As companies scramble to hire early-career workers, demand is rising for experiential learning platforms that help colleges connect students with job-relevant training as well as potential employers.
Forage, for example, is a last-mile training provider that offers employer-endorsed work simulations to college students. Roughly 2.5M students have registered for the free simulations since the pandemic began, with 150K signing up over three weeks in a recent month. Forage has partnered with big companies like Accenture, Electronic Arts, and JPMorgan Chase, which are recruiting students through the simulations.
Likewise, Podium Education sees itself as more of a player in this space than as the bootcamp provider it looks like at first glimpse.
The company provides in-demand tech training that’s embedded in the curricula of 36 university partners around the world. Students earn six credits by completing Podium’s semester-long courses in data science, coding, and e-commerce. The programs feature case studies drawn from work at companies like Airbnb and Spotify, serving as a type of credit-bearing virtual internship.
Forage and Podium are on a continuum of companies that are seeking to extend college career services, says Kemi Jona
, assistant vice chancellor for digital innovation enterprise learning at Northeastern University, an industry leader in experiential learning. Higher ed largely has dropped the ball in giving young people low-cost, low-risk work experiences.
“Increasingly, this is what students are looking for,” he says. “It’s a great market now, because colleges neglected it for a long time.”
Ideally, colleges link virtual internships and work simulations to academic programming, experts say. Riipen has had notable success with its course-connected, work-based learning marketplace, including through an expanding partnership
with Arizona State University.
Forage, which started in Australia before relocating its HQ to San Francisco, offers a version of this model. Employers are its customers. They collaborate with Forage to develop the five- to 10-hour simulations, providing subject matter input and content on their culture and work. JPMorgan Chase is the company’s biggest user, with four simulations
on the site. One gives students a chance to explore life as a software engineer
at the company.
“Throughout the virtual experience, you’ll familiarize yourself with JPMorgan Chase frameworks and apply your technical skills to a hypothetical request from the firm’s trading floor to analyze and visualize data in a new way,” Forage says on its site.
Students who finish the simulation get a certificate of completion from the firm. If they apply to its summer software engineer internship, JPMorgan Chase will prioritize their application. Many simulations feature pathways to hiring for completers, as well as badges and certificates they can display on LinkedIn or Handshake. Neissa Dorsinville
, for example, landed a job at JPMorgan Chase after completing the software engineering virtual experience while she was a student at CUNY’s Brooklyn College.
Dorsinville says the experience “helped me with knowing exactly what I want to do.”
The bite-size simulations are free to students and Forage’s 380 college partners, 160 of which are located in the U.S. Some colleges are integrating the virtual work experiences into their courses, meaning students can earn college credit by completing them.
Curriculum integrations are good for all involved, says Thomas Brunskill
, Forage’s co-founder and CEO:
“They are free for professors to integrate, universities ensure their curriculums are responsive to workplace needs, they enable students to consume content which prepares them for the workforce, and companies can bridge that gap between the world of learning and work, resulting in more well-rounded graduates.”
College Credit and Equity: Podium’s leaders describe the company’s focus on credit-bearing programs in terms of college access. The courses are not aimed at computer science and STEM majors, and they don’t include prerequisites in math. As a result, Podium’s student demographics—it expects to enroll 15,000 students this year—mirror that of the overall enrollments of their 36 campus partners.
“We believe that all students, regardless of major or background, should be able to access these in-demand skills while they are pursuing their undergraduate degree,” says Chris Parrish
, Podium’s president of university partnerships. “Since our programs run for credit, students can leverage federal financial aid to pay for the experience.”
The instructional design process for the company begins with data analysis of entry-level job descriptions, with a focus on career readiness. The ideal roles for its completers aren’t in data science, Parrish says. They might be compliance officers who use Excel in their work.
Podium makes money with a tuition fee from its university partners, charging less than a 50 percent share of tuition revenue.
Parrish says colleges sign up rather than trying to offer this content themselves because of the company’s spending on content quality, scaling potential, and connections to careers.
“Our programs are produced at Netflix-level quality and include weekly LiveLabs, which are inspired by best-in-class streaming experiences like Peloton and Twitch,” he says.
Jona says the boomlet for experiential learning platforms is driven by the economies of scale they offer to both colleges and employers. Northeastern employs more than 100 staff members who work solely on its cooperative program, an investment few colleges can or will make. And a successful platform offers companies the ability to reach many colleges rather than pursuing one-off partnerships.
The Kicker: “It’s no surprise that companies are filling that gap in the marketplace,” says Jona. “Building that employer network is tremendously hard work.”