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?


Reflections on the annual Gates letter

About a month ago, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation released their annual letter. Their big bet this year: the lives of people in poor countries will improve faster in the next 15 years than any other time in history.

They sketch out five breakthroughs that could power this kind of rapid development—and it’s not only advances health and agriculture, but innovations like technology-assisted learning that will create opportunity across the world, and most profoundly in Africa.

A year and a half ago, the Kepler team made a similar bet. We realized that with the emergence of free online courses, competency-based education, and increasingly reliable broadband in Africa, there was an enormous opportunity to provide quality higher education at a much lower cost than traditional universities. If we were successful, this could offer a transformative experience that talented students from any economic background could afford.

Our approach is simple: pair world-class online content from leading universities with intensive in-person seminars led by a team of local teachers. And to ensure that our students receive the professional skills and international credentialing that they’ll need for employment, we partnered with Southern New Hampshire University’s innovative College for America program. So instead of the passive lecture and test model, our students would engage in hands-on, competency-based projects that are designed to help them master the industry identified skills they’ll need in Africa’s emerging knowledge economy.

Now, Kepler, our experimental campus in Kigali, Rwanda has enrolled nearly 150 students, almost all of whom came from difficult backgrounds and never could have afforded traditional higher education. Despite their unmistakable talent, without access to a program like this, their future would likely be limited to either subsistence agriculture or small commerce. And now, the educational experience they’re helping to create at Kepler is in some ways more advanced than what most students experience in traditional Western universities: a pragmatic, skills-based curriculum that’s tailored to what employers want in Rwanda’s competitive job market.

Most surprisingly, after only a year at Kepler, over 20% of our students had already received their AA degrees from Southern New Hampshire University and started working on their BA curriculum. And all the other students are on pace to finish their degrees on time. These statistics stand in stark comparison to the low graduation rates of American community colleges and universities.

Kepler’s approach would not have been possible even three years ago. MOOCs, competency-based education, reliable bandwidth in Rwanda—all of these innovations are only beginning to emerge. But from our experience, Bill and Melinda Gates have it exactly right: the combination of innovative software, dedicated teachers, and a career-focused curriculum is a combination that is poised to radically transform learning around the world, raising millions of talented African students out of poverty and creating a new global economic powerhouse.

For more detail on this, there’s a good piece over at The Verge that discusses how Kepler and other organizations are leveraging MOOCs and other recent innovation to improve education in the developing world.


Chris Hedrick is the CEO of Kepler, based in Kigali Rwanda. Follow him on Twitter here.

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:


After 900 years, it’s time to stop the experiment

Lloyd Armstrong’s fantastic blog pointed me to a new study out in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, “Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics”. The article is a meta analysis of 225 studies of academic performance across lecture-based and active learning courses. The results are decisive:

Students in classes with traditional lecturing were 1.5 times more likely to fail than were students in classes with active learning.

This isn’t the first study to come to these conclusions (the PNAS study sites a number of other similar results), but it is the largest so far. And the authors’ discussion of the results is perhaps more damning – after looking at the magnitude of the effect across the sample size they conclude:

If the experiments analyzed here had been conducted as randomized controlled trials of medical interventions, they may have been stopped for benefit—meaning that enrolling patients in the control condition might be discounted because the treatment being tested was clearly more beneficial.

In other words, if active learning was a new drug being tested on patients – like early trials of antibiotics for example – it would be unethical to continue the alternative treatment because of how dramatically inferior the results are. With the significant difference that this experiment has been going on for 900 years, since the development of the first lecture-based university courses in the UK.

At Kepler and Spire, we’ve been building new models of higher education that reflect our beliefs that letting these students fail through a reliance on outdated pedagogy is unethical. We’re redesigning the classroom experience to dramatically reduce the time and money spent on lectures:

  • We use technology, leveraging content from edX, Coursera, and other exceptional providers to run a flipped classroom – where students watch lectures for free online at night so we can use class time for active learning;
  • With the money we save by shifting lectures from expensive professors to free online resources, we are able to invest in many more coaches and facilitators to reduce student:teacher ratios and enable small group problem solving and discussion sections;
  • Rather than constructing huge and expensive lecture halls and campuses that force a passive learning approach, we’re designing our classrooms to look more like office space to facilitate active learning with small teams working together to solve problems;
  • Finally, through tight partnerships with employers, we are able to expose students to work-based learning from day one, further reducing costs for students and driving even better outcomes in terms of academic quality and employment rates.

We’re working hard to prove out our model and demonstrate through our results that traditional lecture-based models for higher education are not only unethical from a quality perspective, but are often more expensive due to expensive staff, huge infrastructure requirements, and much higher rates of failure and repetition. Thanks for following along with us as we learn.