Identifying Educational Revolutionaries

By | May 5, 2015

The ASU/edX creation of the Global Freshman Academy and LinkedIn’s acquisition of Lynda.com are landmark events in very different segments of the post-secondary education market. They both reflect a major technology-enabled transition in post-secondary education but which event represents a revolution in post-secondary education?

Competency – The long-standing agreement between students and teachers is that the process of post-secondary education is about developing a learner’s competence. This was true of Socrates and his students and is equally true of modern post-secondary vocational education of the type delivered by, for example, Lynda.com or Code Academy.  The raging debate over competency-oriented post-secondary education is not about the core principle (that increased competency of students is a central goal of education) but rather about who defines competence, in particular the role of employers, and how it is measured and certified.

The Global Freshman Academy has committed to developing students competent to enter their sophomore year at a major US university. LinkedIn’s acquisition of Lynda.com is a bet that employment markets work better when learners and employers have a shared understanding of occupation-specific competencies.

Certification – The medieval guild system, where apprentices became journeymen and then were certified by the guild as masters, is a good starting point to think about the process and purposes of certification. As a college degree has become a minimum requirement for many jobs, educational institutions have largely replaced organizations of professionals and practitioners in certifying competence. Academic degrees, educational certificates, and transcripts – rather than a masterwork judged by already-certified masters – are offered as evidence that an individual has certain knowledge and capabilities. For some students and some employers this system works perfectly but for others a credit-hour-based four-year degree is frustratingly opaque indicator of an individual’s competency or potential.   The growth of employment-oriented education, ranging from Lynda.com to Code Academy, where student projects become part of a personal portfolio directly demonstrating competence, reflect the frustration of both employers and learners in some fields with the traditional higher education.

While the online nature of the Global Freshman Academy is new, the enterprise takes a traditional approach to certification.  Lynda.com and LinkedIn (with its mission of matching opportunity with talent) are integrating education, certification, and employment in a way that could bring about fundamental change in local and global labor markets.

Curricula – A curriculum is an assemblage of courses (or sub-course modules), often sequenced, associated with the development of a particular competence. Curricula are usually designed by expert educators with goals that range from the very general (“to develop global citizens and leaders of tomorrow”) to the very specific (“theory, operation, and maintenance of a high-throughput MRI”). Students take, and faculty teach, courses but academic institutions offer curricula.

The Global Freshman Academy, by making the freshman year available online, is changing the approach to delivering a traditional curriculum, albeit with some powerful and useful pedagogical innovation.  The LinkedIn acquisition of Lynda.com is, however, in inventing new links between employers and learners focused on short-form, online, occupational curricula.

While traditional approaches to competency, certification, and curriculum do not diminish the pioneering value of the ASU/edX initiative, LinkedIn and Lynda.com are the revolutionaries.