‘MicroMasters’ Surge As MOOCs Go From Education To Qualification

‘MicroMasters’ Surge As MOOCs Go From Education To Qualification

The future shape of graduate and executive education is coming into focus with the surge of “MicroMasters” certificate programs on edX, to which 1.7 million students have registered in a year. The number of programs on offer has exploded from one to 46 during this time.

This is the kind of extraordinary exponential growth that rips apart and rebuilds industries.

MicroMasters certificates (MMs) are online, examined and graded, credit-eligible graduate-level courses that involve about a quarter of the coursework of a traditional Masters degree. At edX they cost about $1,000.

A Harvard-MIT MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) collaboration since 2012, edX has along the way also amalgamated Stanford and UC Berkeley’s homegrown MOOC options, all now rolled into a not-for-profit 501c3 that co-develops online programs in association with 25 universities and academic providers worldwide, most of which are top-brand institutions.

For now, there’s a strong focus on new technology skills areas—data science, artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, robotics—these being current hot-spots for recruitment. But edX also offers MicroMasters in more standard business areas such as project management, supply chain management, marketing analytics, and hospitality, and there’s no reason not to expect a quick spread across the sciences, medicine, arts and beyond, as well as into other languages. edX already has two MMs in Spanish.

In an interview with, edX CEO and MIT professor Anant Agarwal speaks of the vision to widen and democratize the education funnel. Anyone can access it, almost everyone can buy it, and MMs convert to full Master’s degree credits (a requirement that academic-partner providers must be able to offer.)

But, as important as expanding educational access  is, what’s at stake here is even more radical and future-disruptive. Because, it’s apparent most students won’t pursue the full degree. They’ll walk with the MM.

The reason they can easily do this is because of the third player in the edX MM system, the employer. Each MicroMasters is sponsored by at least one industry partner, currently a list of 40 which includes GE, MicroSoft, IBM, Hootsuite, Fidelty, Bloomberg, Boeing, WalMart, PWC, Booz-Allen Hamilton, and Ford.

Employers are not an afterthought, hopefully persuadable by the university’s Careers Office to mop up students after graduation. Here companies are baked into the setup. An MM is a three-way arrangement between educator, student and employer.

For example, in Massachusetts GE guarantees at least a full-time job or internship interview at the company’s Boston headquarters for residents who complete MMs in AI, cyber security, cloud computing or supply chain management. Microsoft has committed to contribute toward the cost for any Community College student to complete the entry level Computer Science Professional Certificate program on edX.

With this nod from hiring companies, MMs become sufficient credential for a career step. This is a huge reframe for what counts as a valid qualification, therein a real shakeup at the pillars of graduate schools.

MOOCs have successfully entered the game not just of education, but of qualification.

In the world of MOOC qualification, the front-loaded learning of a traditional Masters fragments into iterative stepping stones of credentialing. These are smaller, faster, units of study that span a person’s working life. As one MM provides the skills to get a job, so the next one will up-skill her to maintain and evolve the position, or get a promotion, or transition to a new job.

Mindful of a fast-changing world, iterative learning suits both employee and the firm. Neither expects sufficient ongoing capability to come from early career one-shot learning.

Says Agarwal: “Learning once and working for the next 30 years is obsolete; we need to move to an world where re-skilling becomes part of the culture. The MicroMasters as a standalone modular credential serves as academic currency in a continuous, lifelong-learning world.”

In certain fields (medicine, law, architecture etc.) a new entrant will no doubt still need a large upfront chunk of knowledge. But in many other areas, two or more years of front-loaded professional education is starting to look a little quaint.

If this is right, MM qualifications are going to take a huge bite out of the market for traditional-length Masters programs and will also jostle traditional Open and Custom executive education business models.

Schools such as MIT and others involved on the edX platform are laudably taking the long view, part-cannibalizing their traditional model now so as to create a foothold in education industry markets of the future.

This foothold includes embracing the logic of the platform, the digital-enabled connector that seeks to add value or cut costs by creating connections where these were previously weak or non-existent.

Just as Uber sells taxi rides without owning cars or sells hotel rooms without owning any buildings (while also mercilessly sharpening the cost-benefit equation) so edX is a platform play. It owns no universities and no courses. Its business is being the stage on which educators, students, and employers connect.

Not surprising then, that edX’s new president and COO, Adam Medros, was previously Senior Vice President, Global Product at the travel platform TripAdvisor. He’s hired precisely for his platform expertise, and says a big part of what the edX platform builds itself around, as other platforms do, is “access.”

For Medros, access is not just global availability or affordability, but access in the sense of education being there and possible in a way it is otherwise not for over-worked professionals, dual-working parents and others in the time-crunch category.

Such people can access the learning they need, and juggle it into their schedule. In this market “we’ve crossed from early-adopters to a tipping point,” he says.

“Delivering for consumers at scale will be the next revolution that happens in this industry.

“In the early days (of the travel industry transition, as viewed from TripAdvisor management) there were lots of different solutions, some of which had a good fit with consumer needs and some of which were experimental.

“You’re changing not just consumer habits but also industry incumbent habits: how they run their business and how they configure their product. There is not one given model.

“But we will see the industry coalesce around principles that edX represents,” says Medros.

Posted by admin in EdTech, Innovation, Learning, Workplace
As Universities Go Online, Architects Rework Buildings For ‘Active’ Learning

As Universities Go Online, Architects Rework Buildings For ‘Active’ Learning January 5: Many leaders in industries going through digital transformation experience a certain spine-tickling moment when “futures flip-over” happens. That moment is when you get-it that the previously marginal online offering has become the default and the traditional solution has become the exotic.

It has happened in music, in newspapers, etc., and this is where university campuses and business schools are fast heading as education designers, coders and entrepreneurs close in on online platforms that replicate and in many ways improve on the traditional live experience. All for much less money.

While primary and secondary schooling will continue to be based in buildings in all plausible scenarios, because schooling has a custodial function that will not go away, tertiary and quaternary (executive education) campuses are starting to feel like Blockbuster stores in the age of Netflix.

So, goodbye to all that. Or maybe… not quite so fast, according to architectural firm Gensler, which has a practice area in education. It’s not the end, it‘s a renewal.

Real-world university education is eroding, but within this its mix of activities is changing.

Now that students are getting their bread-and-butter learning online, the real world becomes where collaborative, enriching, group learning “experiences” happen. The demands on the space are changing.

How to help that into being is what new education architecture needs to address. The collaborative purpose that used to be secondary has become primary. Form follows function.

In an interview with, Andy Cohen, one of two Gensler Co-CEOs, underlines his three bucket-principles: one, make design for learner-centered, learner-led education. Two, create flexibility adaptable spaces. Three, enable “learning everywhere,” at any time.

Boiling this down to places and spaces, Cohen is seeking an architecture that maximizes the benefit of when students are in the same physical space, getting the most out of that now more rarified occurrence. He talks about encouraging people to link and work and project teams to pop-up in “found spaces” that the architects have artfully left there.

In all this, education building design is following the workplace revolution which for at least two decades has seen office spaces that are open and adaptable, to encourage fluid, collaborative interactions. This itself was office buildings mimicking artisan and design company studio formats.

The doors are coming off the university in much the same way. This in favor of flow to allow inputs and influences to rub together “naturally” so as to create the ecosystem that makes interactive learning engagements and experiences more likely.

Such is the residual value of place in an online world.

The Atrium workspaces with digital screens, at the University of Kansas Business School.

David Broz, Gensler Education Practice Area Leader, says despite space constraints, universities “don’t need more buildings. They need buildings that are the right size and shapes for learning.”

The problem is old classroom styles can’t meet new active learning protocols. Old world allowed 20 square feet per student, and this was achieved by rows of chairs in the lecture room. But interactive, experiential learning requires 50 square feet per student. So the existing square footage has to be creatively massaged.

“We find we are having to thicken (widen) the programming of what used to be defined as common elements. Hallways and corridors. Now these have a programmatic function worked into them,” says Broz.

Posted by admin in Innovation, Learning, Workplace