Mar 01 2018

Online University Programs and Microcredentials Enhance Professional Learning

Short, tailored programming makes it easier for businesses to support employees looking to continue education.

Partnerships between businesses and universities have been integral to helping college graduates meet the changing technological demands in the workforce.

But, what about people already in the workforce? How do they keep up? Allowing professionals to more easily seek out additional education was the impetus behind edX, a nonprofit company that MIT and Harvard established in 2012 to offer free versions of their online classes.

While edX offers a number of massive open online courses (MOOCs) and even allows users to take one of Harvard’s most popular online classes for free, last year Massachusetts Institute of Technology sought to expand professional learning options even further.

Evolving from the MOOCs it traditionally offered, MIT announced Digital Plus Programs, which allow enrolled professionals to seek out certificates, an EdSurge story reports. Instead of allowing for open enrollment, however, the online courses are only available to companies and organizations that pay for their employees to further their education. Each course is capped around 50 students, according to EdSurge.

“We have always worked with corporations and companies, it’s part of the DNA here at MIT in terms of our research and innovation,” Clara Piloto, director of global programs at MIT Professional Education, tells EdSurge. “But [Digital Plus] is an evolution of our existing digital programs.”

As higher education institutions look to find their place in the future, this program and other “show what you know” programs seem to be in line with what is on the horizon.

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Certificates and Microcredentials Shape Professional Learning’s Future

In addition to providing flexibility and access, online programs such as MIT’s Digital Plus provide universities with a valuable business model.

“Enrollment is down in degree programs and student debt is up … it will be interesting to watch if higher ed goes after more micro-learning certificates and credentials,” Tracy Petrillo, a principal consultant at higher education firm Entangled Solutions, tells EdSurge.

These online credentialing programs also give attendees a way to show that they’ve learned valuable skills.

Microcredentials, for example, are given to show that a professional learner has competency in a specific skill, Getting Smart reports.

A microcredential program is brief and allows professionals to get a certification — like one for a specific type of technology — quickly and prove it just as they would a degree.

“Long-form advanced degree programs can take several years, and while they still have an important role, there should be other options that can more directly impact professional learning (and therefore student learning) now — not just ‘down the road,’” reports Getting Smart.

As enrollment in higher education continues to shift and businesses continue to require a workforce skilled in technology, more “show what you know” programs will likely crop up.

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