Alternative Providers Are Changing the Learning Ecosystem

May 22, 2023

Share this

Title: Mapping a Postsecondary Learning Ecosystem: Alternative Providers in Context

Author: Louis Soares

Source: American Council on Education (ACE)

In a new issue brief, Louis Soares, the chief learning and innovation officer at ACE, explores the concept of a learning ecosystem for postsecondary education, with a focus on alternative providers. He describes a postsecondary learning ecosystem as including not only traditional higher education institutions but also organizations that deliver postsecondary content or skills training independently or in partnership with colleges and universities.

Technology enables collaboration and support among diverse actors in the postsecondary market, making the term “ecosystem” a fitting metaphor. Soares explains that colleges and universities play a central role in delivering postsecondary education but depend on other entities such as K-12 schools, employers, governments, community-based organizations, and families. These interdependencies are crucial for the ecosystem to flourish.

The brief highlights the importance of documenting, validating, and sharing learning outcomes across stakeholders within the ecosystem. Processes like credit transfer and recognition of prior learning enable knowledge from different settings to be transformed into college credits.

Soares argues that an ecosystem approach to higher education recognizes the value of colleges and universities while also acknowledging the significance of differentiated and diverse postsecondary options, like alternative providers. Alternative providers are positioned in terms of their potential advantages, such as short credential pathways, low costs, flexibility, and connections to the labor market. Soares suggests that alternative providers, like other forms of learning-by-doing, complement traditional higher education experiences for many learners.

The brief explores the adaptive pressures driving the emergence of learning ecosystems, driven by the need for efficient mechanisms to meet the demand for human capital. Soares discusses how technological changes, such as information technology and artificial intelligence, shape the learning ecosystem by driving learning-by-doing approaches and creating new demands for skills and experiences.

To download a copy of the brief, click here.

—Tabatha Cruz

If you have any questions or comments about this blog post, please contact us.

Keep Reading

Mapping the Ecosystem of Alternative Postsecondary Education Providers

Alternative providers are becoming a significant—if not yet indispensable—part of the U.S. higher education ecosystem. It’s essential to establish a taxonomy that helps colleges and universities make informed choices about how to work with these providers, writes Louis Soares.

March 22, 2023

Course Sharing: Business Models and the Learning Ecosystem in Action

Read the third piece in a series focused on exploring the concept of a postsecondary learning ecosystem—one that includes not only traditional higher education institutions but also alternative providers that connect learners to the labor market.

August 10, 2023

The Emerging World of Alternative Credentials

Digital badges. Verified certificates. Alternative credentials. More and more people are finding new ways—outside of traditional postsecondary degree programs—to show employers they possess the skills and knowledge needed for a constantly changing workplace, writes Cathy Sandeen.

October 1, 2013