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Stackable, Modular Learning: Education Built for the Future of Work


The workplace has changed: as technology continues to rapidly transform industries and jobs, staying relevant and competitive requires continuously updating, diversifying, and building completely new skill sets.

On one hand, this new reality requires continuous investment in education, which can feel daunting. Traditional education requires significant financial and opportunity cost, sometimes without a clear return. But the delivery of education is changing to adapt to the demands of the modern workplace and the lifestyle of the modern worker.

A new model, modular education, reduces the cycle time of learning, partitioning traditional learning packages — associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees — into smaller, Lego-like building blocks, each with their own credentials and skills outcomes. Higher education institutions are using massive open online courses (MOOCs) as one of the vehicles through which to deliver these modular degrees and credentials.

“The latest teaching and learning research shows that learning online often results in similar or better outcomes than the traditional classroom setting because of its flexibility, personalized pacing and instant feedback, all based on the latest in cognitive science learning,” said edX founder and CEO Anant Agarwal in an article for Forbes .

What is Modular Learning?

Recognizing the need to expand education options for students, higher education institutions are starting to innovate, creating new ways to unbundle degrees and build non-linear, modular career and education pathways. Through this style of modular education, you can learn new skills and knowledge in smaller chunks — presenting enormous value no matter what level you’re on to begin, advance in, or explore new careers without putting life or work on hold.

For example, edX’s MicroMasters® programs reimagine how graduate-level education is delivered, partitioning pieces of a master’s degree into shorter blocks that showcase deep learning and in-demand skills to employers while providing a pathway to graduate degree if desired.

The Value of Modular Learning

Gain Immediate and Incremental Value

Modular education reduces the cycle time of learning, making it easier to gain tangible skills and value faster than a full traditional degree. Working professionals can learn new skills in shorter amounts of time, even while they work, and those seeking a degree can do so in a way that pays off, in skills and credentials, along the way rather than just at the end.

For example, edX’s MicroBachelors® programs are the only path to a bachelor’s degree that make you job ready today and credentialed along the way. You can start with the content that matters most to you, online at your own pace, and earn a certificate with each one to show off your new achievement, knowing that you’ve developed skills that companies actually hire for. Each program comes with real, transferable college credit from one of edX’s university credit partners, which combined with previous credit you may have already collected or plan to get in the future, can put you on a path to earning a full bachelor’s degree.

Build Customized, Hybrid Skill Sets That Set You Apart

Today’s fastest growing fields often lie at the intersection of two seemingly unrelated professions. For example, data science is one of the fastest growing fields, but a data scientist often also needs a strong working background in the industry in which they are embedded. This requires a unique hybrid skill set that can be a challenge to teach in a traditional education setting.

Modular learning content allows you to tailor your education to better position you for job prospects and career mobility. You can augment your education with a specialized credential or portion of a degree to better position yourself for data science jobs, and more easily combine humanities skills with technology skills, communication skills with coding skills, analytical skills with design skills, etc.

“[Using modular learning,] students will essentially be able to synthesize their own education with the customized skill set they need to advance their careers, making for a truly unique job candidate. Hiring companies will also have clearer insights into the skill set that a potential candidate has, as the modular credentials of their education will call out the types of skills the candidate has acquired,” Agarwal said.

Stackable Credentials: A Pathway to College Credit

In the same way that modular credentials provide an impactful standalone pathway to gaining in-demand knowledge, they also create a revolutionary way to earn a full degree. This is called stackable learning, when you take certificates you earn through modular programs and “stack” them together to form a larger credential or degree.

For example, Master’s degrees on edX are stackable, including one or more MicroMasters program credentials that also have stand-alone value for career advancement.

“Our vision for the future of education is built on the stacking of modular credentials, sometimes from different institutions, into new types of degrees and programs that fit the needs of learners where they are, no matter their background,” Agarwal said.


Modular Learning: Your Route to In-Demand Skills and Credentials

Modular learning is the foundation of all the programs available on edX. Learn more about how you can leverage edX’s modular learning programs to advance your career or build a path to a degree:

“Modular and stackable education is foundational to achieving our mission of increasing access to high-quality education for everyone, everywhere,” Agarwal said. “We envision a world where universities and corporations work together with us to reimagine education in a way that transforms the lives of global citizens and positively impacts the generations to come.”

Last updated: January 2020