The Future of Work = The Future of Education (3)

In 2014, Harvard and MIT invested $80 million in a non-profit learning platform called edX. Today, over 20,000,000 students have enrolled in over 2400 courses offered by 140 of the top universities in the world.  At $300 per course, students from every country in the world have enrolled in edX. Platforms like edX, give Romanians access to the finest education in the world right at home. 

Anant Agarwal, the Founder of edX, says this about the future of education. 

I was at a Governor’s Conference here in Massachusetts with leaders in government and education brainstorming about the future of work.  With the impending impact of artificial intelligence, robotics, and automation at our doorstep, it took just two minutes for the future of work panel to become a future of education panel.

Given how rapidly technology is changing the workplace, people must continually educate themselves.  Over a lifetime of work, people may need to be reskilled seven times. Do we really expect someone to apply for admissions seven different times or to return to campus for a year seven times in adulthood? That’s a nightmare. 

Everything that we’ve done at edX has been controversial. We come from a university where things have been done a certain way for decades, if not centuries.  However, at the end of the day, we must reflect the voice of the learner and do what is right for humankind.”

As I returned to Boston this fall for the 30th reunion of my Harvard Business School class, I was surprised to discover that the best universities are offering their brand to students all over the world at a very low cost.  I was so curious how this might be relevant to Romanians, I made it a point to meet the leaders at MIT, Harvard Medical School and Harvard Business School that are revolutionizing education.  


Anant Agarwal is a Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He has served as the director of the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and led the development of two successful semiconductor multiprocessors.  Now he is revolutionizing education.

On Harvard’s Managing the Future of Work podcast series, Anant shared more about how edX is helping to reskill the global workforce.

Today we are nothing like we envisioned ourselves eight years ago. In the beginning, we thought we would just have a few universities as partners. But as more and more universities approached us wanting to partner, we grew to over 100 university partners. 

Similarly, learners were looking for content not just from universities but were looking for bleeding-edge content that was very job-related, very skill-related. And for that, we had a lot of interest from corporation partners, like Linux Foundation, Microsoft, IBM and others that are offering content on edX. Corporate courses tend to be much more application-focused and bring a whole new perspective to learning.

The MicroMasters program is a radical new credential. A MicroMasters is about 25 percent of a master’s degree. A person with a full-time job can complete it in six months to nine months. Second, it’s fully online, so they can work around their work and family schedule. Third, it’s a credential with gravitas granted by the world’s premier universities.  MIT offers MicroMasters credentials in supply chain management, in data science, in manufacturing. Columbia University has a MicroMasters program in artificial intelligence, Georgia Tech in cybersecurity, Boston University in digital project management. These are all cutting-edge fields in which people can get these new credentials for just $1,000. More and more employers are paying very, very significant attention to it.  In fact, 91 percent of our learners are telling us that they’ve already achieved a career advancement based on their MicroMasters certificate.

At the undergraduate level, edX offers over 100 certificates where learners gather practical job skills. Ultimately, when they have accumulated enough certificates over time, they will even be able to earn a bachelor’s degree from one of our university partners.  We call this “stacking” certificates.

This concept of stacking modular education into degrees will address the large sector of the population that can’t afford a college education at today’s prices.  Today, many people spend a year in college and then leave to take a job. We call them a dropout today, even though they learned something. Modularity can fix that problem. If they have learned something, they should get a credential, that qualifies them for a higher-level job.

Harvard Business School

Patrick Mullane was a captain in the US Air Force Intelligence operation before he became Executive Director of Harvard Business School (HBS) online. Today he leads a fast-growing, profitable enterprise that makes HBS’s proprietary library of case-based learning and highly sought after professors, available to students around the world for just a couple thousand dollars.  HBS has already conferred more online certificates in the past 5 years than Masters degrees in the entire 110-year history of the traditional MBA program.

My favorite program in CORe, a curriculum of Business Analytics, Economics for Managers, and Financial Accounting.  Students engage in real challenges faced by seasoned executives across a variety of industries, develop business intuition through interactive learning exercises and join a global community of peers.  The curriculum ends with a formal final exam at testing centers around the world. HBS costs just $2,250.

A short introduction to CORe

Harvard Medical School

Dr. Michael Parker is a physician in the Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Sleep Medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, 

After graduating with a MA in Computer Science from MIT in 1990, Dr, Michael Parker moved to Silicon Valley to work at Oracle for five years.  Seeing the huge opportunity for technology to improve medical education around the world, Michael left Oracle for medical school and ended up starting Harvard Medical School Online (HMX) five years ago.

HMx was initially formed to help medical students get to the hands-on, clinical portion of their education earlier, so they could better understand the implications of what they learn in the classroom.  Michael soon discovered that HMx content was even more valuable to international students who start medical school directly out of high school, rather than Americans who have 4 years of university before starting medical school.

Today, HMx is integrated into the 1st and 2nd year medical school curriculum for universities around the world for less than $800 per course.  

Michael said “our medical school clients actually prefer the English language instruction because this is the language of medical research, terminology, and conferences. We have closed captioned our courses with variable speed playback so international participants can slow down the videos.”

Examples of HMX applied to a variety of careers

HMx has also developed content for jobs that require deep medical knowledge. The HMX Fundamentals curriculum focuses on foundational topics (biochemistry, genetics, immunology, pharmacology, and physiology) for a variety of jobs in the healthcare industry. The 5-course series is available for $425 per course.  

HMX also has continuing education courses for doctors in new fields of medicine with major breakthroughs, such as genetics and immunology.  These courses are also useful for IT professionals focused on big data and personalized medicine. 

What does this mean for how we educate our children?

In his new book, The Globotics Upheaval: Globalization, Robotics, and the Future of Work, economist Richard Baldwin discusses the job opportunities of the future.  Despite all the talk of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM), Baldwin has an interesting conclusion on how we should educate our children.

“In a nutshell, it’s soft skills.

To work in teams, to be innovative, to be curious, to be ethical, to deal with many people at the same time, to motivate many, many people at the same time. It is social intelligence. What is your ability to imagine what other people are thinking and understand why they are thinking that way? How to resolve conflict and create cooperation.  

These skills cannot be reduced to a structured data set. And, as a consequence, those types of tasks won’t be automated going forward.  Almost every child will have digital literacy in order to survive in this new world. STEM skills are not the answer to everything. It’s really the softer skills that are going to be critical to success in the future.”

The social skills required to succeed in the Future of Work cannot wait for university. They must be developed  in our early education models and matured through high school.   

I believe the single most important economic development strategy for any town, city or nation is to develop an education system that combines a rigorous math and science curriculum, with new tools of individual learning plans, teamwork, applied knowledge, and mastery-based grading systems.    

Parents will move anywhere to invest in their kid’s future. In a world where countries are aggressively competing for global talent, innovative education systems may be the means for small countries like Romania to compete.  This will the subject of the 4th and final article on PressOne’s introduction to the Future of Work.

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