Technology is evolving fast and is transforming whole sectors of society. Significant changes around credentialing are happening in the education sector, seeing that the workforce’s needs in the 21st century have changed drastically. The revolution is happening in post-secondary education, with colleges and universities leading this change.
The fundamental structure of higher education is being transformed by digital technology, seeing that brick and mortar classrooms are gradually moving to digital space and awarding transcripts that have previously been tightly controlled by the institution awarding them.
A massive change is occurring in post-secondary credentialing which there being numerous pathways to education. More and more people possess more than a college degree, including apprenticeships, associate degrees, occupational licenses, education certificates, and digital badges to employer-based certifications.
The transformational power of technology presents a myriad of options in reshaping the higher education sector. One of the merging options is systems that place students at the center by transitioning from the traditional brick and mortar institutions of higher learning to other learning providers such as online programs, employers, unions, museums, and libraries. We begin to see a culture shift where learning is the most important measure of progress in the new system instead of seat time. Dynamic online platforms will be used to demonstrate what the student has learned. The ultimate goal is for education post-high school to change from static and past experience to become a lifelong endeavor to improve an individual’s knowledge and skills.
Changes are already taking shape, but the transformation of the higher education ecosystem will take some years. The push to have a more connected and navigable system has picked momentum, which opens up the landscape for technology to transform and create a diverse credentials ecosystem.
Higher education stakeholders need to move fast to embrace change and reposition their institutions into key players in the new landscape. IT professionals are the current drivers of revolutionizing the higher education landscape and fully understanding credentialing power. The impact of the change will be felt by all the dominant players in post-high school education. Without a doubt, they are seeing how online systems are allowing learners to advance their career choices by renewing and acquiring new skills and knowledge. Failure to take this unique opportunity to embrace the new changes will further push higher learning institutions into oblivion.
Opportunities for Higher Education
All these changes that are already happening look like a crazy threat to traditional higher education. However, universities and colleges have the opportunity to embrace change and thrive in the new paradigm. Stakeholders in these higher education institutions need to change their approach in these two main ways:
- First, the system of connected credentials will emphasize whether the certifications open up a promising career path. The emphasis will move away from who provided the certificates. The degrees earned in colleges and universities will be one of the numerous pathways into successful careers. The net effect will impact the playing field across the board, right from colleges and universities, employers, unions, and cultural institutions to coding boot camps.
- Secondly, learning will become the core of how credentials are evaluated and defined. Technological tools will foster unparalleled transparency about learning outcomes, which matters in the new system. It will be all about students acquiring skills, knowledge, and abilities, and therefore institutions must demonstrate results in imparting knowledge and skills.
The three major things that colleges and universities must focus on in the new dispensation are:
- Measuring progress based on learning as opposed to time spent in a classroom. The new connected credentials system renders the traditional credit-hour based model irrelevant.
- Producing high-quality learning outcomes; and
- Providing learning opportunities over a student’s lifetime.
The Emergence of a Connected System
There has an exponential growth of different types of credentials from associated degrees to present-day IT certifications. The ongoing change is underpinned by the need to connect these credentials into a single comprehensive and navigable system.
The current system’s weakness is that credentials operate in silos carrying a different meaning and no agreeable way to compare a certificate to another. It makes it difficult to value and equate credentials for both students and employers in the labor market. Leading stakeholders in education, business, and government sectors are pushing to define credentials universally in skills and knowledge. The push is to have a universal taxonomy that connects all credentials and transform the fragmented system that exists today. It will allow credentials of all types to be compared and easily compared.
Digital badges are the leading innovation that denotes specific skills and knowledge to convey an individual’s qualifications. Learners can begin earning the badges by providing their college and university degrees and any other credentials earned from employers, government agencies, unions, and non-profits. All these different institutions and entities outside of the traditional post-secondary education providers can issue badges. Besides the course-based learning options, these digital badges can capture other tangible measurements such as experience. The badges can also be bundled together into robust categories to showcase the expertise of an individual better.
Technological tools facilitate a new learning paradigm whereby students can build up their skills and knowledge through lifelong learning experiences. It is akin to having a digital passport, perhaps based on Blockchain Technology, that showcases your skills and accomplishments throughout an individual’s lifetime.
Higher learning institutions have no choice but to use all the digital tools necessary to produce learning outcomes. The new systems are learning-centered and outcome-based and will completely do away with the traditional way of teaching and assessing students. Learning will move away from an intensive, on-campus model to foster a lifetime of learning and career development through a mix of different pathways — courses, seminars, work experience, and many more. It is about having the ability to learn new skills and knowledge and update the already acquired skills. Overall, the shift to digital credentialing and a 21st-century workforce’s needs will revolutionize the higher education sector.
Author: Alessandro Civati