edX acquired by education technology company 2U – Harvard Gazette

GAZETTE: Can you provide us with the motivation behind the partnerships that the nonprofit will aim to establish?

ANAND:  Impactful learning requires more than creating high-quality content on online platforms. It requires enabling discovery, providing learner support, facilitating credit, and measuring learning outcomes. In other words, content production needs to be well-integrated with those organizations that provide such “last mile” presence and support.

The same applies to workforce reskilling for the future. The nonprofit will facilitate partnerships between higher education institutions and private, nonprofit, and public sector organizations to create scalable “future of work” models, explore the effectiveness of different interventions in a rigorous way, and disseminate learnings.

We need to transform adult education and lifelong learning for a broad swath of learners who are being impacted by forces such as globalization and technological innovation.

Harvard already has various partnerships in place, through our Graduate School for Education, initiatives like the Future of Work, and programs through other Harvard Schools, with organizations that are working to address inequities in educational opportunities and workforce development. We’re hopeful that the nonprofit will expand upon these types of efforts, through new collaborations that start here in Cambridge and Boston, and which extend to other parts of the country and throughout the world.

GAZETTE: What do you mean by next-generation learning experience platforms, and how might they lead to more high-quality experiences for a different, and more diverse, population of learners?

ANAND: You know, we’ve learned a whole lot by now about online learning at Harvard and elsewhere. A decade ago, online platforms were designed with the purpose of hosting content for delivery at scale. Since then, we’ve learned how to design for much more immersive social learning experiences. The nonprofit will work to advance the development of platforms — including some used at Harvard and MIT — that successfully incorporate evidence-based pedagogical principles.

How can we design learning experiences that spark curiosity, infuse confidence, and inspire learning? How can learning platforms enable personalization, build connections, and facilitate multimodal formats — in-person or virtual, live or asynchronous? Questions around pedagogy and platforms go hand-in-hand, and present profoundly exciting opportunities. More than anything, we need to design and deploy platforms that ensure we can meet more learners where they are, so that everyone can have access to new technologies online. The nonprofit will support research to learn more about the barriers that disadvantaged communities face in being able to take full advantage of online learning platforms, such as language barriers, bandwidth, and cultural biases in design, and develop actionable strategies to address them.

We’ve also learned quite a bit more since the pandemic began. It’s been an unprecedented, challenging time for all of us. But some pretty remarkable things have happened too that otherwise wouldn’t have happened so quickly. Educators, and learners, were forced to think differently and to innovate. Here at Harvard, there has been so much creative energy that has gone into this re-envisioning of teaching and learning. Faculty learned that new possibilities arise when our classrooms are no longer bound by constraints on time and location.

Over the past six months, the Future of Teaching and Learning Task Force, convened with the support of Provost Garber and President [Larry] Bacow, has brought individuals from across the University’s Schools and units to systematically explore how Harvard can build upon the creativity, experiments, and inventions our faculty applied to their teaching during the pandemic throughout the University and its global community as we move forward.

GAZETTE: Anything else you’d like to add?

GARBER: I’m looking forward to this next chapter of our partnership with MIT to reimagine learning. Over the years that we have worked together on edX, and much else, we have built up a great deal of trust and mutual respect. Of course, Harvard’s strengths complement MIT’s in this mission, such as their innovation in open-source software and our strong Graduate School of Education, online learning advancements, and policy programs.

Perhaps most importantly, though, is the fact that we’re largely interested in the same things, and our overall goal remains the same: to improve learning and to make compelling educational opportunities available to people of all backgrounds who have a hunger to learn.