maps?

Palo Alto College in San Antonio, Texas, is offering the Lab’s Collaboration micro-credential as part of their Advanced Manufacturing Certificate, a program that is intentionally seeking to develop collaborative learners. After working together to outline a 21st century skills curriculum map, Palo Alto and the Lab identified a single course (BMGT301 Supervision, as seen below) in the certificate  as the clearest hub for Collaboration. Using their map, Palo Alto was able to elevate the existing course content to make the competencies behind Collaboration more transparent.


An example of a 21st century skills curriculum map: Palo Alto College mapped their Supervision (BMGT 1301) course to the competencies that make up the Lab’s Collaboration Badge, identifying clear gaps and areas to strengthen.


How can I get started on my campus?

Download the Lab’s prototype 21st century skills curriculum mapping tool to start identifying employer-driven skills in your program. We first tested this early revision with a group of faculty at the Summer Academy for Adult Learning & Teaching (SAALT) for the University of Maine System last week and are working on a higher fidelity interactive prototype that will allow you to map and track the development of these skills throughout your program. 

Apart from the Lab’s work, other players in the space are developing curriculum mapping tools to illuminate gaps and show you what you’ve got. Coursetune is a digital platform that allows you to map skills across an entire program. Another, eLumen, helps manage your curriculum mapping process, even allowing you to sync with third-party skill libraries for a more seamless skill tagging experience. 


Interested in giving the Lab’s 21st century skills curriculum mapping tool a try? Let us know what you think and how we can build a better version 2.0 by emailing our team at

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Starbucks U: Evidence the School/Life/Work Weave Model Could Begin to Scale

Last week, EdSurge published “5 Years Since Starbucks Offered to Help Baristas Attend College, How Many Have Graduated?”, a report on the 5 year outcomes of the Starbucks College Achievement Plan, which has helped over 3,000 Starbucks employees earn their first bachelor’s degrees at minimal personal cost with a combination of scholarships and reimbursement funds. The partnership between Starbucks and Arizona State University (ASU) has fostered success for incumbent learners in large part because of their willingness to constantly learn and apply what works, alongside extending meaningful benefits to their employees. 

It prompted us to take a look back at a conversation we had in 2016 with ASU’s Phil Regier, where he serves as University Dean for Educational Initiatives and CEO and remember where they started. You can read that conversation here.

We’re excited about the Starbucks College Achievement Plan outcomes—and see it as evidence that models like this can be replicated and scaled. This news also affirms our view of the emerging future of learning. We see credentialing moving to a Weave, where learners can earn visible credentials for what they know, whether that learning happened through school, life, or work. The Weave graphic below details this concept, one that builds on the efforts of the ASU/Starbucks model and other employer efforts. 

Learn more about the Weave in our white paper, The Learner Revolution, available here.

The Learner Revolution

The Weave

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Middle skills workers don’t have time for college, so we’re bringing college to them

Goodwill workers are rich with 21st century skills but not getting credit for them

For many team members at Goodwill San Antonio, the thought of going back to school is daunting. The two biggest barriers: time and money. Will their biggest motivations, self-pride and career advancement, be enough to persist through the barriers?

What if the time spent to degree didn’t necessarily mean time spent in classroom? What are the ways we can help retail workers leverage the skills being developed on the job toward a meaningful credential or degree?

At our design session in San Antonio this spring, the Lab had the unique privilege of going behind the scenes to see operations at the local Goodwill stores and warehouse. We realized many of the 21st-century skills other employers are looking for are ALREADY being exhibited on the job. For example: Determining a price code for a donated good is critical thinking, sorting items based on future trends in pop culture is pattern recognition, and dealing with customers requires empathy and communication.

Now how do we help workers earn credit for these job skills that can ‘stack’ into a valuable credential at the local community college?

If time is the biggest barrier to a team member’s entry into a certification program, how might we integrate some of the learning so it takes place on the job? Once we’re freed from the mindset that learning has to happen in the classroom, we could entertain the possibility of supervisors playing a role in the assessment of skills. Many team members wrote that they learn best when they are in an environment where exemplary professional skills are modeled regularly.. How can we channel this learning into something that can be assessed and credited by a formal higher ed institution?

To answer some of these questions, we looked to other emerging models that are working to get this right, from companies paying staff members to complete MOOCs to full tuition reimbursement for whole degree programs. As new models emerge, like Brandon Busteed’s Going Pro Early, which suggests students will increasingly get hired right out of high school and earn a degree while working, there’s more pressure to figure this out. Here’s what we have to learn from these existing programs:

Cuyahoga Community College

Some community colleges have taken the approach of physically bringing the college to the place of work. Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, Ohio, has done this with a 53-foot mobile training unit that can be pulled up alongside any workplace to teach hands on skills-based training for in-demand trades like welding, machining, and 3D printing. The biggest question here is how do we scale an approach like this beyond the number of people who can fit in a 53-foot vehicle?

Guild Education

Credit for prior learning is a key piece of the Guild model. The program seeks to meet learners where they are by giving them credit for skills they already have, removing any redundancies. By working with an education coach, they’ll help you get credit for previous college courses, workplace trainings, and find a program that fits best with both your past experiences and your career trajectory.

IBM and Northeastern Badge Program

With IBM’s new-collar program, a large percentage of the workforce doesn’t have a college degree. Instead, they’re being trained on the job with digital badges for the skills they need to remain competitive in their roles. For IBM employees who take advantage of the digital badge program and decide they’d like to get a formal degree, the badges they’ve earned translate to credits at Northeastern University. By transferring in prior learning as signified by digital badges, learners can save up to $6,000 in tuition and reduce the time to a graduate degree or certificate by up to one quarter term.

InStride (ASU and Starbucks)

Employees enrolled through this partnership will be reimbursed upon completion of certain ‘course milestones.’ ASU’s responsibilities include the academic side of the partnership—ensuring course quality, reviewing faculty credentials, developing and maintaining the program—and providing financial aid, advising and enrollment services. Starbucks’s responsibilities are far less, including determining which of its employees qualify for the program, and will otherwise work with the university to create a one-week mandatory orientation session and a “digital experience” to welcome students to the program.

Purdue Global and Cisco/Lily

Purdue Online is partnering with Fortune 500 companies, such as Lilly and Cisco, in two ways: co-developing online badges in important topics as well as enabling corporate-wide learning opportunities. A cornerstone for this model is the flexibility. The custom courses being offered by Purdue Global adapt to the learner’s work schedule opposed to requiring typical academic scheduling.

Between the combined resources of Alamo Colleges District and Goodwill San Antonio, team members will have access to a life skills coach, financial literacy, just in time resources, transportation benefits, and more. The line between school and work is blurring, and, for these team members, we aim to make these post-secondary resources as seamlessly accessible no matter where they are.