Month: December 2017

Higher Education Needs a Re-think to Train Tomorrow’s Workforce

Source article and video:  

The ways in which the nature of work is changing beyond our control necessitate a more flexible education system, with “students” no longer being defined just as 18-to-22-year-olds on college campuses. In this era of Netflix subscriptions and Blue Apron dinner deliveries, it’s high time we embrace an education system that’s flexible, accessible and affordable, whether it’s by streaming classes onto our laptops at home or by hitting the pavement to get to class.

Today, students go off to college at age 18, spend four to six years there, graduate and go to work, often tens of thousands of dollars in debt. And if they dare to go another route, by postponing or breaking up their years of attendance, they’re often considered unsuccessful dropouts. There has to be a better way. Higher education is ripe for transformation — one in which technology will allow online education to become as relevant and compelling a choice as on-campus education, leading us to blended learning where online and in-person education coexist. The key to this future vision? Massive open online courses (MOOCs).

MOOCs are not a new concept; they have been around for nearly six years. But the potential of MOOCs to educate large numbers of people in a scalable way at very low marginal cost is still incredibly important, relevant and meaningful, and just beginning to be appreciated. The next phase of MOOCs, and the innovation that we’re really excited about right now, is courses and programs that offer pathways to credit at a college or university by blending the best of online and in-person programs.

To offer credit-grade MOOCs, online learning providers must have a platform with high academic integrity — one that maintains high standards and facilitates rigorous assessments. This could include integrating virtual proctoring, hand grading and peer grading, as well as innovative, rich assessments that go well beyond multiple choice. New partnerships between universities and online platforms must also be developed to support such innovative models.

One fine example of a credit-grade MOOC program offered on a credit-grade platform is MITx’s Supply Chain Management MicroMasters program, which was the pilot program for the MicroMasters initiative offered on edX. From this group of MicroMasters learners, who completed their credentials in June 2017, MIT has admitted 40 students into the traditional on-campus program. These MicroMasters students will be able to complete the on-campus master’s program in half the time and at half the cost.

This is such an exciting initiative. Programs like this are breaking down the traditional barriers of higher education — getting away from the “one size fits all” view. As more colleges and universities begin to accept MOOCs for credit, online learning options will create modularity and offer students more options.

There are three ways in which these new, innovative approaches can come to life by blending the best of in-person and digital delivery:


Fully online, stacked-credential master’s programs are a big innovation in online learning. The groundbreaking Georgia Tech Online Master of Science in Analytics, in partnership with edX, enables learners to earn a graduate degree for less than $10,000. Accepted students complete a MicroMasters credential, which is about 30 percent of the degree. While some will be able to enter the workforce with that credential, others of these graduates will then funnel into the full master’s program, where they will complete additional courses online to graduate from that program. This unbundling of the full master’s degree into a MicroMasters component allows more learners more options and access to education and, in turn, successful careers.


MIT recently conducted an experiment where it offered a fully online version of its popular on-campus Circuits and Electronics course to on-campus students for credit in an attempt to help students facing scheduling issues. The results? Students not only performed well but also reported feeling less stress and having more flexibility. Many other universities have begun toying with this online-while-on-campus delivery, which will inevitably pave the way for more schools to look at how this type of coursework can benefit both students and faculty.


Online credentials with a pathway to campus credit is another blend that is not only impacting the delivery of education, but also admissions, as it supports an inverted entry process. The Global Freshman Academy and the MicroMasters program, both available on edX, are examples of this blend. It lets universities include in their evaluation of degree applicants a student’s performance in an online credential program, which signals an applicant’s commitment to learning and demonstrates an applicant’s ability to tackle rigorous content and succeed in an on-campus program. Students also benefit from an inverted admissions process because they are able to try and complete coursework in a field at low cost before committing significant time and money toward applying for and enrolling in a degree program.

These approaches to delivering high-quality education are just a few examples of how education is being transformed. Much more potential from MOOCs remains to be unlocked, and I look forward to seeing and working to share this evolution.

(Anant Agarwal is a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the CEO of edX, the online learning destination founded by Harvard and MIT.)


Higher education funding divide grows across Europe

Source: University World News

Since the 2008 financial crisis, the divide between higher education systems that increase public funding and those that reduce investment is getting wider in Europe, according to a new report.

The findings of the Public Funding Observatory Report 2017, published by the European University Association or EUA, also show that while 2012 was the year of “deepest crisis” for universities in Europe with the largest number of systems cutting funding, any recovery that can now be detected is slow and fragile.

In addition, the cuts make it harder for universities to compete for European Union funds, the report concluded.

Only 14 systems had higher funding in 2016 than in 2008 and eight of those have a faster growth in student populations compared to the increase in funding. Nineteen systems still had lower levels of direct public funding than at the time of the financial crisis.

During a webinar discussing the findings, Thomas Estermann, EUA’s director for governance, funding and public policy development, said on Wednesday: “We still have 19 systems with lower funding in 2016 than in 2008, and that shows this is a very challenging situation and it takes a very long time to catch up.

“We really would like to make a drastic call for change and encourage national funders to step up investment, really invest, but also invest at the European level, particularly in the period where we discuss the next level of European framework funding.

“Otherwise we will not have a higher education and research area that is competitive at an international level.”

In a separate statement, Estermann said the report shows a handful of countries have made increases that match student numbers and growth in gross domestic product or GDP, while others “need to up their investments to close the gap”.

The impact of cuts on activity areas varies across countries and can affect teaching, research, infrastructure or staff, the report says.

Short-term trends

The analysis of short-term trends reveals four categories of developments:

  • Systems with higher fluctuations in funding patterns,
  • Systems with positive signs of reinvestment after stagnation or decline,
  • Consistently investing systems, and
  • Systems that have continued cutting public funding to universities.

(…continue at )


Higher Education is Getting Digital

Source: WISE

There has been “digital” in higher education for a very long time. From the earliest computers to the beginnings of the internet, higher education has always found ways to use technology to capitalize on the power, scale, and efficiency of digital.

When I was an undergraduate student at university, email was an emerging digital technology. It was an exciting time to be a student. Staff were able to scale their interactions with students and students were able to build digital connections with their campus communities. Email was an exciting technology that fundamentally changed how people communicated around the globe.
Fast forward to the present and we’re still talking about digital in higher education. Numerous technologies have given universities new ways to enhance teaching, learning, and the student experience.
Technologies like big data, OER, learning analytics, augmented/virtual reality, social media, machine learning, bots/messaging, next generation learning environments, blockchain and the cloud are all part of today’s higher education technology mix.
What are the emerging opportunities that run in parallel with all of these new technologies?
First and foremost is the ability for universities to scale the student experience to a larger, more distributed group of learners. Enhanced mobile connectivity and social media allow academics and administrators to connect with campus communities anytime anywhere in educationally relevant ways.
Additionally, as more and more learner data is collected, learner analytics can be used to create individualized pathways for student success. Knowing more about each individual student’s academic journey leads universities to create a more bespoke learner experience.
New technologies can also make a higher education credential more secure. For example, MIT’s new digital diploma uses blockchain technology to ensure the legitimacy of a degree. This brings new benefit to the institution, the student, and to any potential future employer.
With great power comes great responsibility. In our ever-connected world, the importance of data security is paramount. Universities are gathering vast amounts of data in order to make processes more efficient, scale online learning, and engage in hyper-focused recruitment. All of this data requires a lot of security and institutional commitment to data protection and utilization schemes.
The more digitally connected we become, the more vulnerable we are to manipulation. The recent use of social networks to influence political outcomes has taught us that social media are powerful tools for connectivity and learning. The university experience is no longer just about a brick-and-mortar-based learner journey. Learning how to critically navigate and analyze digital content and networks has become an absolute necessity.
Student Success
Everything that a university does with digital is eventually about student success. Any and all digital university processes will eventually benefit students. While some, like learning analytics, are more direct, there are many ways that universities can use digital to benefit students.
Benefitting All Learners
My favorite aspect of how higher education is getting digital is the fact that technology creates more overall access for learners. Online learning environments allow distributed learners the opportunity to access the best that higher education has to offer regardless of locale.
In addition, the accessibility of virtual learning environments, student information systems, library content repositories, and app-driven content is a game-changer for students with disabilities. Driven by universal design principles, universities are creating courses content that is readily accessible for all students.
Digital Capabilities
Our digital capabilities matter. Digital represents core aspects of institutional efficiency and access, enhanced critical thinking and career development. Higher education continues to get digital on a daily basis.