Interview with Johannes Heinlein, Keynote Speaker on LEARNTEC 2019

Johannes Heinlein, Vice President of Strategic Partnership bei edX (USA) and Keynote Speaker on LEARNTEC 2019

Johannes – the title of your keynote is “Reimagining Education”. What’s wrong with today’s approaches to education?

Digital technology has transformed countless areas of life from healthcare to workplace productivity to entertainment and publishing. But education has remained largely the same. EdX, a nonprofit online learning destination and MOOC – massive open online course – provider founded by Harvard and MIT, aspires to reinvent education through technology. Our mission is to increase access to high-quality education for anyone, anywhere, to enhance teaching and learning online and on campus, and to advance research into teaching and learning.

I understand – so you want to be modern. But with MOOCs you offer old technology yourself, true?

Reimagining education is an evolutionary process, a revolution, and it takes time to establish a final, developed product. Our approach to MOOCs is to focus on academic institutions and helping them to integrate new technologies and modalities into how they approach traditional learning. Nowadays, with MOOCS, institutions offer a pathway to opportunities that you normally only get on campus.

It’s true, MOOCs have been around for a few years now but there’s a new engine under the hood. You can compare it to cars: They have been around for 100 years now, but today they are completely different. They run with electric motors and have new facilities. With our new approach, we drive to the same outcome. It’s a question of how we engage with technology and with each other and focus on the outcome. Today, the level of maturity in MOOCs is much more complex and beneficial to learners than ever.

Where do you get your content from?

We partner with institutions like Harvard, MIT, Oxford, RWTH Aachen, TU Munich, and many more. Our partners utilize our platform and learning management system to make their educational content accessible to millions of learners around the world.

You offer several topics. Do courses on computer science work better than others?

On our platform you find over 2,000 courses, and they are well balanced between technology and other topics. Over 18 million of learners take courses in subjects from IT to architecture, from Shakespeare to political sciences, from art to biology. The adaptation of technology is driven by those working in the field and we see learners across all industries taking courses and programs that help them to upskill and reskill in their jobs.

Can you share a bit more information about your partnerships?

Of course! For instance, France, has developed a national learning platform called FUN with millions of learners. China has also created a national platform, Xuetang. Nations create their online learning platforms that provide their citizens with access to online education and learning experiences.

Why should MIT, Harvard and others share their high-end courses?

We believe that access to education is a human right. No organization can achieve that by itself. All universities, companies, and ministries can offer opportunities for content and learning.

But it’s expensive to create good content. And you need to earn money too. What’s the business model behind it?

You can enroll in almost all of our courses for free and experience the material through lectures, videos and discussion forums, but if you want a certificate to prove the knowledge you’ve gained, you have to pay for it. Students can earn a MicroMmasters® program certificate. It’s a series of graduate level courses designed to advance careers. They provide deep learning in a specific career field and are recognized by employers for their real job relevance. Students may apply to the university offering credit and, if accepted, can pursue an accelerated and less expensive Master’s degree.

What about Germany?

Germany is leading in low-cost academic education, but in the US, a full Master’s degree will cost you 60.000 US$. To address this affordability issue, we recently announced 9 fully online Master’s degrees, for instance with Arizona State University; Georgia Institute of Technology; University of California and of Queensland with one to come from the University of Edinburgh. The programs are in highly in-demand subjects, such as data science, cybersecurity, computer science, analytics and supply chain management. In addition, three programs are both top-ten ranked and offered at 10.000 US$ or less.

So, I could just go on your platform and sign in for, let’s say, an MIT program?

Yes. You can sign up without tests or other requirements which are obligatory on campus.

You speak of “in-demand” learning. What do you mean? I only know “on-demand”.

In-demand means that we assess and work with companies, governments and universities to ensure that we offer content that maps back to the skills and competencies they need in prospective employees and students. New stackable credentials take the most important knowledge and teaching from institutions and corporations and deliver learners with relevant skills and outcomes. So, to come back to your question: People expect immediate answers by Google search or talking to people. That’s on-demand. In-demand means to identify which are the right questions to ask.

Until now, the academic and the corporate world did not collaborate in learning. How do you bring them together?

Many companies and institutions like Microsoft, Amazon, IBM, Amnesty International, and the International Monetary Fund work with academic partners to identify new content, career enhancement, or learning modalities. They find new ways on how to cooperate for research and collaborate with non-institutions. For instance, you can do a Harvard course, a MicroMmasters® program from RWTH Aachen, and take a course with IBM – all on one platform.

But do companies really share content with others, even with competitors?

Yes, because it’s beneficial for both sides and provides opportunities for employment. We bring B2B learning into companies. Employees of major companies take courses from each other’s own pool of expertise to improve their performance. Companies share content and customize it. For instance, you as a journalist will need different skills whether you work for newspapers, TV, radio or for online media. Accordingly, you have to look at different facades on how to teach journalism. More and more career paths are very specialized – in today’s world, learning once and staying there is less and less probable.

How can you increase workplace productivity with MOOCs?

I believe it’s incredibly important for people to learn simply for the love of learning – everybody should be able to find content on personal interests like arts or photography. We offer content in these types of fields like drawing, art, literature and more. But we also provide the opportunity to learn for professional reasons, with courses and programs that help you to improve in your current career or start a new, maybe better paid one. In both cases, we are looking to deliver content that provides positive learning experiences, because for many learners theIR current education does not more fulfil their needs.

On which criteria do you define “positive learning experiences”?

We rethink how to teach from the perspective of the learner. There are many case studies on how innovative technology increases career opportunities and provides a better life. By now 100.000s of learners have completed the courses. Now they have new jobs, are more productive employees and maybe better citizens.

Why better citizens?

Learning cannot only improve your career, but also has a sociopolitical element. For example, one of our learners took courses in solar energy and figured out how to bring electricity to his entire village. In Germany, for instance, you have to decide whether or not migration is a vital topic. For this purpose, you need to gain access to knowledge and learning from experts on the topic.

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