Posted on September 20, 2016

September 20, 2016 - Bootcamp courses, digital badges and microdegrees are just a few of the new terms that seem to be echoing in the halls of educational institutions, but what are they exactly? 

If these terms are new to you, you are not alone. A recent study conducted by The Learning House, Inc., and Aslanian Market Research found that two-thirds of all students had little or no knowledge about these alternative learning paths, but that the majority would consider them if they knew more.*

With that in mind, this article sets out to better explain these new educational concepts.  The idea of Bootcamp courses and digital or online badges all began in the technology sector where specific skills were often deemed more valuable than general knowledge. Over the last two decades the acceptance of these new approaches to education has caught on in other fields and professions.

Bootcamp Courses (also known as microdegrees)

Ever since the cathedral schools and monasteries of the Middle Ages, the approach of traditional education has been focused on teaching a wide breadth of knowledge. The thought is that to be educated a person needs to know a bit about everything.  In essence, this educational philosophy is a part of the reason a person going to college is required to take classes in a wide variety of subjects – regardless of their major.

In many ways, the “well-rounded” education has a lot going for it, but it does not always fit the needs of all learners during all periods of their lives. That is where the concept of Bootcamp courses comes in.

Bootcamp-style programs and courses usually concentrate on a single topic and are driven by measured learning. The objective is for the student to learn the exact knowledge they need in the shortest time possible, so they can quickly apply what they have learned.  This is something that works very well for developing new skills that will help advance a student’s career. For example, if a professional needed to learn a new programming language to advance in their career, it might not be smart to quit their job and enroll in school full-time for a lengthy degree in Computer Programming. Instead, a 12 week long Bootcamp might be all they need. Another example would be a student that already has a degree. Going back to college for a second degree isn’t practical or necessary – especially when 6 weeks of concentrated training might be all they need.

And that is what Bootcamps provide—narrow, focused learning delivered in a compressed format.

Digital or Online Badges

Another alternative to the closely held ideas of traditional education is the Digital or Online badge. For centuries the end goal of higher education has been the degree. While the degree serves as a testimony to a graduate’s over all competence, it may not accurately reflect a student’s understanding of specific knowledge or the mastery of certain skills. For example, if a person graduates with a degree in Graphic Design, there may be no indication of their abilities in using certain tools or in a specific skill such as Web coding. Badges, on the other hand, usually indicate knowledge of a very specific topic, technical skill or programming language (e.g., a digital badge in JavaScript shows potential employers that the candidate has the skills they need). In essence, while a degree speaks to a student’s completion of an overall course of study, a badge designates very specific areas of accomplishment and ability.

So when considering your educational choices, be informed about the alternatives to traditional education. Bootcamp courses and digital badges may be a better fit for your educational needs.

*Clinefelter, Dr. David and Aslanian, Carol B. "Online College Students 2016: Comprehensive Data on Demands and Preferences" The Learning House, Inc. Accessed 19 September 2016.