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The futurist: The coming era of alt credentials


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The DaVinci Institute recently became the first organization in the world to offer Microdegrees® to the graduates of the Institute’s coding school, DaVinci Coders. People who complete courses in Ruby on Rails, JavaScript, Swift/iOS and Game Development will all be on track to receive this new form of credentialing.

Working as a launch-partner with Atlanta-based Edevate, the Microdegree® is new form of digital credential that certifies someone has completed 1,000 hours of learning in a professional discipline. Completing a Microdegree will be the equivalent of a full year of undergraduate upper level courses. 

According to Gordon Rogers, President and Cofounder of Edevate, “Our goal is to reinvent credentialing. This is similar to the introduction of iTunes, which offered consumers the option to purchase a single track instead of the entire album.”

Expanding the notion of credentialing, Edevate plans to offer Microdegrees to students completing Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), coding schools and other competency-based programs. The Microdegree is similar to Udacity’s Nanodegree, but it is institutionally agnostic, meaning that it can be earned by combining programs offered through many different institutions, with the freedom to stack and blend different types of educational experiences.

Students who are granted a Microdegree will receive a printable PDF diploma along with a digital badge linked to a transcript that describes the educational experience they just went through.

Microdegree candidates can also test out of certain courses by completing an Educational Testing Service’s Major Field Test. Major Field Tests are comprehensive undergraduate and MBA outcomes assessments that measure a person’s knowledge and understanding in a certain field of study.

At the DaVinci Institute, we’re excited about breaking the mold of traditional credentialing, but our sense is this is just the beginning of many new cracks that will be forming in the ivory towers of traditional education.

Here is an expansive view of the options you will have with alternative credentialing over the coming years.

Udacity’s Nanodegree

Last year, Sebastian Thrun and his team at the innovative education company, Udacity, launched a new form of credentialing called the “NanoDegree.”

Working in partnership with AT&T, Udacity is offering online courses focused on entry-level software skills that can be completed in less than a year. The cost to the student is roughly $200 a month. As part of this arrangement, AT&T will offer paid internships to some of the NanoDegree graduates. So far, AT&T is the only company that has committed to hire graduates holding the NanoDegree credential, and only 100 in total, but it’s a start.

Even though AT&T was the only one making the commitment, other companies like Cloudera, Autodesk and Salesforce.com have all endorsed the degree.

For many years, companies like Cisco and Microsoft have offered certification programs that provide tech workers with specialized skills to work with their products. This adds a unique twist to professional credentialing. But Sebastian Thrum has much bigger plans for the NanoDegree than just certification programs, sighting, “The intent is to make this a new industry-wide platform.”

Enter Edevate’s Microdegree

Much like Sebastian Thrun at Udacity, Edevate’s founders, Gareth Genner and Gordon Rogers, are disruptive thinkers determined to blaze new trails in higher education.

In addition to the DaVinci Institute, Edevate is in discussions with a number of MOOCs and coding schools as well as regionally accredited colleges and universities that are interested in both adopting Microdegrees and granting transfer credits.

Taking it one step further, Edevate has already curated over 8,800 free and low-cost educational resources on their website, www.edevate.com, that can be used to earn MicroCredits towards a Microdegree. Through the Edevate platform, users can maintain a lifelong Universal TranscriptTM of their educational experiences and growing bank of credentials.

Learning and MicroCredits

Learning takes time, but not always the same amount of time.

With DaVinci Coders we’ve found that 1,000 hours of proficiency is usually enough to gain an entry-level position in the industry. But not everyone is cut out to be a computer programmer, so some will still not be qualified even after 10,000 hours of work.

For this reason, the idea of 1,000 hours of learning is based on averages – an average learner, spending 1,000 hours, gaining an average level of proficiency.

At the same time, learning happens in far smaller units than 1,000-hour blocks, so we also created the MicroCredit based on just one hour of learning, and fractional MicroCredits for the ultra tiny learning bits.

From a credentialing perspective, how important will it be in the future to validate every hour of learning? To some, it may be far more important than you realize.

Tomorrow: Eighteen MicroCredit Scenarios

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Thomas Frey

Thomas Frey is the executive director and senior futurist at the DaVinci Institute and currently Google’s top-rated futurist speaker.  At the Institute, he has developed original research studies, enabling him to speak on unusual topics, translating trends into unique opportunities. Tom continually pushes the envelope of understanding, creating fascinating images of the world to come.  His talks on futurist topics have captivated people ranging from high level of government officials to executives in Fortune 500 companies including NASA, IBM, AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, Unilever, GE, Blackmont Capital, Lucent Technologies, First Data, Boeing, Ford Motor Company, Qwest, Allied Signal, Hunter Douglas, Direct TV, Capital One, National Association of Federal Credit Unions, STAMATS, Bell Canada, American Chemical Society, Times of India, Leaders in Dubai, and many more. Before launching the DaVinci Institute, Tom spent 15 years at IBM as an engineer and designer where he received over 270 awards, more than any other IBM engineer.

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