Degrees Mattering Less


Too much of our entire educational system, is built around the idea that some students are intelligent and others are not. Fortunately, as we have reported in a previous Trend Alert, new educational methods can help previously categorized "slow students" to catch up.

What's Working Now

Websites like Khan Academy allow us to flip the classroom and give slower learners those valuable opportunities. "They motivate students by convincing them they can succeed and have a better life through working hard in school."

Another example is the KIPP Schools (Knowledge is Power Program). They do a "brilliant job", even for kids from disadvantaged backgrounds. Not only do they keep order so the students are not distracted from learning, but they also feature long hours. They have a long school day, a long school week (some school on Saturdays), and a long school year (school during the summer). KIPP teachers also have expectations of all students.

What's Coming

In The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from the Inside Out by Clay Christensen and Henry J. Eyring, the authors outline how "the potential in each student can be unlocked by combining the power of computers, software, and the internet". Combine that with the human touch of a teacher-as-coach to motivate students to work hard at learning and we have a successful formula. Technology brings together several important factors:

Lessons customized students' individual learning styles at a reasonable cost
Lectures from some of the most talented instructors in the world
Gamification elements to engage learners
The flexibility to allow students to learn at their own paces
And finally, a human teacher to act as coach.
The Shift from Credentials to Certification

There is an additional driving force transforming education: the shift from credentials to certification. The current system mostly emphasizes diplomas and degrees---credentials proving that a student has been spent hours sitting in class, while paying just enough attention to score at least as well as the other students on exams. Increasingly, employers will ask for proof that a potential employee actually has the particular skills needed.

Certificates that credibly attest to a student's ability to write computer code, write a decent essay, use a spreadsheet, or give a persuasive speech are going to be worth more and more. Any training program that takes this need seriously will help students gain those skills and "certify" them for employers in a way that sidesteps the existing educational establishment.

Coding Bootcamps are a shining example

The coding bootcamps that we see throughout the world reflect a model that can work for many other skills as well. For many students, that kind of certification of specific skills is a very attractive alternative to a two-year degree. 

Greater Effectiveness is Coming

Once this transformation of education for Kindergarten through Grade 12 education is complete, it will cost about the same as it does now, however it will be two or three times as effective. College education will not only be much more effective than it is now, it will also be much more financially accessible.

A few expensive elite colleges and universities will still exist; these institutions are not only providing an education, they are selling social status, and the opportunity to experience celebrity professors as well.

Just as author Dr. Susan Aldridge outlines in her groundbreaking book, "Wired for Success", less-respected elite colleges and universities will find it very difficult to compete with the cheaper models for technology-enhanced learning. Perhaps the problem of college costs will be a thing of the past for anyone focused on real learning, as opposed to social status?

Special thanks to Trend Alert Subscriber Dan Abelow for calling this important  topic to our attention, and to Miles Kimball, Professor, University of Michigan, writing on on Quartz. To read the whole article, visit

From "The Herman Trend Alert," by Joyce Gioia, Strategic Business Futurist.


Joyce Gioia is a Strategic Business Futurist concentrating on workforce and workplace trends. Joyce is President and CEO of The Herman Group, a firm serving a wide range corporate, trade association and governmental clients on an international basis.

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