LearningJar: Putting Goal Theory Into Practice For The 21st Century Career Path

The bold, colorful cover of the latest issue of my alma mater’s alumni magazine reads “Welcome to the new career path.” It is illustrated with a curvy trail containing occasional zigzags, twists, and turns. The caption declares emphatically, “Forget a straight line to your dream job.” The metaphor for the 21st century career path is no longer a “ladder,” as Sheryl Sandberg astutely pointed out in her commencement address to Harvard Business School’s newly minted MBAs, but rather, a “jungle gym.”

It’s quite an interesting time to be a recent graduate and jobseeker. The value of formal education is questioned frequently and noisily, while remarkably skilled teens are receiving lucrative job offers. As Ritu Jain learned while co-founding and building LearningJar, today’s self-motivated learners are seeking resources online, but are more interested in acquiring new skills than taking courses. After all, “learning” is certainly not limited to coursework, whether online or offline. But how do we document knowledge gained via informal learning experiences? Traditional portfolios and resumes do not necessarily provide a clear snapshot of one’s abilities, particularly when skills are self-taught or otherwise informally learned.

These questions, along with her own inspiring story of being a lifelong independent experiential learner, paved the way for Ritu to found LearningJar. Winner of SXSWedu and member of the Winter 2012 ImagineK12 cohort, LearningJar provides a platform to bridge the gap between informal learning and documenting progress in new skills. Log in to LearningJar, which recently launched its public beta, indicate what “you want to be (e.g., a web developer),” follow a “learning path” complete with curated tutorials and lessons to learn the skills you need, and complete challenges along the way to show your mastery. New skills are collected in your LearningJar portfolio, and can be shared on your LinkedIn profile.


Still in its early stages, LearningJar shows great promise. With top partners in online learning solutions like AdobeCodeSchool, and Lynda.com, the young company already has a solid foundation and an active, engaged user base. It is crowdsourcing suggestions for new skills and learning paths to add to the site, as well as partnering with new content providers and soliciting feedback from human resources departments.


As Ritu and I have been sharing our own experiences in formal and informal learning, it got me thinking about research in the area of motivation, and specifically, goal theory. According to this theory, motivation to learn is typically broken down into dichotomies. One of the classic examples is the difference between mastery and performance goal orientation. Performance is something that can be readily seen on one’s resume, and can take the form of fancy letters behind your name, or the level of prestige associated with the school you attended (and probably paid a pretty penny for). But beyond a threshold level of achievement (i.e., at least minimal satisfaction of graduation requirements), your diploma and “brand name” do not necessarily illustrate mastery or expertise. While it’s early in the age of blended learning solutions, I am extremely interested in ideas like LearningJar that allow modern professionals to truly show mastery, especially in cases where they are charting new courses in their career path, and showing years of experience or enrolling in additional formal schooling may be impractical. After all, in the motivation literature, intrinsically motivated learners (i.e., those with mastery orientation) are more engaged with their tasks and are more likely to persevere through challenges. Those who are more performance oriented are typically extrinsically motivated, by factors like grades, scores, or ranks. As hiring committees are inundated with applicants, I believe that platforms like LearningJar give opportunities for driven, mastery-oriented individuals to showcase their talents in a way that has not been available before. And when it comes down to it, wouldn’t you rather have a mastery-oriented, intrinsically motivated person on your team?

As college costs soar, and degrees don’t necessarily guarantee jobs, it seems that LearningJar has entered the market at an opportune time. It may be a “jungle gym” out there, but the last time I checked, it’s those unexpected turns and adventures that can be the most rewarding.

What do you want to be? Learn some new skills and demonstrate your mastery on LearningJar.


Alicia Chang is EDUKWEST's Science & West Coast Editor. She is a cognitive and developmental psychologist (Ph.D., UCLA, 2008) with research interests in language and cognitive development, the effects of language and culture on cognition, and cognitive science applications to STEM education. She lives and works in Silicon Valley. You can follow her on Twitter @aliciac and Google+.

  • Anonymous

    Wow, another great posting. Thanks.