edX acquires education technology company 2U – Harvard Gazette

Gazet: Can you give us the motivation behind the partnerships the nonprofit aims to create?

Anand: Impact 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 should be well integrated with those organizations that provide such “last mile” presence and support.

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

We need to transform adult education and lifelong learning for a wide range of learners who are affected by forces such as globalization and technological innovation.

Harvard already has various partnerships, through the Graduate School of Education and initiatives such as the Future of Work and programs through other Harvard Colleges, with organizations that work to address inequalities in educational opportunity and workforce development. We hope the nonprofit will expand on these types of efforts, with new collaborations beginning here in Cambridge and Boston, and extending to other parts of the country and around the world.

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

Anand: You know, we’ve learned a lot 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 more inclusive social learning experiences. The nonprofit will promote the development of platforms—including some used at Harvard and MIT—that successfully integrate evidence-based pedagogical principles.

How can we design learning experiences that inspire curiosity, inspire confidence, and inspire learning? How can learning platforms enable personalization, build connections, and facilitate multimedia formats – in person or virtual, live or asynchronous? Questions about teaching methods and platforms go hand in hand, and provide very exciting opportunities. More than anything else, we need to design and deploy platforms that ensure we can meet more learners wherever they are, so that everyone can access 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 a lot since the pandemic began. It was an unprecedentedly difficult time for all of us. But some amazing things have also happened that otherwise wouldn’t have happened so quickly. Breeders and learners were forced to think differently and innovate. Here at Harvard, there has been a lot of creative energy that has gone into reimagining teaching and learning. Faculty have learned that new possibilities emerge when our classrooms are not constrained by the constraints of time and space.

Over the past six months, the Future of Teaching and Learning Task Force has come together with the support of University President Garber and President [Larry] Bacow has brought in individuals from all colleges and units of the university to systematically explore how Harvard can build on the creativity, experiences, and inventions that our faculty has applied to teaching during the pandemic throughout the university and its global community as we move forward.

Gazet: Do you want to add anything else?

Garber: I look forward to the next chapter of our partnership with MIT to reimagine learning. Over the years that we’ve worked together on edX, and more, we’ve built a great deal of trust and mutual respect. Of course, Harvard’s strengths complement MIT in this mission, such as their innovation in open source software and a strong graduate school of education, advances in online learning, and policy programs.

Perhaps most important is the fact that we are largely interested in the same things, and our overall goal remains the same: to improve learning and provide compelling learning opportunities to people of all backgrounds who have a hunger to learn.

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