Today, Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and edX announced a joint effort with education technology company 2U to further access and impact online learning around the world.
Under the agreement, edX will be converted into a fully owned public service operated by 2U. 2U will use its resources to grow the online learning platform at the speed, and rate, that students need today.
The proceeds will be used by a non-profit organization led by Harvard and MIT which will focus on closing the learning gap and opportunity through the development of new relationships, digital tools and strategies. The non-profit will provide valuable resources for building relationships with higher education institutions, especially community colleges and other educational institutions that serve disadvantaged communities. It will also seek to work with other non-profit organizations to address long-term educational inequalities, as well as businesses and governments to address the needs of staff rescue, while developing platforms for learning and research experience across these areas.
The Gazette spoke to Alan M. Garber, manager, co-chair of edX’s board of directors, his position since edX’s inception, and Bharat Anand, vice president of learning development, and a member of edX’s board of directors, to learn more about the context in which these changes took place. , and discuss how Harvard hopes to help build an equitable future through nonprofit employment.
Alan Garber and Bharat Anand
GAZETTE: edX has been a successful business for nine years. Remind us how it came about and how far it came in such a short time.
ALAN GARBER: Harvard and MIT started edX in 2012 as major open online courses (MOOCs) had just begun, and we were exploring how to make better use of promising technology platforms to improve learning and increase access to educational content.
The purpose of edX from the beginning was to make courses from the world’s leading universities available to anyone with an internet connection. We also aimed to devise strategies to improve residential education through this new online technology, and we wanted to conduct research that would support evidence-based approaches to improve learning.
Over the past nine years, edX has had a major impact. It has grown tremendously. It now offers more than 2,800 courses from 194 partner universities, educating more than 38 million students worldwide so far. Several countries also use open edX for open source learning as part of their teaching strategy.
GAZETTE: Tell us why it was now the right time to decide to pursue this initiative with MIT and 2U.
GARBER: Since launching edX, teaching and learning methods on a large scale have become more diverse and growing, and they have enjoyed amazing success. EdX enrollment enrollments flourished during the epidemic, which focused more on the number and quality of online learning information. Taking full advantage of that opportunity will require more investment than easy access to a non-profit business like edX.Meanwhile, the economic inequalities and social inequalities that plague our planet have also continued to grow. The change in ownership will make the goal of edX – including access to more affordable and free courses to meet the needs of diverse students – be made more progressive.
GAZETTE: How will this change of ownership make access to more diverse students?
GARBER: Right now, the vast majority of edX graduates – and this is true of other EdTech providers such as Coursera – are people with a college degree. Our data has shown that these platforms have provided an effective way for those who are already well-trained to continue their studies. Now, we aim to increase access beyond this group through two main approaches.
The first is due to the continuous curX of edX at 2U. EdX has done well for almost a decade, and it’s something we’re proud of. It is clear, however, that as profitable players in this space invest in ever-increasing resources in their contributions and technology programs, edX risks the backlog. 2U has the resources to invest in new platforms and advertising in ways that edX has not been able to make as a nonprofit. This means that 2U also has the potential to grow the platform into a business that reaches more students and in new and innovative ways.
After all, we have done a comprehensive effort process before deciding to go ahead with getting edX is 2U, which has a lot of experience in collaboration with higher education institutions. They are committed to continuing the work of edX – in fact, as defined in our agreements with them – and we hope it is the right company to take edX to the next level.
The second way we will address education inequality is through our nonprofit partnership with MIT. The nonprofit will address this critical issue through research and collaboration with universities and community colleges and other educational institutions that work directly with students, many of whom may be disadvantaged.
GAZETTE: What else can you tell us about nonprofit work?
BHARAT ANAND: Nonprofits will pursue three broad objectives: maximizing the impact of online learning experiences for students everywhere, with a particular focus on resource-poor and previously disadvantaged communities; work with various organizations to help prepare future employees; and build platforms for the next generation learning experience.
Through these activities, nonprofits will enhance the emphasis Harvard and MIT have placed on edX so far, from high-quality production and providing comprehensive access (which will continue to be 2U’s focus on edX) towards a high quality experience and targeted impact.
Of course, we do not mean that we have all the answers. The task of transforming the state of education is enormous, making various generations in need of close cooperation with these organizations working closely with the students we want to reach. Harvard and MIT have a responsibility to share our resources with the rest of the world and aim to do so on a non-profit basis.GAZETTE: Can you give us a reason to form a non-profit relationship that is intended to be established?
ANAND: Successful reading requires more than just creating high quality content on online platforms. It requires empowering access, providing student support, simplifying debt, and balancing learning outcomes. In other words, content production needs to be well integrated with these organizations that provide presence and support such as “last mile”.
The same applies to the future reuse of workers’ power. The non-profit will facilitate partnerships between tertiary institutions and the private, non-profit, and community-based companies to create awesome “future for career” models, evaluate the effectiveness of alternative interventions in a robust manner, and spread learning.
We need to transform adult education and lifelong learning so that more students are involved in activities such as land redistribution and new technologies.
Harvard already has a wide range of relationships, through our Graduate School, initiatives such as the Future of Work, and programs at other Harvard schools, and organizations working to address inequalities in education and staff development opportunities. We hope that nonprofits will expand into these types of efforts, with new partnerships starting here in Cambridge and Boston, and expanding to other parts of the country and around the world.
GAZETTE: What do you mean by next-generation learning experience platforms, and how can they lead to a higher quality experience with a number of different, and diverse students?
ANAND: You know, we’ve learned a lot now from reading online at Harvard and elsewhere. Over the past decade, online platforms have been designed with the aim of capturing content delivery. Since then, we have learned how to design a multi-immersive community learning immersion experience. The nonprofit will work to improve the performance of platforms – including some used at Harvard and MIT – that effectively incorporate evidence-based teaching principles.
How can we design material that arouses curiosity, builds self-confidence, and encourages reading? How can learning platforms make it your own, create connections, and create multimodal formats – in person or virtual, live or vice versa? The questions surrounding the tutorials and forums are intertwined, and present exciting opportunities. Above all, we need to design and distribute platforms that ensure that we can meet more students wherever they are, so that everyone can access new online technologies. Nonprofits will support research to learn more about the challenges that disadvantaged communities face in order to make full use of online learning platforms, such as language barriers, bandwidth, and cultural bias in construction, and to develop effective strategies for solving them.
We have also learned a lot more since the epidemic began. It has been an unprecedented, challenging time for all of us. But some remarkable good things have happened otherwise would not have happened so quickly. Teachers, as well as students, are forced to think differently and do new things. Here at Harvard, there has been a lot of creative energy into this re-imagining of learning and learning. The position has learned that new opportunities arise when our classes are no longer bound by time and space constraints.
Over the past six months, the Future of Teaching and Learning Task Force, held with the support of Provost Garber and President [Larry] Bacow, has brought in people from all University schools and units in their teaching during the epidemic throughout the University and its international community as we move forward.
GAZETTE: Is there anything else you would like to add?