About Dai Ellis

Passionate ed reformer, Generation Rwanda co-founder, recovering infectious disease drug-slinger, rookie father. @DaiEllis on Twitter

Learn to Work vol 5

Here’s the latest sweep from the world of education to employment, where all the job seekers are above average …

Anything you’ve seen recently worth sharing?

If you know anyone else who might be interested in these updates, have them add their email here

If you check out one link this weekend, make it this one — amazing This American Life episode about low-income students’ experience with college and privilege. College struggles are so deeply about sense of “I don’t belong,” “I don’t deserve it,” “I’m alone in this.” The story of how just missing out on Posse fellowship crushed Melanie is heartbreaking. Hell of a piece of journalism.


  • Of course we gotta start with the Big Bang – LinkedIn buying Lynda.com for $1.5B. If you’re in ed-to-employment and that doesn’t make your heart go all aflutter, right?
  • Fast Company on Stanford’s most popular course “Designing My Life”. This kind of support — prompting and helping students to think about shaping their journey — should be much more common in college. And yet if just feeling like you belong in college is tough for low-income students, imagine what a psychological leap “design your life” requires.
  • Michael Moe in the GSV newsletter on some of the innovation in corporate learning/training and leadership development – Google/2U partnership, CorpU, and more
  • Big feature in WSJ about how surprisingly hard is it for Houston employers to line up a pipeline of trained people for very high-paying middle-skills jobs. When employer pain gets real, their spending gets real
  • Mounting evidence all the time showing how intense relationship-based support drives college completion. Fascinating deep dive look in The Atlantic from the always-sharp Amanda Ripley on Starbucks/ASU partnership — “The Upwardly Mobile Barista” — and the student supports it provides that get less attention than the Starbucks $$ commitment but are just as important. Other recent stuff along these lines: Bottom Line feature in WSJ covering what I think is the most under-appreciated college support program in the US; and Tom Vander Ark on the Match Beyond model we’re launching in Boston
  • Jeff Selingo in WaPo asking if purpose of college is mostly job or education
  • Ryan Craig of University Ventures (scroll down to Double Myopia post) on how college-employer collaboration is way too often one-off window dressing

Learning to Work

Here’s the latest sweep from the world of education to employment, where all the job seekers are above average …

Anything you’ve seen recently worth sharing? Thanks to Josh J at Koru for sharing a couple of the snippets below.

If you know anyone else who might be interested in these updates, have them add their email here

Quick story building on the Globe piece on Match Beyond below … one of our MB students, Cathy Loesch, had been stuck in low-ish level retail roles for a decade. Couldn’t rise above assistant store manager with her high school degree, despite her professionalism & diligence. Came to Match Beyond recently (she’s around 30 yrs old), earned her Associate degree in about 6 months working her ass off on the College for America projects while sitting at desk working her concierge job, and newly armed with AA recently landed a management track job at Hertz earning double what she was before + company car + benefits. She’s on the up and up now and working on bachelor’s while working at Hertz. Go Cathy!


  • Peter Cappelli arguing that the whole skills gap thing (colleges don’t prep students) is mostly bunk and that the bigger problem is employers don’t invest enough in training. Think this lets universities off the hook way too quickly but rightly rebalances the blame — even though employers collectively spend more than universities on postsecondary training they could do a lot more, esp apprenticeship-like training.
  • Couple interesting pieces from Jeff Selingo in WaPo: 1) different take than Cappelli pointing out ways universities and students could do more on job readiness; 2) how job licensing drives up college costs (note: there’s an association of industry associations! gash me in the eye with a rock hammer).
  • Fascinating chart in the Economist suggesting choice of major much more important than college choice in ROI terms – cutting a bit against Jeff S’s argument that students sweat choice of major too much?
  • What’s up with the middle-skills gap suddenly becoming the sexiest thing in corporate philanthropy? Huge 9-figure initiatives announced of late by Capital One, Walmart (+ minimum wage bump, h/t Bentonville!), and JP Morgan. Usual suspects (JFF, Year Up, etc. getting lot of the cash – more entrepreneurs please!)
  • Last newsletter had couple snippets about MOOC/nanodegree providers doubling down on employer partnerships and co-branding — this Pace / Media storm social media/marketing master’s program is a glimpse of what could start happening even in the traditional degree space
  • Is the growing wave of on-campus innovation centers mostly window dressing or will they help shake up college culture?
  • Couple things at the intersection of big data + HR:

Plus news on the home team:

  • Boston Globe feature on Match Beyond, a close cousin of Kepler (both partnered with SNHU/College for America) we’ve been launching here in Boston
  • Michelle Weise of the Christensen Institute with a really thoughtful blog post in Competency Works about Kepler‘s work in Rwanda — could Rwanda leapfrog on competency-based ed?


TPS Reports Vol 3 – the news on education and employment

News is flying quicker than usual here in E2E land, where all the job seekers are above average . . . 9-piece Nuggets below

Anyone got any interesting stories from your work recently?
If you know anyone else who might be interested in these updates, have them add their email here
And for Sunday fun, master class on job interviews from Will Ferrell
  • WSJ with interesting piece on why it’s so hard to fill sales jobs. Looking back, I wish I’d done a sales job early in my career! What a great early experience to have in so many ways
  • Lots of coverage of Coursera’s move in the Udacity / nanodegree direction with university-branded “Specializations” that bake in employer-branded “Capstone Projects” — piggybacking on university and employer brands simultaneously
  • New angle on the case that a bachelor’s degree does pay off despite all the hyped debate about that — bachelor’s holders get much more lifelong learning investment from employers (and the full report here showing that employers spend roughly $600B annually on training, more than all universities/colleges combined
  • Outside of SNHU & College for America, one of the most interesting university initiatives to watch is what the University of Texas system is doing with UTx. In the context of other innovation in the Texas system — like the $10K degree push and the college completion work at UT-Austin — the next-gen platform that UTx is building (sneak peek here) could help turn Texas into the leader in rethinking higher ed.
  • On the next-gen HR side, I’m really curious to see where Dunwello goes. Founded by a successful serial entrepreneur here in Boston — idea is to get people reviewing other individual professionals. Early days but seems like trying to Yelp-ize the way professional references happen in the internet age. I’m surprised LinkedIn hasn’t done a better job of figuring this out yet. One of the things I’ve always scratched my head about in traditional hiring is how we rely more on thin-slice impressions the hiring company gets through direct interviewing than on thick-slice impressions from people who’ve worked with the candidate for years.
  • Piece reviewing how we’re starting to ditch the baggage-heavy “vocational” in favor of “CTE” – and making CTE consistent with higher ed, middle class, and middle skills / more cognitively demanding work
  • Washington Post on how colleges can improve employment outcomes

E2E Newsification

Below’s the news from E2E land — where the universities have their head in the sand, employers are starting to wake up, and all the job seekers are above average.
If you have any colleagues or friends who you think would want to be copied, have them add their email address here.
Quick story I thought I’d share, some of you have heard . . . last year (2013-14) I was a Year Up mentor for a 19 yr old guy named Stephane who’d recently immigrated from Cameroon, dropped out of community college in Boston, and was working as a waiter. In Feb 2014 he got an internship with a pharma company doing basic admin of their Salesforce database. Taught himself Salesforce, got a basic Salesforce certification, and after his 5-month internship ended he got headhunted and landed a $60K job doing Salesforce.com admin with a company in DC. Fast fwd 6 months. Stephane texted me the other day to say he’s now getting headhunted by Fannie Mae to do Salesforce for $100K+ annually. Doesn’t have his Associate degree yet, and has 11 months of white collar work experience. So maybe there is something to this whole skills gap thing.
Please keep sharing interesting stuff you see, anecdotes, and feedback — community project here!


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Education-to-employment newsletter

In the couple years since we started to work on the educationt-to-employment challenge, we’ve struggled to find any reliable news aggregators on this theme that help us keep up with the latest innovation. So I’m starting to store up interesting stuff I come across and will send it out via newsletter (and cross-posting on this blog when I can) once or twice a month.

See below for the first crop of stuff. Eager for feedback on what to change about this to make it more useful!

If you or anyone you know wants to receive these updates by email, fill out the super-quick signup form here.

Besides E2E other newsletter themes will be lifelong learning and next-generation hiring/HR practices. We’ll continue posting our own thoughts about these and other themes on this blog, separate from the newsletter.

Happy new year everyone!! Here’s to getting a ton of deserving, hungry, growth-mindsetty young folks into great jobs in 2015.

and some good pieces about the home team:


Weekly roundup

Plenty of interesting stuff stored up from the last few weeks!

The MOOC backlash is in full swing now, as many of you will have seen. So far, not finding the backlash a lot more thoughtful than the initial hype. Sigh . . . It’s not about MOOCs-awesome or MOOCs-suck; it’s about how education orgs can use MOOCs as one small part of a thoroughly reinvented model that includes in-person elements and produces much better outcomes. Recent Clay Christensen piece made this point

1) Blogged this yesterday, but just to flag in case anyone missed it — Jamie wrote a spot-on piece in Slate yesterday, trying to find some middle ground between the MOOC hypers and haters

2) Jamie’s piece was partly in response to an Anya Kamenetz article in Slate, which was thought-provoking in highlighting the potential downsides of using MOOCs aggressively in the developing world. We found it a bit overstated and not reflective of our experience with Kepler so far, in the ways Jamie highlighted in his piece.

3) Meanwhile, Anya wrote an excellent piece in the NYT — showing why she’s one of the hottest journalists in the higher ed space right now — on competency-based education. In the long run, we continue to feel that this trend will be much more far-reaching than the MOOC one.

4) Loved this spotlight on Champlain College in Vermont by James Fallows in The Atlantic (Atlantic continues to impress on education coverage!). So much in common with our vision. Can’t wait to get up there to check it out. What a shame it’s capped at 2K student enrollment. Wonder if the cap makes them more open to partnership to expand their impact?

5) Fast Company article on the major pivot Udacity is undertaking. Seems like a step in the right direction strategically for Udacity as a business, though the piece is much too fawning (explicitly and implicitly) about Thrun. But the piece misses the point about how MOOCs can create value and how to interpret completion rates, as just about every other observer does.

6) Audrey Watters with a MOOC-backlash-representative piece on Udacity’s pivot and all the attention Thrun gets. Critiquing Thrun-as-saint is totally fair — no way he should be the figurehead for improving higher ed, and he’s said some pretty daft things. But turning that into across-the-board MOOC-hating isn’t much more thoughtful than what Thrun has said. The whole idea that we need to keep MOOCs at bay because they’re bad pedagogy? Um, yeah — two problems: 1) MOOCs can/should be used to take lecture out of the classroom and enable smart pedagogy during class time, as Kepler is attempting; and 2) bad pedagogy has already taken root across most of our college campuses, well before MOOCs came to town! As Jamie says in his Slate piece, the danger is the status quo, not MOOCs howling outside the gates.

7) Paul LeBlanc of SNHU with a very thoughtful piece on tech-enabled education and the human heart. Made me think back to the Gawande piece on how there’s no substitute for door-to-door, in-person engagement when rolling out new health technologies and behavior change campaigns.

8) Anyone else doing — or interested in — entrepreneurship in education service delivery or ed tech should have a look at this Diane Tavenner talk at a Lean Startup conference last year. Diane founded Summit schools which is doing some fascinating & pioneering work in blended learning.

9) Giants feeling pain: in the higher ed world, Yale feeling the crunch, and in the K12 blended learning world, Rocketship making some major changes even as it shoots for the stars with scale.

10) Our friends at Bridge International Academies got some nice coverage in Wired this week

11) Mindfulness and meditation taking off in the business world. If mindfulness practices are as potentially personally transformative as its practitioners feel they are, how could we incorporate into education in a secular way without setting off Wavy-Gravy alarm bells?

12) Interesting piece in Getting Smart about how higher ed institutions might become ‘lifelong learning partners’ and really unleash the power of their alumni network and connections. Want to circle back and blog on this. Big part of what we’re envisioning.

13) Coursera creating some global learning hubs to create ways for learners around the world to get some in-person support and facilitated access. Makes sense, consistent with Kepler vision though thinner model in many cases; curious to learn more about some of these

14) Kepler also got a mention in a recent BBC piece

Kepler in Slate

Our own Jamie Hodari just wrote a great piece in Slate responding in part to an earlier, thought-provoking piece by Anya Kamenetz.

Some money quotes:

  • The greatest threat to national education systems is not online courses or other innovations. It’s the status quo.
  • No one cries afoul when a Nigerian professor uses an economics textbook written by a professor from Berkeley.
  • And many of the experiments happening in Africa will be just as relevant for helping the United States work through its own higher education crisis. In fact, the best experiments in places like Kigali may eventually be featured at your alma mater a decade from now.