edX has announced it is partnering with two Massachusetts community colleges to "Take the learning to the learners." Originally founded with a $60 million grant from Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to develop and implement online learning technologies, edX is expanding into community colleges by offering its massive open online courses -- known as MOOCs -- to students at Mass Bay and Bunker Hill.
Problem: Access and Time
In our interview, edX President Anant Agarwal summed up the challenges community colleges face as one of workforce readiness. Since many U.S. workers receive some of their education in community colleges, they face two issues: 1) Due to budget constraints, community colleges often do not have access to excellent online content; and 2) community colleges are often "commuter schools" where part-time students travel to the campus for classes and then go home. In the latter scenario, there's far less opportunity for students to interact with the content and with each other.
These problems make it very difficult for community colleges to achieve their missions. As Mass Bay Community College President John O'Donnell notes on their website, he "views education -- specifically community and technical colleges -- as the way to advance students, businesses and communities." They can't do that without access and time.
Vision: Improved Workforce Readiness
Agarwal envisions the possibility of "very rich learning dramatically improving community colleges and workforce readiness." He sees how community colleges can leverage online learning technologies on their own or in blended models to increase contact time for students with the content, teachers and other students. And, because of the scale opportunities of online learning, he sees a much more efficient learning system.
As Bunker Hill Community College President Mary Fifield tells her students on their website, "Our courses prepare you for jobs in the fastest growing fields of today's economy." She knows that "There are so many different ways to learn, access knowledge or find information today." Community colleges can ratchet up new ways of learning and job preparation in sync.
Steps: Ever-bigger Experiments
The Gates Foundation saw the opportunity as well, and gave edX a grant to fund the effort. It begins with a prototype experiment at Mass Bay and Bunker Hill, and both schools are aligned on the idea.
Step two will be to pull in professors to facilitate learning in a blended model. Students will go through videos and interactive assignments at home, and then engage in one-on-one and group discussions, and perhaps some mini-lectures, in class.
Next edX and its stakeholders will evaluate the outcomes, fix the shortcomings and move on to ever-bigger experiments.
Implications for Offsite Employees
Just as business leaders should consider following the flipped classroom model for business presentations, they should also think about deploying a blended learning approach for employees working outside the main office. These employees have the same issues as students at community colleges: access and time. They don't have access to the same content and teachers that are wandering around the main office. If they come in for meetings or workshops, they have to factor in travel time.
With a blended learning approach, you can provide them with videos and interactive assignments at their primary locations, and then pull them together either in regional hubs or your main office for one-on-one and group discussions as well as mini-lectures. It's a way to give greater access and make the best use of our most precious commodity -- time.
We're all new leaders all the time. So remember all the time that leadership is about inspiring and enabling others to do their absolute best together to realize a meaningful and rewarding shared purpose. With that in mind, BRAVE leaders pay attention to their Behaviors, Relationships, Attitude, Values, and Environment -- all the time.
The New Leader's Playbook includes the 10 steps that executive onboarding group PrimeGenesis uses to help new leaders and their teams get done in 100-days what would normally take six to twelve months. George Bradt is PrimeGenesis' managing director, and co-author of The New Leader's 100-Day Action Plan (Wiley, 3rd edition 2011) and the freemium iPad app New Leader Smart Tools. Follow him at @georgebradt or on YouTube.