Knod: Changing Education

That’s what our experience is. It’s remote learning, but highly engaged with peers, highly engaged with coaches, and as you progress, we get you into enterprise projects, where now you’re engaging with employers and working on projects with other team members.

Education is changing. Traditionally, the university experience has been viewed as the be-all, end-all when it comes to learning — here is my diploma, now recognize my value. Trying to change that mindset has been the equivalent of stopping Lebron James. There might be chance glimmers of hope, but in the end, the king stay the king.

Quantifying education has always been a challenge — how do you provide tangible evidence of the shifting and complex ways a brain learns, remembers, and forgets? A piece of paper is woefully inadequate when it comes to describing that complexity, which is why there is a growing interest in finding an all-encompassing way to measure your life’s learning. It’s slow, but change is happening.

As the way we view credentials begins to shift, how students actually learn has also begun to evolve. Nowhere is this more prominent than the tech industry, where students are becoming more educated and open to what’s available — traditional higher education doesn’t hold the same appeal as it used to, because people are starting to realize that education and experience are two completely separate things. Concentrating completely on one aspect (education) while turning a blind eye to the other (experience) doesn’t seem like the ideal solution. So what is?

Graham Doxey, CEO of SLC-based Knod, believes he has the answer. After spending the last 15 years involved with higher ed, Doxey had a close-up view of the education versus experience battle and his viewpoint on the subject is simple: you can have both.

“What my vision is here at Knod is to create a network that brings the university in, the employer in, the community in…basically an operating ecosystem that a student can enter and come out with not just a job, but the ability to contribute in their community and always be employable,” Doxey said. “Then putting that down at a price point that makes it accessible to the global middle-class.”

Before we can understand Knod (pronounced node), we first must understand Neumont University. Co-founded by Doxey in 2003, Neumont was designed to bridge the educational gap between education and employment, a more effective alternative for computer science students interested in learning and experiencing.

“Nobody came out of college able to contribute without a fair amount of investment and training,” Doxey said. “So we thought, what if you could reinvent education in computer science? That’s what Neumont University is, it was designed to create people to graduate with a computer science degree and step into jobs that require two years of experience.”

Neumont is unique because it treats potential employers as its primary customer. A normal university bases curriculum off the whims of each professor — no offense to all you professors out there, but it’s safe to assume that employability is not your number one goal. In contrast, Neumont’s learning experience concentrates specifically on employers and designs everything in relation to what they’re looking for, all while giving students the freedom to pursue their artistic visions.

“Most universities teach computer science like they teach all the other sciences,” Doxey said. “What if you taught it like art, where you essentially had a studio, people came in and from day one, had to create and build things? Software developers are more like artists than scientists.”

Since 2006, Neumont has developed and graduated over 1100 artists/software developers, with 97 percent employed within six months of graduation and a starting salary north of $60,000.

Buoyed by Neumont’s success, 2008 saw Doxey become CEO for Laureate Education in Malaysia, spending the next three years overseeing 10 campuses, 14,000 students, and the implementation of similar strategies used at Neumont. After seeing even more success, Doxey decided it was time to branch out.

In 2013, Knod was born.

“I know that this academic model works, we’ve done it in two continents and across several different academic disciplines,” Doxey said. “One of the innovations in putting employers first is bringing them into the education process and put the students into the employer environment. We have enterprise projects that are run by companies through teams of students. When somebody graduates, the reason they are highly employable is because they have a resume as opposed to a transcript.”

By prioritizing employers as their primary customer, Knod ensures that virtually any company is interested in participating in their learning model. They’re essentially solving the employer problem of not enough quality employees — companies assign enterprise work to Knod students and can use that opportunity to see if there is potential for hiring down the road.

From the student vantage point, Knod helps them build a professional portfolio at a real company, earn a bachelor’s degree, anywhere on earth. It’s online (sort of) and places a large emphasis on engaging students.

“You’re signing up for a program that’s primarily delivered over the internet but I’m not going to call it online learning,” Doxey said. “When you think of online learning, I don’t know what you think of, but I’m going to assume that you might think of somebody sitting in front of a computer, getting information, taking tests, and qualifying for a degree that way. We don’t do that, so much, but everything we do is online. I’m going to call it remote education.”

Via this remote education, students are assigned to a team, put on projects, and taught how to be successful self-directed learners. In the second week of the program, face-to-face meetings are required to engage students with employers and provide an opportunity to learn about each unique workplace.

“You’re going to be doing your knowledge acquisition online, but you’re going to be assimilating and applying learning skills face-to-face,” Doxey said. “That’s what our experience is. It’s remote learning, but highly engaged with peers, highly engaged with coaches, and as you progress, we get you into enterprise projects, where now you’re engaging with employers and working on projects with other team members.”

When students graduate from Knod’s program, they don’t have to worry about a gap between education and employment — they will have been adequately trained in both fields, by teachers and employers alike. So what’s more attractive, a student fresh out of school with no prior experience, or somebody armed with a degree and a professional portfolio? I think you (terrible pun alert!) Knod the answer.

“What’s been fascinating to see is how credible we are because of the employer partners that we have,” Doxey said. “When students see the employers and kinds of jobs that are out there, the kinds of careers people can have, that is more credible than university brands. We’re not too worried about the academic acceptability in the market, because we know what we do is highly effective and it’s a higher level of learning than traditional education.”

Doxey isn’t alone in betting Knod can help alter the educational marketplace. A recent $6.2 million funding round (participated in by Impact Investment Leaders and Epic Ventures) shows that others are beginning to grasp the vision.

“Impact was there for us in the sort of incubating stage,” Doxey said. “They’ve got a commitment to education that’s attractive and were willing to help give us a platform to start building this…Epic, I’ve known the individuals there for a long time, but also they had recently done some investments in higher ed that made higher ed very interesting to them. They wanted to expand their strategy and so it all came together well that way.”

The process of learning will always be valuable. Expanding your mind, even if by questionable methods (reading celebrity gossip, writing articulate messages to rednecks on Reddit), will never stop being beneficial.

That being said, education revolves around one main question: can I get a job? By addressing this specific question, Knod is poised to help revolutionize learning and bridge the gap between education and employment.

They have the money, they’ve proven it works, and now they’re ready to play a major role in changing education.

Published 5/18/2015

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