Living in a VUCA World: Exploring the Future of Credentials

Topics: Future of Learning

It is with great excitement that I can announce that today marks the release of “Certifying Skills and Knowledge: Four Scenarios on the Future of Credentials.” As the name implies, this paper seeks to describe four possible futures for credentials. During the research process for the paper, we were fortunate to have quite a few rich discussions about where credentials might be headed. The response we received during these discussions was typically one of excitement.

Generally speaking, most of our future of learning work has touched on credentials, but only as a piece of the larger emerging future of learning. So why focus solely on them for this paper?

It is not uncommon to hear that we are living in a “VUCA” world. “VUCA” is an acronym for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity, or to put it another way, “It feels like the world is going crazy!” Part of living in a VUCA world is dealing with accelerating change and disruption. The rate of change we experience is increasing, leading to increased disruption, and as a result contributing to those feelings of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. How might this relate to credentials?

We are currently witnessing disruptions to many of our industries and institutions. We can count our educational system and employment sector among the list of those having to contend with deep levels of disruption, and as a result what it means to acquire knowledge and skills and also how we might credential those accomplishments is changing. Fundamental changes in how we educate people promise to change how we credential learning. At the same time, changes to how we work could alter the value that we place on current credentials, affect how we assess and award credentials, and give rise to new forms, which could in turn have the potential to disrupt the education sector even further.

As forecast in KnowledgeWorks’ Recombinant Education: Regenerating the Learning Ecosystem and the related infographic, A Glimpse into the Future of Learning, education in the United States is facing a decade of deep disruption as the digital revolution and the accompanying cultural and social changes reshape its structure. These disruptions point towards a future in which education will be increasingly personalized to each learner, school will take many forms, and a variety of learning agents will guide students in their learning journeys. With education becoming increasingly learner-centered, assessment is likely to become increasingly focused on mastery instead of time, with new uses of both formative and summative assessments to inform learning.

The employment sector is also experiencing change, affecting how, when, and where people might work. Current trends are pointing towards a future of work in which people are likely to think less in terms of climbing a career ladder and more in terms of navigating a career lattice. Employment is increasingly becoming ad hoc and networked, with full-time employment for a single organization declining as employers increasingly seek talent on demand. At the same time, drivers of change such as new forms of automation, an aging workforce, mobile technologies’ blurring the line between work and home life, and economic globalization are pushing employees to hold multiple careers across their lifetimes and sometimes even at the same time. Such shifts could push many people to be in a mode of constant learning and continuous career readiness and could increase the need for specialized training similar to that required for professionals such as doctors, lawyers, engineers, and scientists.

With future trends pointing toward profound shifts in the structures of both education and work, credentials could evolve considerably over the next ten years. Given the roles that credentials play as symbols of knowledge, motivators for pursuing training and education, and the primary means of gaining access to as well as navigating today’s job market, it is important to consider what credentials might look like in ten years, how they might be earned, and how they might be evaluated.

To find out more about how these changes might affect the future of credentials, you can explore the full paper here, as well as connect with me on Twitter @jasonswanson.