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Elance, SkilledUp & Smarterer Launch New Learning Platform To Let You Learn, Validate & Find Work In One Place

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The shift towards career and skills-focused content and models in digital education has begun to gain momentum of late, and last week, it got another boost as Elance, one of the largest online staffing platforms (for freelancers), announced that it would be launching a new “skill assessment platform” that will include access to over 20,000 courses and tests. Fundamentally, the new platform aims to connect online education, skill assessments and job search, bringing these key pieces and markets together in one portal.

To make this possible, Elance has partnered with two education startups: One being SkilledUp, a hub for online courses that is on a mission to organize the world’s online educational content, curate it and make it easily searchable. In particular, the startup focuses on skill-based learning content — the kind that actually helps people gain marketable, in-demand skills.

Everyone knows that the educational system in the U.S. hasn’t changed much in, oh, the last 100 years. And that there’s a lot of inertia within the system, gumming the gears and slowing its transformation. But rather than change for change’s own sake — or because everything technology does is great! — the current system just isn’t working anymore. Drop-out rates are “too damn” high, as is the cost of education and student debt, especially considering the fact that U.S. students are underperforming across the board.

But, really, the problem is not just that too many students are failing Math (though that is a problem), it’s that the current system is doing a terrible job of fulfilling one of its core goals: Getting you a job. Google, AT&T and a host of online education organizations have really started to get the ball rolling with a new (still unfolding) alliance that will focus on developing standards for career readiness, how to better prepare and evaluate graduates and “help online education providers create courses, tests and certificates meant to supplement the use of a college degree in the hiring process,” as Greg explained last month.

Google followed that up two weeks ago by forging a partnership with non-profit, MOOC provider edX to build MOOC.org — a site where any organization, non-profit, business or individual will be able to post and view courses. The primary goal is to open the doors more broadly to video-based education, but also to provide more career prep and training content.

SkilledUp will be providing the content and, by partnering with Elance, will give freelancers access to a curriculum that covers over 500 skill areas and 20K courses, 6K of which will be available for free, including “many openly licensed college-level courses.” The skills-testing, on the other hand, will be provided by Smarterer.

The Boston-based, venture-backed startup offers a crowdsourced assessments platform and technology that allows job searchers to quickly show off their “skillz” and employers to evaluate those “skillz,” will be providing — you guessed it — the assessments. Through its partnership with Elance, Smarterer will give freelancers access to hundreds of assessments, through which they’ll be able to quickly measure and quantify their professional skills.

The startup’s technoloy incorporates adaptive scoring and crowdsourced test design in an attempt to optimize efficiency and accuracy in assessment and, in turn, to improve the traditionally tedious, slow and ego-shrinking hiring process.

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It’s a relatively advantageous three-way deal, as both Smarterer and SkilledUp now have access to Elance’s more expansive reach, which today includes 800K businesses and 2.8 million freelancers. Enterprises and startups use Elance as a talent pool, where they can quickly assemble teams of developers, graphic designers or writers to work part-time, on a particular project and so on. Meanwhile, it gives those job searchers a way — in theory — to find steady (mostly quality) work, earn a living and get exposed to different companies and employers.

In turn Elance, gets access to Smarterer’s assessments and SkilledUp’s content.

Great, but why does this matter? For starters, it’s significant that one of the world’s largest contract marketplaces is beginning to offer digital education resources to help its workforce brush up on new skills. “Everyone keeps asking the value of online education and how it’s actually going to become a real business,” Smarterer co-founder and CEO Dave Balter tells me. “I think this is how it starts — once the connective tissue is in place with employment, we’ll see a better educational system, and business, begin to emerge.

It’s also really the first alliance to really combine a jobs marketplace, skills-focused learning content and assessments — and one that allows the fast-growing freelance workforce to visit one place to improve their skills, validate them and get paid more for their work. That’s pretty cool.

For more, find Elance’s announcement here.