Credentials act as third-party verification of skills and knowledge. They are important in helping to determine the best fit for a role, task or job. Education is one of the traditional paths toward earning credentials, acting as a symbol of acquired knowledge, a motivator and a means to enter and navigate the employment sector.

I’m currently researching the future of credentials, considering, among many things, how credentials might change in terms of how they might be earned, how organizations might assess for credentials, and what new types of credentials may emerge.

graduationIn developing scenarios for the future of credentials, I’m exploring possibilities across three sectors: K-12 education, higher education and employment. Changes in any one of these sectors have the potential to affect the other sectors, and the dynamic interplay across the three sectors has the potential to disrupt credentials in their current form. Depending on what forces of change come to the fore, the future of education could involve new forms of credentials, could reflect changes to how we evaluate both existing and new forms of credentials, or could even reflect the granting of credentials by new players.

In researching such possibilities, I recently uncovered this signal of change: “Coursera Launches 18 New ‘Specializations’.” This article highlights Coursera’s skills-based programs, in which learners are required to apply the skills they gain in a course to real-world projects in order to receive a certificate for that course. Similarly, Udacity’s nanodegrees offer skills-based microcredentials with input from companies such as AT&T, Google and Salesforce.

Both Coursera’s new specializations and Udacity’s nanodegrees represent responses to what many have labeled a “skills gap,” or the perceived lack of skills in the eyes of employers among college graduates attempting to enter the employment sector. Could these signals suggest a shift towards a future in which the employment sector jumps from offering input on courses to becoming a direct source of credentials? What effects could such a move have on the K-12 and higher education sectors?

Questions like these point out the importance of exploring the future of credentials. They might seem like mere documents, but they reflect the intricate interplay between how we educate and work. If any of the sectors in question changes considerably, credentials could look very different than they do today. These changes to credentials could impact what learning and employment look like in the future.

What do you think the future of credentials might involve? What will it look like? I hope you will join me as I continue to explore what the future of credentials might involve.

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coffee menuTall, caramel macchiato topped with a half inch of foam.

Grande iced peppermint mocha with whip and chocolate drizzle.

Venti soy chai tea with a shot of espresso.

Starbucks baristas whip up hundreds of thousands of drinks every day, specially ordered by and made for unique customers. Each of us is able to choose the exact drink combination that satisfies our distinctive taste palettes and it makes our days a little better – and more caffeinated.

What if the education system offered something similar to learners and parents, replacing the coffee and tea with educational opportunities?

If the future of education were to provide a “menu” of opportunities, learners would be able to choose between many kinds of learning experiences and providers. They would choose to learn in a park, museum or classroom. They would be supported, not only by teachers, but by professionals, mentors, civic leaders and other learning agents throughout the community.

The idea behind offering multiple educational opportunities is no different than a providing a menu of drink and flavor options. In the end, it all focuses on who matters most. For Starbucks, the customer. For education, the learner.

Behar and ST teamYesterday, StriveTogether had the privilege of meeting with Howard Behar, former president of Starbucks Coffee Company North America and Starbucks Coffee International. Howard, now an author, is invested in improving education in his home state of Washington and throughout the country.

The StriveTogether team talked with Howard about leadership, education and life in general. But perhaps the greatest takeaway was focusing on who matters most.

“I had a wonderful career that was kind of accidental in a way,” Howard said to the team. “I was one of those places that fit me like a glove. But it was more about the people than the coffee. I don’t care what you do – make coffee, create widgets, work in education – it’s about serving the people who need us. That’s what it’s really about.”

Let’s build a future of learning that offers a menu of opportunities. Let’s focus on each individual learner. And no matter what your role in education, let’s serve the students who need us most.

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Reading List: Cold Weather Edition

by Sarah Jenkins November 12, 2014

The best thing about winter? It is once again socially acceptable to stay home, sprawl on the couch, and read the weekend away. Now that the weather has finally decided to turn itself towards winter, reading lists are a must. I’ve only just begun to follow the world of education non-fiction, but after devouring a […]

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Teaching for Competency Education and Beyond

by Katherine Prince November 11, 2014

How might adults support learning in an expanded learning ecosystem in which highly personalized learning environments could become the norm? In October, I presented a session on this topic at Grantmakers for Education’s annual conference with KnowledgeWorks colleagues Lillian Pace and Matt Williams and education systems change facilitator Richard DeLorenzo. Our session took a look […]

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Sharing educational insight at iNACOL annual symposium

by Mary Kenkel November 10, 2014

More than 2,500 experts and educational leaders explored the next-generation of learning at this year’s iNACOL Blended and Online Learning Symposium in California throughout last week. Attendees learned and shared about K-12 online, blended and competency-based learning throughout the country and world. Throughout the week, our policy team shared insight into three important, innovative educational topics: […]

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TEDxColumbus: The Future of Learning through Katherine Prince’s eyes

by Mary Kenkel November 5, 2014

Our co-worker Katherine Prince, KnowledgeWorks Senior Director of Strategic Foresight, has an adorable, three-year-old daughter named Chloe. While Chloe obsesses over her Disney princess nightgown, her Wonder Woman costume and all things pink and purple, she also loves construction equipment, buses, tractors and anything with an engine. Chloe spends her days at preschool, where the […]

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