The learn-and-work marketplace is growing more complex and chaotic. If it were a highway, we’d describe it like this: there is a lot of traffic, innovation cars are moving at different speeds, there are few traffic lights and no traffic controllers. Furthermore, many funders (both government and foundations) are supporting different cars, with cars competing for resources and often traveling alone to bring solutions to problems in the marketplace. Can a map help us navigate the learn-and-work highway? We believe it can.

In fall 2018, more than 30 funding organizations participated in a discussion hosted by JPMorgan Chase & Co., Schmidt Futures, and Lumina Foundation to talk about the growing number of efforts to connect the education with the professional world and the growing number of requests to fund these efforts. None of us understood the totality of this work, how many milestones had been met, and the relationships among efforts. As a result of the discussion, we committed to mapping key initiatives with the goal of assisting funders, as well as the initiatives to be able to answer questions such as: Who is working in this space? What are they working on? How fast is the work going? Are the various initiatives coordinating their work?

The first such map — the Guide to Key Initiatives for the Connected Learn and Work Ecosystem — was issued in January 2019, based on information collected from over 20 initiatives months earlier. Since many initiatives were making rapid progress and several new initiatives were funded in early 2019, we issued a second edition in March. And recently, we’ve issued a third edition featuring 36 efforts. Clearly, this indicates that we are progressing toward the six goals identified as necessary to the creation of a more connected Learn-and-Work Ecosystem Guide:

  • Building credential transparency infrastructure
  • Accelerating ecosystem developments through alignment and alliances
  • Creating and implementing technology, data and standards to drive and connect systems
  • Advancing employer and workforce signaling for credential transparency
  • Advancing navigation tools, verifications, and quality assurance
  • Expanding messaging related to credential transparency.

We believe this map is a tool that can be used to help inform folks about the range of efforts underway and help initiatives coordinate with one another.

Counting U.S. Postsecondary and Secondary Credentials, one of the initiatives in the guide, is an example. It reports that there are now more than 730,000 unique credentials in the U.S. alone, with little data available about them.

“We still know very little about the full range of credentials offered across the country and their current—and potential—impact on economic mobility,” Arne Duncan and Governor Jeb Bush noted in their foreword to this report. All initiatives working within the ecosystem will benefit from knowing about this new research.

“We hope that continuing to map key efforts in the learn-and-work marketplace will encourage more collaborative approaches, both by funders and those carrying out the work,” said Gayatri Agnew, senior director for “Over the next few years, thinking collectively may help us accelerate this work.”

“Technological advancements will continue to be a critical part of these developments,” added Jeanne Kitchens, Chief Technology Services Officer for Credential Engine. “Understanding the resources already in play can open up more opportunities to partner with others to help realize the vision of a connected learn-and-work ecosystem.”

One item of particular interest is that many of the initiatives featured in the guide’s third edition focus on credentials rather than traditional degrees.

“It’s noteworthy to see growing attention to efforts in non-degree credentials,” said Chauncy Lennon, Lumina’s vice president for the Future of Learning and Work. “This is testament to the recognition that non-degree credentials are important to the learn-and-work marketplace. We’re witnessing many more workers seeking more affordable credentials that are shorter and more versatile than traditional postsecondary degree programs. Understanding non-degree credentials is imperative to developing and accelerating solutions to the talent challenges facing our nation.”

Steve Crawford, research professor at George Washington University’s Institute of Public Policy, is managing one of the new research endeavors: the Nondegree Credentials Research Network.

“The newfound attention to the potential for non-degree credentials such as certificates, certifications, apprenticeships and badges to benefit workers who might not otherwise obtain an occupational credential is reflected in public policies that are facilitating the expansion of these programs,” said Crawford. “Attention to the effects of occupational regulation through licensure is also increasing. We need scholars to study these developments and inform policymakers and practitioners of their impact and potential.”

We believe that the guide will grow as stakeholders continue the challenging, necessary work of improving America’s learn-and-work ecosystem. We cannot act alone. By definition, an ecosystem comprises interdependent components; our goal is to push the envelope further and faster to influence systemic change.

For more information, see the Learn-and-Work Ecosystem Guide.

This piece originally appeared in the EvoLLLution. To view the original article, click here.

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