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Two Not-So-New Innovations Bridging the Industry-Education Divide

Two Not-So-New Innovations Bridging the Industry-Education Divide
Competency-based learning and Massive Open Online Courses can help higher education institutions and employers get on the same page when it comes to graduates’ workforce preparedness.
Speed in adopting innovative approaches has not been a hallmark of higher education. Yet, there may be a convergence of factors that could change this, and dramatically so.

According to the Society for Human Resource Management, the industries likely to report an increased need for higher education and skills levels over the next few years are high-tech, manufacturing and local, state and federal governments.[1] Increasing pressures facing higher education — specifically, cost and access — are providing fertile ground for innovation, and some of these innovative ideas might hold the promise of finally marrying the needs of business/industry and education. Competency-based education and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), the two innovations that hold the most promise, have been the focus of so much recent discussion they might not seem innovative anymore. Yet, their adaptation to the workplace is ripe with opportunity.

1. Developing a Common Language through Competencies

Historically, higher education has spoken in terms of inputs, such as time (measured in credit hours) spent learning. Competency-based education (CBE), however, holds the potential for higher learning institutions to move toward an outcomes-based approach, aligning knowledge with the very competencies employers need to address the widening skills gap in high-demand fields.

The charge to institutions interested in helping to address this gap and remedy the completion crisis will be two-fold. First, they must create competency degree programs based on employer need. Employers are not in the position of matching their critical need to available degree programs if those programs don’t produce the skills critical to job success. Second, working together with industry, institutions must learn how to acknowledge or assess the competencies employees already have prior to enrollment.

This nexus is where institutions skilled at prior learning assessment (PLA) are poised to take the lead. Marrying existing PLA practices with the training and assessment of employees at their job site allows students to enter into competency-based education programs with successful, proven application of knowledge and skills. They would then join in a degree program at varying points based on those existing competencies. The more proven skills, the more advanced they will be down the pathway to their chosen degree.

How do we address the gaps in knowledge for new students? Educators in the online environment will turn increasingly to adaptive learning technology.

With the potential to personalize education at all levels, adaptive learning is an individualized approach that uses sophisticated prediction analytics to identify a student’s/employee’s existing knowledge or skill gaps, and then redirect that employee’s focus to the learning he/she needs to master critical content. Taken one step further, working as partners with an institution in CBE, employers can then assess the student’s competency in regard to the new learning once back on the job.

2. MOOCs Find a New Home

Everyone wants to feel needed, and it turns out, business and industry need the MOOC. If you follow higher education, you have likely grown weary of hearing this acronym, but recent news points to the fact that MOOCs may have finally moved past the boom/bust phase of the “hype cycle” and found their home in the corporate or vocational training arena, at least according to Dr. Michelle Rhee-Weise at the Clayton Christensen Institute.[2]

MOOCs, it seems, are proving quite effective at addressing the specific training and educational needs of the workforce — a $150 billion industry — by providing a cost effective way to on-board new employees.[3] They incorporate gaming and simulations and capitalize on the flipped classroom model to offer on-time contextual learning that can keep pace with industry demands. Although higher education institutions are already offering academic MOOCs, they might consider using their expertise to create MOOC content specific to an employer’s immediate needs and stacking those shorter MOOC modules toward a degree or certificate.

Alignment is critical to our global competiveness, and innovations are opening the door to help ease the communication and ideological barriers that exist between business/industry and education.

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[1] Tanya Mulvey and Jennifer Schramm, “Education qualifications in tomorrow’s job market,” Chief Learning Officer, November 25,2013. Accessed at

[2] Michelle Rhee-Weise, “MOOCs ain’t over,” Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation Blog, January 7, 2014. Accessed at

[3] Jeanne Meister, “How MOOCs will revolutionize corporate learning and development,” Forbes Magazine Online, August 13, 2013. Accessed at

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