As the world continues to evolve, so too does the workplace—along with the needs, expectations, and lifestyles of the modern worker. The Fifth Industrial Revolution is rapidly transforming industries and jobs, leaving professionals to keep updating, diversifying, and developing new skill sets in order to remain relevant, adaptable, and competitive. For workers, this means that lifelong learning is no longer optional: Everyone will be working and learning in tandem throughout their careers, and higher education must deliver learning opportunities that meet this need.
A bachelor’s degree remains a key academic milestone and positive indicator of career success and income potential. However, it is not the only way for professionals to signal to employers that they have the skills and drive needed to sustain a successful career. While a four-year degree is the path for some, it’s not the path for all. Today, demand for the structure and delivery of a more flexible and accessible model of education has never been stronger. And with the pandemic’s global economic impact accelerating the need for more middle- and higher-skilled professionals, it’s critical that there are more affordably priced, high-quality learning opportunities that enable workers to begin or complete an undergraduate degree while learning immediately applicable skills for the workplace.
Unbundling common education packages like a bachelor’s degree into more manageable chunks, what we call modular learning, is one of many ways that edX is reimagining how education is delivered for the future, now. A modular approach can significantly reduce educational cycle time by partitioning learning into smaller, Lego-like building blocks, each with their own stackable credentials and skills outcomes. And these building blocks can eventually be strung together to form a larger credential like a full undergraduate degree. At edX, we call these MicroBachelors® programs.
In this article, I’ll explain the core components of a MicroBachelors program, how they’re structured, and where the demands of an ever-evolving workforce are taking us next.
An Innovative, Modular, and Stackable Approach to Education
Created in partnership with top universities and Fortune 1000 companies, and available on the edX platform, MicroBachelors programs are the first credit-backed, stackable online credential that puts career-relevant skills in the hands of learners in a matter of months, not years. Affordably priced between $500 and $1,500, based on a per-credit cost of $166, they’re nearly half the $308 per-credit average for an online nonprofit college and nearly a quarter of the $594 per-credit undergraduate national average. And they are free to learn if the credential is not desired by the learner. Each self-paced program, composed of two to six courses, results in a certificate—enabling learners to use these credentials to more clearly market themselves on a resume and in job interviews, and indicate they’ve taken action toward their personal growth by honing a skill set valued by top corporations. MicroBachelors programs are also an effective stepping stone to a full undergraduate degree, because they are backed by credit that a learner could apply toward a bachelor’s program in the future.
The topics and skills taught through these programs are determined by the demand we see in the labor market with help from our MicroBachelors Program Skills Advisory Council—a group of top foundations, corporations, and academic institutions committed to addressing global workforce education challenges with us. Ranging from computer science and information technology to data analytics and business communication, more than 10 MicroBachelors programs from global universities and corporations are currently available, including:
- University Chemistry from Harvard University
- Professional Writing from Arizona State University
- Data Management with Python and SQL from Southern New Hampshire University
- Marketing Essentials from Doane University
- Introduction to Information Technology from Western Governors University
Meeting the Needs of a Changing Workforce
For individuals with some or no college experience, a MicroBachelors program offers an affordable means to advance their career or pivot to a new one quickly. Individuals who’ve experienced a layoff or who are otherwise in between jobs can also use a MicroBachelors program to help them expeditiously get back on their feet. And for those without any college experience, MicroBachelors are a great way to start.
Younger or older, employed or not, MicroBachelors programs are ultimately designed to help the millions of adults who need affordable access to job-relevant skills now, combined with the ability for them to bank college credit while they’re learning. And the range of learners we’ve helped so far grows wider and more diverse every day. Courtney, an operations coordinator at a truck driver services company with an associate’s degree, completed NYU’s Introduction to Databases program and then took on increased responsibilities to earn a promotion. And Kevin traded meandering for years through community college courses for Doane University’s Marketing Essentials program, and now he’s several steps closer to a full bachelor’s degree with the college credit he earned.
In the two years since MicroBachelors programs launched on the edX platform, over 418,000 learners have enrolled in a course that’s part of a MicroBachelors program. Courtney and Kevin are just two examples of edX learners who’ve found a more successful and fulfilling future with the help of a MicroBachelors program.
Relevant Skills for More Viable Careers, Now and in the Future
The educational possibilities are endless with a modular and stackable approach. Along with our academic and corporate partners, we’re keeping our fingers on the pulse of today’s most in-demand skills and working to bring additional topics to learners: microbiology, human anatomy and physiology, and much more. Through MicroBachelors programs and other edX offerings that serve to expand access to high-quality education for everyone, I’m excited to find even more innovative ways to meet learners’ needs wherever they are in their educational journey.
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