Degreed launches crowdfunding campaign for reimagined ‘digital diploma’

As new digital learning platforms transform how we think of universities, a new San Francisco startup wants to reimagine the degree.

Quietly rolled out a couple of months ago, Degreed provides an online service that tracks, scores and validates all of a user’s educational experiences — from formal degree programs at universities like Harvard to non-accredited courses from online sources like iTunesU and Coursera. On Thursday, the company launched a crowd-funding campaign on its site to raise $100,000 by mid-December and by the end of the first day it had already reached $15,000.

Degreed CEO and co-founder David Blake said he hopes that by “jailbreaking” the college degree and providing an alternative way of thinking about credentials offered by institutions, they’ll be able to support the new world of education and encourage more life-long learning.

Blake said the company still plans to raise venture capital, but decided on a crowd-funding campaign after many early supporters of the site contributed through a “donate” button in addition to submitting their email addresses for early access. Degreed plans to open the site to the public more broadly in 2013. But as part of the campaign, people can receive early access to the site with their contributions.

With the proliferation of new options for learning, and the growing interest in continuing education, many realize that a new way of thinking about credentialing is needed. For example, Union Square Ventures partner Fred Wilson recently identified credentialing as an area of opportunity for ed tech startups during a conversation with organizers of an open online course on entrepreneurship in education called EdStartup 101. Sites like Coursera, Udacity, Khan Academy and others give people unprecedented access to educational resources and courses. But for those platforms to really help people find new opportunities and open up new job prospects, students will need to be able to demonstrate that they’ve actually learned the material they set out to learn. Startups LearningJar and Smarterer are also interested in tracking and assessing informal learning, but Degreed is most directly challenging the traditional degree, comparing itself to “FICO score for education,” as well as a way to bring the transcript into the digital era.

In addition to Blake, who was a founding member of the ed tech startup Zinch (which was later sold to Chegg), Degreed’s founding team includes David Wiley, an associate professor at Brigham Young University’s David O. McKay School of Education and an education entrepreneur.

“We’re going to be learning from a diversity of sources and we need to be able to keep track of that,” Blake said.” “It’s not competing with the Harvard degree, it’s meant to be the place where you’re able to show off your Harvard experience in the best an most meaningful way to you as well as everything else you’ve done since.”

Image from jcjgphotography via Shutterstock.