Education 2.0: How Do I Get My Degree 2.0?

As you may have noticed, Education 2.0 is a big deal these days. Whether you’re teaching yourself, learning from online lectures, or attending community skillsharing events, there’s a startup hanging around to help you hone your skills.

It may not yet be enough to drive the university system out of town, but the potential benefits and applications of the Education 2.0 model are so staggering that there’s already plenty of speculation – can startup accelerators kill MBAs? Will online learning burst the university bubble? Are Ed-Tech startups going to keep innovating as colleges languish?

Call me a cynic – or just call me a recent college graduate – but I think there’s still a missing piece to this new system.  We’re learning so much. Where’s the proof? How can a hodgepodge of self-directed learning experiences add up to a marketable, provable, degree-replacing document?

Rest assured, readers. Your learning is in safe hands. There are already some great ways to share your hard-earned knowledge. Here are a few current and emerging strategies Education 2.0 is cooking up to replace that maybe-no-longer-all-important degree.

1. Practical application

Lots of online learning platforms aren’t lecture-based and don’t necessarily have logical endpoints, leaving you a perpetual freshman in an educational Never-Never-Land. That’s hard to certify, but it’s actually probably for the best – since we learn better when we learn more than one thing at once.

Your best bet with some skills, like coding, is to prove that you know them by using them, which doubles handily as extra practice. A trend among graphic designers, for example, is to reimagine the résumé as an infographic (like success story Chris Spurlock), or a subway map. You can even SEO your way to a job in SEO!

2. A (nontraditional) degree

Okay, so this one isn’t exactly a disruptive new startup solution, but some higher education institutions are already starting to count online courses against the credits required for a traditional degree.

In his article about accrediting online learning, Paul Fain shows how LearningCounts.org already evaluates the transferable academic worth of an online course by working it into a “prior learning portfolio.”

“If the final product passes muster with a CAEL-affiliated faculty member with discipline-specific expertise, the student could qualify for a credit recommendation that matches up with an equivalent course from a regionally accredited college,” Fain explains.

There are new solutions on the horizon, as well: the still-in-development startup Degreed promises to aggregate both traditional and non-traditional units of learning into cumulative “degree equivalencies,” both to validate online learning and to encourage students to continue learning.

As Degreed’s founder, David Blake, puts it in his TechCrunch manifesto, “The benefit of modern, online education is that the burden of logistics and infrastructure are greatly reduced, allowing for the potential of a fluid, lifelong education model.” Rather than one degree after four years and another two years later, why not certify everything you learn, for life?

3. Document your learning

Since even traditional postsecondary education is observing a shift toward skills-based certification, including a nearly 20% increase in certificates earned since 1980, it makes sense that online learning tends to certify based on what you know, not your major.

Notably, Udacity recently announced a major Pearson VUE partnership to certify coursework for use in job-hunting. The edX partners will offer certificates for complete courses as well, though not degrees.  Coursera already does. Pathbrite just raised a serious A Round to help users collect their learning experiences in one online portfolio.

Even our own humble Smarterer is trying to answer this question – you can prove what you know on any of our 500 skills tests by comparing your knowledge to everyone else who’s ever taken it, and the badges will look pretty snazzy on your resumé or your about.me page, if I do say so myself.

“I do not have a college degree, but I have worked as hard as I can to educate myself and develop as a graphic designer,” one of our users recently told us via email. “The growing movement in skill, rather than education, based assessment are what will allow me to continue working at a professional level in my chosen field, rather than have to start over from minimum wage every time I change employers.”

After all, one of the main selling points of a full-fledged, physical college experience is the network you’ll inherit with your degree. With Education 2.0, maybe what will matter will finally be what, not who, you know.