Edtechs Next Big Disruption Is The College Degree

After centuries of going unchallenged, the degree’s days alone at the top are most definitely numbered. By 2020, the traditional degree will have made room on its pedestal for a new array of modern credentials that are currently gaining mainstream traction as viable measures of learning, ability and accomplishment.
Technology is changing the job market, and it’s only natural that we find new ways of determining who’s the right fit for those jobs. The traditional college degree traces back to the 12th or 13th century, when the European university model developed a set of credentials that spread across the world and still remain more or less true to their original intent and structure.
In one respect, the staying power of the traditional degree is a testament to its timeless relevance, cultural meaning and professional utility. The world has experienced wrenching technological and cultural change over the centuries, and yet the academic degree remains the de facto baseline for fields ranging from accounting to computer science to biology, and everything in-between.
So, back to our timeline: 2020. For the first time in centuries, powerful forces are converging to challenge the assumption that a college degree is the only way. Frustration with the rising cost of higher education, and the underlying reasons, is at a fever pitch. Students, who are the primary customer for the trillion-dollar global education market, expect their education to improve their career prospects (86 percent of college freshmen attend college to get a better job) and are becoming disillusioned when this doesn’t always occur.
At the same time, employers expect a more sophisticated worker at all levels, and a more transparent view into what qualifies a candidate for employment, both at the point of hire and over time, as skill requirements evolve. This has led to aggressive efforts to innovate in recent years, both within and without the education community. Notably, this confluence of conditions spawned the global massive open online course (MOOC) craze.
MOOCs addressed only the question of access to education, however, and crashed to earth in part because of low completion rates. The MOOC movement, which was supposed to change everything in education, hit the skids almost overnight at least partly because incentive to complete was absent without a proper credential. In hindsight, it seems clear that no substantive education innovation can endure unless it addresses the issue of certification.
Enter the second wave of education’s technology revolution: the New Credentialing. In the past few years, credentials such as online badges, course certificates and dynamic assessments have started to gain wide acceptance, and, in some fields, such as technology, are perhaps even preferred in certain instances because they offer more insight into hard skills, as a primary currency in the world of work and careers. This trend has been sparked by an implied demand, and because the communities aiming to innovate in education realized that credentialing is the missing link in the edtech revolution.
As with most bleeding-edge movements, the new credentialing paradigm is being driven by tech startups looking to innovate. Last year, after pioneering the MOOC craze, Silicon Valley’s Coursera expanded its focus beyond providing free and open education to the world and started partnering with companies, like AT&T and MasterCard, to create specific training and certification programs for those organizations. The idea is to create certificates in collaboration with employers that carry weight in their organizations, a truly efficient way to remove the mystery in what an employer wants from a candidate.