Could skill-based eLearning be an emerging trend that impacts not just corporate work, but also higher education? As Educause noted in 2022, “expectations and demand for noncredit and nontraditional education and skills training are on the rise.” Having worked as an instructional designer for Amazon’s Surge to IT program, Fidelity Investments, eLearning Brothers, and others, I’ve had the opportunity to design and facilitate skills-based learning programs. Big Tech companies like Microsoft and Google now accept digital certifications as an alternative to degrees.

As skills-based eLearning and microcredential programs grow in popularity among corporations, what does this mean for academia? If higher education is to prepare grads for successful careers, universities must maintain a pulse on the job market and deliver the type of education and credentials that are currently in demand. 

Benefits to Universities

  1. Learners and employers are seeking alternatives to degree programs for upskilling and reskilling in today’s fast-paced job market… but why do these alternatives have to come from outside of higher education? Why can’t universities provide MicroCredentials and digital badges in addition to their established degree programs? For example, I am currently helping design and implement a MicroCredential program for a university, which provides digital badges to learners
  2. I see microcredentials, digital badges, and other skill-based learning opportunities as beneficial to universities because each university can meet learners where they are, taking advantage of what learners (especially lifelong learners) are already looking for in online learning.
  3. Universities can rapidly create affordable, focused MicroCredentials and digital badges, which can satisfy the needs of lifelong learners who just want to upskill in a specific area.
  4. These programs serve as a student pipeline, marketing tool, and additional income source
  5. Gain the interest of learners who might not attend otherwise
  6. Hopefully, if learners have a positive experience, they may enroll in undergrad or graduate school

Constraints for Universities

  1. Cost
  2. Time
  3. Subject matter expertise
  4. Resources (including human resources to create the program)
  5. Marketing (the right marketing will be crucial for reaching the target audience and ensuring success)
  6. Upskilling staff-It’s also important that the university understands (and markets or brands) the differences between a digital badge, a microcredential, and a degree… For example, how they can “stack” together, and the pros/cons of each. That way, prospects, learners, and staff or faculty are clear on which options are the best choices in each unique situation

By weighing the benefits against the constraints, each organization can make a strategic decision about whether skills-based eLearning can help achieve their goals.