7 Reasons Degreed and Enterprise Need Academic Validation

I recently wrote about 3 interesting research questions which could leverage Degreed data. These questions are interesting from an academic perspective, but why should Degreed care? This article explains benefits which would accrue to Degreed and its enterprise users upon the publishing of an academic article (a peer-reviewed paper or a dissertation) addressing the aforementioned questions.

I. Competitive Advantage in the EdTech Market

The EdTech market is fiercely competitive. Udacity just received a $1 B valuation. Degreed, CodeFights, and few others have been doing well in their own niched spaces. In such an innovative, lucrative market, however, the danger of a new competitor entering the market and obliterating the old leaders is ever-present. Fundamentals won’t protect a business from this threat. Fundamentals are expected. Everyone has a good marketing team. Everyone has solid developers. The only way to combat this process is through tireless innovation, on top of flawless fundamentals.

Udacity is noted in the literature for a number of reasons, but even they have yet to receive quantitative academic validation of the value of their nanodegree. If Degreed can say “1 Degreed point is worth $X in expected salary” they will have an undeniable value advantage.

II. Improved reputation

Degreed already has a great reputation as an innovator. This reputation can be further improved by the unprecedented move toward transparency which would be involved in contributing to academic research. When culture thinks of a startup with a cool new technology, some of the excitement gets damped at the thought that the tech will be proprietary and used essentially to the advantage of the founders with the public obtaining only modest benefits.

This objection can be mitigated by making the organization and technology as transparent as possible. Admittedly, fully open-sourcing many projects would render them unprofitable, but contributing to an academic study is a way to be more transparent while boosting potentially profit rather than giving it away.

This benefit would accrue to enterprise clients as well. If they so chose, these enterprise clients could also be identified as contributors and reap the reputation benefits of contributing. Contributing to academic research is something few organizations can claim to do.

III. Additional publicity

Journalists eat up any new and interesting academic study. Even studies which simply reiterate, modify, or continue discussion on older topics. A study which presents findings never before discussed would be all the more interesting and widely discussed. A quantitative analysis of Degreed’s points metric would be such a study.

This benefit would extend to Degreed’s enterprise clients as well as Degreed, particularly if an enterprise client would be willing to engage in a case study design. Such an organization would be a key part of the paper and receive significant discussion.

IV. Evidence-Based Marketing

Evidenced-based marketing is a luxury few companies are able to engage in. Real data is more trustworthy and informative for end users. This lends itself to a more effective marketing strategy.

Degreed already has a Salesforce case study which describes their success with MasterCard, but how convincing is this?

As a consumer, which of the following are you more likely to value:

  1. A short Salesforce case study written by a company and full of mostly qualitative results
  2. A quantitative academic article written by a third party

Consider the fact that improved reputation, additional publicity, and evidenced-based marketing will each strengthen the other and you are starting to get a powerful benefit.

V. Evidence-based product design contributions

Evidence as a marketing tool is among the least interesting reasons to have actionable, accurate evidence. Fundamentals are a key reason evidence matters.

By knowing specific regression facts such as the coefficient on a point and its variation, which factors significantly alter expected outcomes, and so on, Degreed will be able to provide strategic insights for its clients and itself. As an enterprise organization I want to know what my investment is buying me. An objective, quantitative, academic article would constitute trustworthy, actionable evidence for such an organization. This could lead to productivity gains and ultimately an improved bottom line.

These are all things Degreed already knows. This is the reason high-quality firms employ product designers, data scientists, and other folks, just like Degreed has done. But sometimes it helps to get an outside view. This is why firms often hire consultants and experts to assist with interesting edge-cases in product design. An academic is a knowledge expert in a specialized area. In other words, a researcher has the ability to act as a consultant in the course of research. When a company works with a researcher you can be sure they will be the first individuals to hear whatever new ideas the academic comes up with, before any article draft has even been completed.

Tech folks generally want to improve on their products in technically feasible ways. Academics are concerned with theoretical links. It can really be disruptive to get an academic’s view on product enhancements. I’ll give you one example right now: Degreed should consider allowing users to take psychological surveys including the Big 5 Personality Test and the Grit Scale. These psychological surveys are proven factors of productivity and success. Stay away from Meyers-Briggs because, while it is effective, it is not as effective as the Big 5 test and it’s also proprietary.

VI. Creating a Precedent

All of the benefits outlined in this article, except #7 below, need not be one-time benefits. They can be repeated, albeit perhaps with diminishing marginal benefit. By engaging in research now, Degreed or its enterprise clients can, if they so choose, put themselves in a position to be repeat contributors to the academic literature.

This would create future cycles of publicity and other noted factors. It could lead to other kinds of longer term research partnerships and programs.

VII. An Important Step Towards the Objective

Degreed’s objective is to “jailbreak the degree” and render traditional education obsolete. What better bright-line test can be imagined then to have the traditional system itself admit obsolescence? A peer-reviewed paper or dissertation would represent that watershed moment. If Degreed’s points and other metrics are significantly associated with employment outcomes then it seems to be clearly on its way to displacing traditional education.

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