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Education Software Deep Dive – Education Software Interview With Degreed’s David Blake

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Michael Brown

April 02, 2017

We at Bowery Capital released the 2016 edition of Opportunities In Vertical Software in November, which laid out our point of view on ten specific verticals and the potential for various software solutions to dominate each of these ten verticals in the coming years. For ten weeks, we are releasing content focused around the impact of software on these ten industries. We did a Legal Software Interview released prior to the new year, and have also covered the Restaurant, Insurance, and Construction verticals in weeks prior. For our fifth week we conducted an education software interview with David Blake to discuss the education software space. David Blake is a Co-Founder and CEO of Degreed, an education technology company that is redefining the learning process for individuals and the enterprise. Prior to Degreed, David was part of the founding team at Zinch, which was acquired by Chegg in 2011.

What are some of the most interesting developments in your industry over the last 10 years and how has software added value?

We are building Degreed’s business around two big developments in career and lifelong learning:

Fragmentation of learning and professional development opportunities: A decade ago, there weren’t that many options for people who wanted to build the skills they needed to enter or advance in the workforce. Think live classes, certificate and degree programs, or professional certifications, mainly from colleges and universities, professional associations or classroom training providers. Now, we have dozens of new ways to learn: All kinds of online courses, short video lessons, boot camp programs, mobile apps, podcasts and more, all coming from hundreds of new sources: VC-backed startups, non-profits, consulting firms, media brands and even big corporations.

Enhanced communication and measurement: As more of us build our expertise through these new sources of learning, individuals and employers have begun to recognize – and value – new ways to measure and communicate our skills. So the supply of, and demand for, credentials is also fragmenting. For example, more than 16,000 people have signed up for Nanodegrees,millions have earned Open Badges, tens of millions post portfolios of their work online, and people have endorsed each other for 10 billion skills on LinkedIn. Employers are already using that data (and more) to hire workers, build teams, provision work and develop careers.

What are some of the challenges / hurdles that still exist?

Adoption and credibility are still obviously big challenges for the industry. We live in a knowledge economy. What should matter most to employers is what you can do now – not what you learned 10 or 20 years ago, and it shouldn’t matter how you picked up your skills, just that you did. Yet formal training and traditional credentials are still valued much more highly than informal learning and all these novel credentials. So Degreed is focused on solving two problems, in particular.

The first problem to be solved is interoperability. Nobody becomes an expert solely through courses or videos from just one source. People build their skills by stitching together a range of learning experiences over time: Some courses and books here and there; a bunch of articles, blogs and videos in between; lots of reflection, feedback and coaching along the way; and plenty of practice, trial and error on the job. The problem is, all these new learning resources are essentially islands. They don’t work together or connect learners to other people learning the same things. They don’t provide anyone with the whole picture.

The other challenge is differentiation. Grades, degrees, and certifications all have their value, but they also have limitations. How can you tell who’s actually proficient in some emerging technology like virtual reality or blockchain? There are no established training programs or credentials yet. How do you discern who’s most qualified for a UX designer job? The woman who just graduated from a 12-week bootcamp, the guy with a shiny new MicroMasters, or the architecture graduate who spent the last year reading, taking self-study courses and building their portfolio on their own? It’s only getting harder.

When looking to enable a process with software what are the most important points for a buyer to think through?

All the cliché advice about buying technology applies. Start with a clear business purpose, understand how your users really behave, and find an innovation partner who will work with you (not just a vendor who will work for you). The best advice I can give is that buying technology to make new things possible is actually the easy part. The hard part is making it all work. Our most successful clients are the ones who engage their stakeholders, who get their executives, IT leaders, operational managers, and end-users excited about that new process.

What is your vision for the industry in 5-10 years?

For one thing, I see lifelong learning and credentials getting even more fragmented than they already are. Live classes and online courses are evolving, but they’re not going away. The same goes for academic degrees and professional certificates. However, they will increasingly be blended with and supplemented by new technologies, like video/apps , AR/VR , AI/chatbots , data/analytics, and online portfolios/ micro-credentials.

So it’s increasingly necessary for all those different learning resources and credentials to talk to each other and work together. Our clients are already connecting their internal and external talent development resources via APIs and other tools. Now their workers and administrators can find it all, share it all, and track it all – all through Degreed. Meanwhile open standards like xAPI and Google’s new Cloud Jobs API are enabling us to tie learning to specific skills and on-the-job performance.

Those things are just the means to an end, though. Ultimately, what I see is a more vibrant, diverse, and fluid market for people’s expertise. That will be powered by innovative, new ways to measure and communicate what everyone knows and what they can do, in real-time – like Degreed. That will not only help organizations to better ensure they have the capabilities they need to continuously adapt to new opportunities and threats. It will also help people stay sharp, and live happier, more fulfilling lives.

Thank you for reading this Education software interview with David. Make sure to check out the 1st Education Deep Dive post discussing the History & Market Dynamics of education technology as well as the 2016 edition of Opportunities In Vertical Software for the full report. We will be back tomorrow with our final post on the Legal software industry and the software that powers it.

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