Is higher ed finding its ideal in micro-master’s?

Relevancy within post-grad careers just became as easy as a 5-course plan called a micro-master's.

It’s a jarring realization that after 9 years of post-high school education, a person can feel stuck. But that’s how I feel sometimes as I consider my professional options. I love what I do as a high school teacher and part time college instructor. Yet, as I sense the education landscape dynamically shifting all around me, I wonder what is next. How can I stay relevant without starting all over with another 3, 4, or 9 years of education?

I am not alone in this question. I know this because I talk with my colleagues, I read articles from others in similar situations; but, most of all, I know I am not alone because institutions are beginning to respond to this question. While it’s intimidating to live in times where technology is transforming your professional world, it’s a joy to live in times when that same technology allows you to transform as well.  New programs are arriving that respond to the needs of a professional class looking to keep up with the rapidly changing times. They are called micro-master’s degrees.

Essentially, universities offer focused coursework through the MOOC platform edX in a given field. My local interest is the University of Michigan’s program on User Experience Research and Design. While I know about education, my understanding of technical course construction is minimal. I would like to become proficient in this area so I can participate in conversations that move beyond theory and into application of new designs. To follow through on my interest, I can register and take 5 courses through edX. Each course is free to take, but there is a cost of approximately $100 to earn a certificate of completion. The courses can stand alone as certification, or I can combine them into a micro-master’s degree. In addition, I can apply to U-M and this micro-master’s contributes to pursuing a full Master’s Degree in a given area of study.

This meets my needs as a consumer for a variety of reasons. First, it’s flexible. My largest concern with more education is how I can fit it into my already jam-packed life. Most courses are shorter than a traditional semester and can be done at a student’s pace. Second, it’s cost effective. Currently, I can’t budget for graduate credit hours, which can range into the thousands. The $100 entry fee is a reasonable cost for the experience. Third, and perhaps the most important, I can try something new with a limited investment.

That last point is probably the most exciting to me as a broad concept. The purpose of education is to lift us up as people. Through it, we should explore new things and broaden our understanding of the world. Yet, post-secondary education has driven away from this. It’s become a system of “know what you want to do and get there” rather than “find out what you want to do through learning.” I think I want to learn about system design and user experience. But, I don’t know for sure. In a traditional system, the barriers of application, cost, time, and mystery would keep me away. The program being offered by U-M and edX removes these barriers. I am free to pursue something new at the highest level and, through that, become a better professional. This leads to more personal satisfaction and more empowerment in my working life.

Too often the rhetoric between ideal education and actual education is separate. I see these messages converging; that convergence is due to technology. More specifically, it’s due to institutions embracing technology to follow through with their mission. It’s exciting to live in times when problems of knowledge deficit can be solved so easily. It offers true egalitarianism, which is the core reason we go to school in the first place.

Find out more about U-M Micromasters here.

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