Degreed, CodeFights Ready Alternative Credentials To Rival Diplomas

Two San Francisco educational technology startups that don’t offer classes, MOOCs, or other online coursework are nevertheless preparing to issue credentials that, like a college degree, may help learners land a job.

Degreed and CodeFights are among the companies adding new twists to the ecosystem of alternative credentials, which are proliferating as the edtech sector challenges the dominance of colleges and universities in certifying workers as worthy job applicants.

Online education companies such as Mountain View, CA-based Udacity already confer nanodegrees, badges, or certificates on completion of their course offerings. Degreed and CodeFights plan to issue credentials based on their independent evaluations of the actual knowledge and skills gained by individuals—no matter whether they learned it from a Harvard course or a YouTube video about computer programming.

The two startups already offer users a way to display the knowledge they’ve gained, so that employers can recognize it.

CodeFights stages online software programming tournaments, and helps tech employers recruit new talent from among the competitors who demonstrate superior coding chops. Degreed helps its business clients encourage their staff members to keep learning; the startup provides a searchable menu of online courses, videos, articles, and other options. Users record their educational progress on a personal Degreed profile, which they can keep and share as they move from job to job.

Both of the edtech startups have also been developing precise ways to measure the skill levels of subscribers to their sites, and both plan to unveil their own branded, portable credentials this year, their CEOs say.

Degreed, founded in 2012, raised $25 million in a Series B fundraising round in 2016, bringing its total fundraising to about $33 million. CodeFights, launched in 2014, announced in November that it had completed a $10 million Series A fundraising round led by e.ventures. That followed a $2.4 million seed round.

Credentials evolving from employer needs

Tigran Sloyan

CodeFights CEO Tigran Sloyan revealed that his company has already created a form of credential to use as it recommends outstanding contest participants to tech recruiters from companies such as Uber, Quora, and Dropbox.

“It’s kind of a secret right now,” Sloyan says. He would say only that the credential is a numeric description of a skill set, broken into different specializations. “Our secret sauce is going to come out in the next few months.”

CodeFights enlists tech companies—-including Uber, Quora, and Dropbox—- to help design its contests. Some of the competitions pit human programmers against company bots.

Like Sloyan, Degreed CEO David Blake considers alternative credentials a key part of his company’s future.

“Our ultimate ambition is around credentials,” Blake (pictured at top) says. “Our name was always a nod to that ambition.”

Blake muses that the company’s credential might look something like, “You are Degreed in Edtech, Level 5.” The company’s task, he says, is to devise certifications of an individual’s workplace capabilities that are less broad and (possibly) dated than a college degree, but also less granular than a detailed list of learning units completed—-and more current.

Blake says Degreed’s close working relationships with employers, its awareness of their needs, and its observation of the learning patterns of millions of workers, is laying a foundation for its move into credentials.

At this point, Degreed is helping employers to create continuous learning cultures, to organize staff participation in company training modules, and to avoid the expense of creating in-house instruction if similar courses are available online at a lower cost. Through the employee profiles on Degreed’s site, its business clients may become aware of previously undiscovered staff capabilities.

And, due to the explosion of online educational options for studying throughout a career, Blake says, people are learning vastly more through these means than through formal education or on-the-job training. A Degreed profile displays the topics a user concentrates most on, and assigns “points” to each, depending on how many books or other sources the user has absorbed. The company’s next step is to channel and recognize all that learning from ever-diversifying sources, by granting a certification that is something like a college degree—-standardized and verifiable.

Degreed is cataloguing all the skills needed for specific posts, such as a product manager’s job; it is also mapping “the world’s best content” that teaches those skills, Blake says.

Employers have already identified sequences of courses and other learning experiences featured on Degreed’s platform that they prefer their staffers to complete in order to meet company goals for expertise in important areas, Blake says. But he says learners will also be able to earn a Degreed credential of their choice by pursuing the courses and other options that are most affordable, most accessible in their regions, or simply the most interesting or personalized.

Though Degreed won’t be doing the teaching, it will be issuing “grades,” in a procedure to check the learner’s mastery of a topic. Blake predicts that these independent assessments will become a growing feature of the edtech industry.

“Just like content is proliferating, there’s going to be more and more assessments,” Blake says.

The scope of Degreed’s plan for credentials is broad, Blake … Next Page »

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Bernadette Tansey is Xconomy's San Francisco Editor. You can reach her at btansey@xconomy.com. Follow @Tansey_Xconomy

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