edXLeveraging new instructional models to make students more employable

Leveraging new instructional models to make students more employable

Online learning platforms give universities new tools to aid learning continuity and student employability

With the Covid-19 pandemic challenging universities everywhere, there are questions and concerns about the impact this will have on graduate employability in the long term, as well as the role universities play in lifelong learning in the workforce in general.

How edX, the nonprofit learning platform founded by Harvard and MIT, is responding, and how the pandemic offers opportunities to accelerate new skills development for students and professionals, was the subject of a session at Times Higher Education’s 2020 Student Success Forum. Caroline Mol, edX’s director of strategic partnerships, moderated a discussion with Anant Agarwal, edX’s founder and CEO, and Páll Ásgeir Torfason, head of e-learning at the University of Iceland.

Agarwal described the immediate impact on edX as the pandemic hit: in April, the platform saw a tenfold increase in registrations and an even higher increase in enrolments. Universities around the world leveraged edX content – from single courses to micro-degrees and professional certificates – to enable the quick transition to quality, fully online courses and learning continuity for faculty, students and professionals.

In response to this growing demand, edX launched Online Campus, offering courses from more than 150 institutions, enabling universities all over the world to access edX courses for free in response to the pandemic and campus closures. Take-up was exponential, especially in Europe, where students are well served by internet access.

The University of Iceland, an edX partner for three years, has made good use of Online Campus since the pandemic broke. Its teaching shifted online rapidly, including the university’s summer programme, which consists of 40 seasonal courses. Torfason sees great possibilities in integrating edX’s tools with the university’s courses. In particular, adding new courses and subject areas for facilitated and independent learning, as well as professional development. “We have seen the benefits and what we need to do,” he said.

According to Agarwal, universities are leveraging edX’s offering in three main ways: blended learning, where staff augment their own content; faculty-facilitated learning, where online courses are largely conducted asynchronously with staff support (as at the University of Iceland); and independent learning, for extra credit, special programmes and CPD. Student learning and employability are boosted this way, with the digital programmes offering flexibility – especially as students acquire skills without the need for a whole degree course – along with a focus on in-demand subjects, such as machine learning.

Said Agarwal: “It is all about getting back to employability.” He advised universities to seize the chance to innovate, adding that “the future of learning is blended.” In addition, universities need to learn to experiment and share, to take advantage of pandemic opportunities to get stronger and “be prepared for future disruption.”

Watch the entire discussion above or on the Times Higher Education YouTube channel.

Find out more about edX Online Campus.

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