Evolving Expectations of Management Education

Emerging Alternatives to Degrees

Overview

Emerging alternatives to degrees as market signals (of knowledge and skills) and the shrinking information value of degrees relative to alternatives force business schools to be more accountable.

“Traditional college degrees are deeply inadequate tools for communicating information,” says Kevin Carey, author of The End of College: Creating the Future of Learning and the University of Everywhere. Moreover, he says “new digital credentials can solve this problem by providing exponentially more information. Think about all the work you did in college. Unless you’re a recent college graduate, how much of it was saved and archived in a way that you can access now? What about the skills you acquired in various jobs? Digital learning environments can save and organize almost everything.”

This observation reflects a broader and more fundamental change in our expectations for management education. Learners and employers alike are becoming less and less inclined to simply accept degrees and other credentials, without more information. They are questioning what a degree signals about what has been learned or, more importantly, the competencies of the people who earn them. They are seeking more transparency, as well as accountability.

New types of credentials have been gaining traction in the marketplace. Coursera, for example, offers sequences of courses followed by a capstone project in which students demonstrate their skills. Students receive a verified certificate and must pay fee of $470 USD. These certificates have become one of the most popular postings on LinkedIn. Technology has also enabled competency-based programs, where pacing is flexible and based on demonstrated proficiency, to gain traction, prompting the Christensen Institute to believe online competency-based education “stands out as the innovation more likely to disrupt higher education.” They note that “the true disruptive threat of these lifelong learning pathways will become evident as they gain traction in different industries and are validated by more and more employers.”

As a final note on the signaling power of a degree, companies are not only looking for indications about knowledge and skills, but they are also paying more attention to information about the “network” of prospective employees, because it affects ongoing learning as well as performance. Expectations regarding the ties between educational institutions and their professional networks may change in response to the emergence of alternative direct providers of this information, such as LinkedIn.

Related Resources

Impact Revealed: Learner Outcomes in Open Online Courses
As the MOOC movement has matured from a small-scale experiment into a fully-fledged industry, it has continued to nurture a healthy debate around the future and efficacy of open online courses. This longitudinal study investigates the self-reported impact of open online courses on the lives of learners.

The Carnegie Unit: A Century Old Standard in a Changing Education Landscape, Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching
“The Carnegie Unit remains the central organizing feature of the vast American education system, from elementary school to graduate school, and provides students with an important opportunity-to-learn standard. But at best, the Carnegie Unit is a crude proxy for student learning.”

Open Badges for Higher Education, Acclaim
Open Badges are being touted as the latest threat to higher education. However a closer look at this emerging trend reveals benefits for traditional institutions and alternative learning programs alike.

The Degree is Doomed, Harvard Business Review
An unnamed software CEO shares that he avoids candidates with advanced software engineering degrees because they represent an over investment in education that brings with it both higher salary demands and hubris.

Competency Based Education: No More Semesters?, NPR Ed
“[T]here are tens of millions of adults in their early 20s through late middle age who need to complete their first degree, earn a second or simply update their skills. Educators say that's exactly whom these competency-based programs will serve best.”

Here’s What Will Truly Change Higher Education: Online Degrees That Are Seen as Official, The New York Times
An article which states that the failure of MOOCs to disrupt higher education had nothing to do with the quality of the courses themselves, but rather due to them not being seen as official. The author states that free online courses won’t revolutionize education until there is a parallel system of free or low-fee credentials, not controlled by traditional colleges, that leads to jobs.

Hire Education: Mastery, Modularization, and the Workforce Revolution
A report from the Clayton Christiansen Institute for Disruptive Innovation which offers an exminaiton of online competency-based education, unveiling the "tectonic shifts" to come in higher education.


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