In this blog series, “Workforce Edtech – Leading the Job Skills Revolution,” we spoke to some of the founders and leaders here at LearnLaunch who are filling the gaps in workforce and continuing education, while redefining learning beyond traditional degree programs.  

When was the last time you took a multiple choice test at work? Chances are, never. Yet, that’s how many educational institutions test their students’ skills and competency.

The fact is that the skills that employers need today – creative thinking, problem solving, persistence – rarely get tested at the university level in a consistent way. That’s the problem Paul Crockett, cofounder of Authess, is solving for universities and companies.

In this interview, Paul told us how he’s scaling complex assessment, how Authess helps track a student’s problem solving process, and the results some of his first customers are seeing.

This is part 3 of the Workforce Edtech – Leading the Job Skills Revolution series. Tune in each Tuesday for a new installment of the series. Check out part 1 (LearnBolt) and part 2 (TeachersConnect) .


What does Authess do?

Authess is a software platform that puts people into real world scenarios and case studies and uses AI algorithms to observe how they think and behave when solving a problem.


Why do you think there has been such rapid growth in alternative/accelerated post-secondary education programs?

I see two primary drivers:

  1. The fast pace of change in the economy and the kind of jobs out there. The skills employers are always changing and these skills aren’t always taught in traditional education.
  2. The cost of traditional education through universities and colleges has exploded way faster than at any other time in history. It’s become ripe for disruption when you expect people to spend $60,000 for a year of learning.

Both of the above are underscored by whole ecosystem for effective and less expensive education online.


Why do you think startups are filling the gap in the market for continuing education rather than traditional colleges and universities?

There are some innovative institutions who are doing good things. These are legitimate universities like Southern New Hampshire University, Arizona State, and some others. Even universities like Harvard and MIT are providing a lot of value through edX course offerings. And yes, unfortunately there are some sneaky for-profits out there, but there’s a lot of good work being done here.

Those are exceptions though – most of the entrenched players are usually stuck in their ways. They’ve been around a long time with endowments and a large number of people who still want to go to those brick-and-mortar schools. There’s a lot of tradition and, to some extent, inertia in that business model.

How are you overcoming the challenge of personalizing education at scale?

There’s two things in that question – personalization and scale – that are at the heart of what we do

Most educational systems default to conventional multiple choice assessment because it’s easy to scale. As education moves to online/digital models, it’s become necessary to use multiple choice and traditional assessments because you can score a lot of people quickly and easily. This method of testing people breaks down because multiple choice tests just don’t align with the skills employers value. Real life situations don’t present you with clear cut choices where you just pick the right one.

We want to encourage learn-by-doing through projects and hard problems. These are open-ended, cognitively complex, and hard to measure at scale. We’re trying to solve for: how do you measure 21st century competencies at scale? That’s what’s valuable for employers.

We’re using machine learning as a strategy to train our system to observe how people work through complex problems. The system can then make inferences about those users based on the data. It takes a lot of time, but it’s how we can do this at scale.

With personalization, what our platform does is evaluate individual skills and observe the multiple ways users solve problems. Two people will tackle the same tasks in different ways based on their strengths and competencies for a given task. Authess can identify the strengths of individuals based on how they apply their knowledge to the problem at hand. We’re not testing if they memorized a bunch of information. Once we see how someone solved the problem, we can provide correctives and show them the areas they need to improve.


What strategies are you using to attract new students and grow enrollment?

We sell to institutions and other partners – publishers, edtech, training, learning and development services. We’re still early stage. We want to reach out to as many of these people as possible. We’re doing that through our initial partners who deliver the students to the platform.


Can you share some of the results your clients are seeing?

We won the Brandon Hall award with New England College of Business. They used Authess in a banking class. We exposed students to real problems a loan officer would have to tackle on the job. Our testing showed if students could truly apply the principles they learned in class.

The faculty were happy that they could actually see the student thought process virtually and check right away to see if students get it. Did they actually pay attention? That’s usually hard to track online. They used the platform to compare student performance at the beginning of the course and again at the end and the results expanded significantly.

Another success story we’ve had is with SNHU. They launched a BA and AD for refugees in Rwanda and want to give free degrees to refugees. They’re now expanding into four other countries with goals to do it worldwide. To do this effectively and efficiently, they need to bring down assessment costs. They’re using Authess to test student performance, and this is more efficient for their process.

Can you talk about how Authess measures a candidate’s or employee’s intangible qualities such as communication, etc.?

We are looking at a range of data. That includes users’ final answers, the approach they take or their process, and finally, indirect signals (telemetry data). We roll that up and we can compare that to training data of experts or other benchmarks.

Why do you think employers are finding that young people in particular lack the competencies they seek?

I can only refer to what I’ve seen in various research. These skills just aren’t being taught in most schools. We have knowledge-based curriculums that are focused on passing exams. That’s part of the problem. Those aren’t the skills employers necessarily want, so why do schools focus on them?

Assessing learning is the precursor for understanding how people study. People who need to pass multiple choice tests will study in a way to help them pass the test. But no real job is a multiple choice test.

I say all this with reluctance because there are some amazing teachers out there who are doing very cool stuff with project-based learning. But it’s clearly an issue that’s widespread because so many employers are saying they can’t find the intangibles they need from their younger employees.

It seems that now, Authess is focused on professional business education. Do you also envision providing this platform to verticals like vocational training and college-level education?

Yes, we think our application is broadly applicable. Our go-to-market strategy is targeting higher-ed and employers because there’s a clear intersection between the needs those two groups have. We haven’t focused on high school or lower because it’s just not our focus right now. If we want to grow and develop our business plan later, secondary education may come into play.

Our platform supports performance based learning regardless of the domain or subject – business, science – it doesn’t matter. We can craft testing solutions for it.


This interview was conducted and written by Ideometry, an all-in-one growth marketing agency helping everyone from startups to Fortune 500 companies engineer brilliant integrated campaigns, find their ideal audiences, fuel their pipelines, and drive real success.

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