CXO

Can 'MicroMasters' credentials help fill the tech skills gap?

Nonprofit education platform edX recently announced a credential program to teach employees skills in AI, user interface design, and project management. Here's what your company needs to know.

As 40% of employers globally report experiencing difficulty filling jobs, more than half of businesses say they now train existing employees on skills needed to fill open positions, especially in tech, according to a recent ManPowerGroup survey. EdX, a nonprofit online learning platform founded by Harvard and MIT, is looking to bridge the skills gap with MicroMasters, a new category of master's-level online education meant to teach employees in-demand skills while still working full-time.

A MicroMasters credential involves taking a series of courses from an accredited university that make up of 30% of a master's degree. It's aimed at full-time workers who can take the classes online. Each program takes about six to eight months to complete, and costs around $1,000.

"Education, whether at universities or at corporations, really hasn't seen much change, while everything around it has changed," said Anant Agarwal, CEO of edX. "Our model is to offer these universities' programs so corporations can learn from the best. I believe that it is a really compelling approach in education to access the skills gap we face."

SEE: 10 programs to help you break into a cybersecurity career

So far, 19 MicroMasters programs are available, and 20 more are forthcoming in early 2017, Agarwal said.

Those 19 programs include:

  • Artificial Intelligence (offered by Columbia University)
  • User Experience (UX) Research and Design (offered by the University of Michigan)
  • Project Management (offered by the Rochester Institute of Technology)
  • Supply Chain Management (offered by MIT)
  • Professional Android Development (offered by Galileo University)
  • Business Management (offered by the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore)

Some courses within each program are self-paced, while others are offered at different points of the year. There is no admissions process; anyone can sign up for a course and earn a credential with payment, Agarwal said. More than 100,000 people are currently enrolled in MicroMasters courses worldwide. Upon completion of an end-of-program exam, students also receive a credential from the school offering the course to put on their LinkedIn page.

While a computer science master's degree is designed to be completed in two years, for students enrolled full-time, the AI MicroMasters takes about six to eight months. "For a few percent of the full cost of a master's degree, corporations can have an employee do a MicroMasters in user interface design or AI, which is enough to switch to a new career," Agarwal said. "It's not just a quick three-hour skills course."

And if a student wants to continue their studies in a master's program at one of the schools whose course they took, the MicroMasters credential will count toward that degree. For example, if the student gains admission to an MIT master's program in supply chain management, that MIT supply chain management credential will count toward about one-third of their degree work, Agarwal said.

Outside of the MicroMasters, edX offers more than 1,200 free courses, including those in cybersecurity, Python, cloud development, and data science. More than nine million students worldwide are currently enrolled.

The edX platform is open source, so corporations can use it to build their own employee training courses, Agarwal said. For example, in 2015, McKinsey launched McKinsey Academy on the platform to offer business courses. The platform also offers a course called edX Course Creator, that teaches participants how to create online courses within the platform.

EdX is not the only player looking to modernize education and job training. At an IdeaFestival talk in September, former MIT dean Christine Ortiz explained her plans to use technology to build a residential research institution from the ground up without classrooms, lectures, disciplinary departments, or majors. Instead, the yet-to-be-named school will allow students to design their own learning path, integrating science, technology, and humanistic fields to be better prepared to fill future tech jobs.

"The 1,000-year-old university structure is rigid and obsolete, inhibiting human potential and failing to prepare students for life in the new millennium," Ortiz said during the talk. "Scientific and technological education is disconnected from humanistic studies and social impact at a time when their integration is increasingly critical to a prosperous future for humanity."

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. Online learning platform edX recently launched MicroMasters, a new category of master's-level online education meant to bridge the gap between higher education and corporate knowledge.
  2. A MicroMasters credential involves taking a course comprised of 30% of a master's degree online. Each course takes about six to eight months to complete, and costs about $1,000.
  3. Courses include Artificial Intelligence, User Experience (UX) Research and Design, and Project Management.

Also see

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Image: iStockphoto/yacobchuk

About Alison DeNisco

Alison DeNisco is a Staff Writer for TechRepublic. She covers CXO and the convergence of tech and the workplace.

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