Alternative models of education—MOOCs, coding boot camps, sites like Lynda and Treehouse—have made educators, employers, and students think again about what education really means. For example, the success of boot camp graduates has made employers reconsider the kinds of credentials they are looking for in job applicants, and making students think twice about plunking down $100,000 or more for a traditional computer science degree. But perhaps the biggest contribution these models have made is demonstrating that a high-quality education, one that will lead to a well-paying career, doesn’t have to cost a fortune.
In a recent article at The Evolllution, Chari Leader-Kelley of the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning describes three major innovations—ideas that “were likely viewed as ‘fringe elements’ only five years ago”—that can greatly cut the cost of education for adults who are looking to go back to school to stay competitive in the job market. The three elements she identifies are:
1. Competency-based education and prior learning assessment. Giving students credit for prior learning based on demonstrated competencies can cut costs by reducing the number of courses learners must take to earn a degree.
2. Micro-credentials and badges. Micro-credentials and badges represent smaller pieces of education than certificates or degrees. Many such credentials are available for free, and they may be sufficient for many people who don’t actually need degrees.
3. Open online high-quality learning content. The number of quality online content options has exploded in recent years to include MOOCs, Saylor courses, open academic journals, open textbooks, and more. This content can not only be used by self-direct adult learners, but also, as in the case of open textbooks, can reduce the cost of a classroom education.
These are all promising ideas that have been gaining a good deal of momentum and are likely approaching a tipping point. In five years, we will probably hardly remember a time when competency-based education and micro-credentials weren’t the norm. And I predict this won’t just be standard in adult education, but in traditional higher education as well. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and say that in five years, there will be much less of a distinction between adult and traditional education, as we will all just be recognized for what we are: lifelong learners.
The current situation of high tuition and suffocating student debt is unsustainable. These three innovations are leading the way toward making education affordable—for everyone.