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From Just-in-Case to Just-in-Time: A New Role for the Modern University

Transitioning from a just-in-case credential model to a true just-in-time model requires more than modularity; it requires infrastructural and philosophical shifts in how the institution operates.
Transitioning from a just-in-case credential model to a true just-in-time model requires more than modularity; it requires infrastructural and philosophical shifts in how the institution operates.

Colleges and universities are being challenged today to foundationally change their program models to meet evolving learner and employer demand. But shifting program models requires more than doing the same things in different ways. In this interview, Kemi Jona reflects on the true challenge of pivoting to a just-in-time program model, discusses some misconceptions around credential stackability and gives a sneak peek into some of the material he and his co-speakers will discuss in their session at the IMS Global Digital Credentials Summit.

The EvoLLLution (Evo): How can higher education institutions pivot to delivering just-in-time education?

Kemi Jona (KJ): First we need to unpack what we mean by just-in-time education. That concept is often foreign to higher ed and something that universities aren’t really set up to respond to.

Traditional education has been designed to work in a just-in-case model, where we cram everything an individual might need into a program leading to a credential, whether it’s a certificate, a degree, an MBA or anything else.

We’re being asked to shift from this to a just-in-time model, which requires some fundamental shifts in thinking for faculty and universities across two major areas. We must look at what we teach and how we teach it.

Both of those decisions have historically rested entirely on the faculty and the university. They get a committee together, sit around the table and decide what courses to include and what somebody should know. And in rare cases, they involve industry experts and business leaders.

The decision around what to teach is generally not made with an eye on a just-in-time delivery model.  That’s where the “how to teach” decision comes into play.

A big misconception that a lot of university folks have is that you can simply take a course and easily chop it up into small little tidbits delivered just in time. And the truth of the matter is it doesn’t work like that. Most course syllabi are designed by faculty based on the fact that it’s a linear ten- or 15-week sequence of learning that the full cohort engages in lock-step. When you’re doing just-in-time, you can’t make that assumption. And so almost everything about the course has to change to fit the new model.  What if I want to learn the pieces in a different order than everyone else in the course?

Evo: How does that perspective on the nature of just-in-time programming align with our industry’s movement to exploring stackable credentialing models?

KJ: Stackable credentials are going to be our new normal; it forms the baseline default expectation these days.

But simply attaching a certificate or credential along the way doesn’t automatically guarantee that it’s going to work in a just-in-time format—for the same reasons that we talked about before.

We need to start by understanding the needs of the working professionals we’re serving. That information—the kind of work that they’re doing, their skills gaps—should be used as a driving organizing principle to structure their learning.

That is a very, very different undertaking than the way that curriculum and courses are traditionally designed and organized at a university, even when we look at many existing stackable offerings.

Evo: What role can institutions play in managing the increasingly diverse and confusing network of credentials?

KJ: We’re in an era where there’s been a massive explosion of credentials of all sorts. There are badges, employer-issued credentials, third party-issued credentials, institution-issued credentials and more. I don’t see any sign of that letting up any time soon. So, we’ve now created a whole different problem, which is trying to make sense of all these pieces.

That’s where universities can really play a unique and value-added role. Higher education can re-bundle these microcredentials into something more meaningful that carries an academic certification. Basically, higher ed can help students take the bits and pieces they’ve learned from different places—maybe an IBM badge, an Amazon badge and a Microsoft badge—and help bundle it toward a computer science certificate or degree that is valued regardless of where the person is employed.

There is a tremendous amount of opportunity for higher ed to help make sense of the confusing credential ecosystem, helping both learners and employers along the way.

Evo: This implies a shift in the role of higher education institutions. Rather than being gatekeepers of knowledge, we’re now being asked to contextualize disparate learning into a cohesive model.

KJ: Exactly, and this shift is happening across multiple industries. In the old days, the firm owned all of the resources. So, if you are Marriott hotel, you own the building, the brand and you employ people. But when you now look at Airbnb, they have shifted to what can be thought of as an “orchestration of resources” model. Uber’s the same way; they’re orchestrating and organizing all the different pieces to connect consumers with services they need. Single companies don’t own or control every element of the chain.

When you think about that shift and apply it to higher ed, what we’re really talking about is asking universities to make a parallel shift to an orchestration of learning. After all, the university doesn’t control 100% of the learning experience anymore. You might have some pieces that faculty provides, but other pieces are going to come from an employer or other third party.

From a competency perspective, this means we need to be able to quickly evaluate, assess and articulate these other sources of learning and map them so they fit into some larger credential structure. That is not something universities are particularly good at. They’re really good at looking at their own courses, but they’re not that great at looking at other people’s content and making sense of it. And when they do, they tend to do it slowly and in a way that’s not scalable.

Evo: At the IMS Global Digital Credentials Summit, you’ll be part of a panel exploring just-in-time learning, credentialing and building tighter linkages between higher education and the labor market. What can folks expect from your session?

KJ: What I’m really excited about for our session at the IMS Global Digital Credentials Summit is that we have a two really incredible thought leaders from two different industry sectors—healthcare and technology. And what I think participants will be able to get out of the session is a first-hand understanding of how just-in-time learning and digital credentials are being strategically deployed, where the commonality is across sectors and where they differ. 

It’s going to provide a peek into the future of talent strategy and talent management.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. To attend this session, and to learn more about the present and future of digital credentialing, register today for the 2022 IMS Digital Credentials Summit in Atlanta, GA.

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