Microsoft joins Degreed’s crusade to ‘jailbreak the degree’

Degreed, a San Francisco startup taking on traditional degrees and diplomas with a digital credential that reflects lifelong learning, has recruited its first corporate partner to its corner.

This week the startup said it will launch a partnership with Microsoft Virtual Academy (s MSFT), the tech giant’s online IT training site, which will give students who complete the program’s classes a way to display their achievements on Degreed.

Launched last year, Degreed, which has raised $900,000 in funding and just graduated from Kaplan’s TechStars-powered ed tech accelerator, gives users an online service for tracking all of their learning experiences. It includes traditional educational experiences (from colleges and graduate schools) but also gives people a way to share and “get credit for” learning on Coursera, iTunes and all of the other new educational platforms popping up on the web.

The point, as founder and CEO David Blake has said, is to “jailbreak the degree.” As people increasingly acquire skills through a diversity of online (and offline) experiences, Degreed’s goal is to give users and employers a more modular and digitally-relevant way of understanding a person’s skillset.

For now, the partnership only entails cross-promotion: once students complete a class on Microsoft Virtual Academy, they’re given the option to display their achievement on Degreed. (Degreed said a deeper integration that auto-shares information between the sites is likely forthcoming). But it’s nice validation for the year-old startup and it begins to lay the groundwork for future features that will really show the value of the site.

Helping employers track, quantify employees’ skills

Degreed“To date, Degreed [has helped] people measure their academic and lifelong learning. The next big phase for us is to help track professional learning as well and Microsoft Virtual Academy is a really big cornerstone of that,” said Blake.

Since the late 1980s, Microsoft Learning has offered training and certification on Microsoft products and technologies to millions of people around the world. Mark Protus, director of learning programs at Microsoft, said the company’s online academy launched three years ago and attracts about 600,000 users a month with its live and on-demand web classes.

Starting next year, Degreed plans to add features that help users discover courses from a range of online providers that best match their interests and professional goals. For example, for students who have taken preliminary classes in web development, Degreed might recommend more advanced classes on Microsoft Virtual Academy and other sources.

It also plans to pitch enterprises with a service that lets employers manage and track employees’ professional development experiences across a range of sites. Instead of just building a professional development program through a single service (like a or Pluralsight) Degreed would enable employers to cobble together courses and material from a range of online sources and quantify what employees have learned.

In the last year or so, thanks to the rise of the MOOCs (massive open online courses) the conversation around online learning has focused on improving access and quality. But attention is increasingly turning toward the issue of credentialing.

Last week, for example, venture capitalist and LinkedIn (s LNKD) co-founder Reid Hoffman wrote a post about the need for technology that essentially displaces the college degree. And, this week, a piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education, pointed out that about half of students enrolled in college today opt for a nonlinear path through multiple institutions, internships and/or online programs.