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Students Make the Connection to Lifelong Learning
By Angela Adams
July 9, 2021

More of our young people need to make a connection—to their sense of purpose, meaningful learning experiences, and the jobs of today and tomorrow. Linked Learning is a systemic approach to transforming education that integrates rigorous academics, career technical education, work-based learning, and comprehensive student supports. Independent research proves that Linked Learning increases student engagement and achievement by making learning relevant and meaningful. Linked Learning students learn through career-themed pathways tied to local industry sectors such as Health Sciences, Public Service, or Information Technology. The majority of Linked Learning students come from low-income families, are English language learners, first-generation college goers, and part of a population vastly underrepresented in higher education and high-paying jobs. 

Quality implementation is critical to Linked Learning outcomes. That’s why the Linked Learning Alliance (“the Alliance”) collaborated with field practitioners, employers, and education experts to establish clear standards and a process for validating their work, demonstrating success, and ensuring both equity and impact. The Alliance uses research-based standards and independent evaluation to certify high-quality pathways. Gold certification indicates that a pathway meets the highest quality standards for Linked Learning. The Alliance has a goal to have one million students in Gold certified pathways by 2030.

All parties involved rely on the Alliance’s certification platform to provide high-quality, actionable evidence and data to guide their decision making. This data informs pathway leaders, as well as the greater education field. It fosters collaboration and continuous improvement by revealing what works in college and career preparation across demographics, districts, and geographic locations and it provides communities and industry partners with crucial information about workforce readiness. However, by 2019, the Alliance had outgrown their existing certification platform. The legacy system was rigid and difficult to customize. Data integrity was an issue and reporting was limited. The Alliance needed a certification platform that would be able to grow with them and assist their desire to support pathways on a journey of continuous improvement and student growth. The platform needed to allow the Alliance to track and report on progress pathways are making toward developing a high-quality program of study, and ultimately, how pathways are impacting student outcomes and ensuring students are leaving high school with the college and career competencies and skills that are going to be vital for their future success, especially in a time of economic uncertainty.

The Alliance engaged Presence to build a new, flexible certification platform that could both meet their current needs and scale in complexity over time. After conversations with Alliance stakeholders to fully understand their needs, Presence mapped out the architecture for a solution built on Salesforce. Argodesign was engaged to complete the graphic and user experience design. Presence then built the certification platform on Salesforce, providing the Alliance not only with bespoke certification workflows, but a best-in-class CRM. Presence also developed a Salesforce Community (Experience Cloud) for pathways going through the certification process. The project included automations to provide for the needs of moving a pathway through the certification lifecycle: annual data submissions; periodic reviews; reports; document submission and evidence gathering; and integrated billing. Presence also implemented solutions for the Marketing and Communications team, who now have an integrated system where they can easily manage events and monitor email communications.

The new platform is allowing the Alliance to bring in new pathways and support them as they begin their journey through certification (starting as candidates for Silver certification and then moving toward Gold certification). It operates as a repository for pathways to build their evidence of high-quality practices and impact on student outcomes over time, serves as a tool for the Alliance to virtually review that evidence and data and provide ongoing, timely feedback that supports continuous improvement. The Alliance’s certification platform now brings pathways together as a network to share their practices, examine critically their evidence and data, and work together to improve student experiences and outcomes. According to Miya Libes, the Alliance’s Manager, Special Projects, “Having a more robust platform allows us to have more insight into our work. We can better advocate for students and make the case to expand Linked Learning to other schools.” 

The Alliance’s certification staff can easily gather data and run ad hoc reports, something they were not able to do before without complex queries. The flexibility of the solution allows the Alliance to modify their system as their evaluation standards, data, and documentation requests evolve over time. The automated emails also add efficiencies in communicating with pathways. A subsequent project focused on creating a second Salesforce Community for pathway evaluators to provide their reviews through the platform and collaborate in real-time is currently underway. 

The initial launch of the certification platform in February 2021 spurred a resurgence of interest and engagement in the certification process. Roneeta Guha, the Alliance’s Vice President, Strategy and Impact, reflected “The pandemic underscored the urgency of the certification platform. The platform allowed pathways to easily collaborate in virtual spaces when they most needed it. Our platform became the central environment where we got things done -- and it helped create our field’s vibrant culture. Before, our certification platform was a tool; now our platform is a virtual HQ for the Linked Learning movement.”

For more information on the Linked Learning Alliance, visit the Alliance website. To learn how Presence can build a digital product to move your mission forward, email us at  contact@presencepg.com or call 415-970-5770.