Harvard Prof To Use ‘eHarmony’-Type Platform To Ease Online Ed Isolation

A Harvard professor has a plan to work around the isolation of online learning, a problem that keeps most students from sticking with online classes, as business schools continue to evolve their use of massive open online courses (MOOCs). With “Innovating in Health Care”, a course beginning on March 31st on HarvardX, the university’s online [...]

A Harvard professor has a plan to work around the isolation of online learning, a problem that keeps most students from sticking with online classes, as business schools continue to evolve their use of massive open online courses (MOOCs).

With “Innovating in Health Care”, a course beginning on March 31st on HarvardX, the university’s online learning platform, business education at Harvard will go online. According to the school, more than 10,000 students have already registered. Regina Herzlinger, a professor of business administration at Harvard Business School and a dedicated business school instructor, will be the first to teach a HarvardX class in the course. For 43 years, Herzlinger has taught innovation and health care at Harvard in person. Spurring collaboration, interaction, and networking are the main goals of her online class, but when crowded classrooms are replaced with a solitary experience at home, that becomes difficult.

Herzlinger will employ a collaboration of her own to overcome the separation factor: Herzlinger worked with Svetlana Dostenko to integrate Project Lever, a “sort of EHarmony for building businesses” into the edX platform. As Amy S. Choi of Bloomberg BusinessWeek reports, Project Lever was designed as a way to match students with the best resources for their research projects. Students will use Project Lever to connect with classmates whose skills complement theirs in Herzlinger’s course.

MOOCs are suited to classes with objective, measurable outcomes, said Herzlinger, but for teaching conceptual or action-based ideas, they don’t work as well.

“Didactic courses are very adaptable to the Web,” she says. “I teach accounting as well, and there’s always a right answer. Those courses are easy. Innovation is much more challenging because it has to be interactive and team-based.”

Team-based learning should combat the huge attrition rate of online students, hopes Herzlinger. 95% of students drop out of MOOCs before earning a completion certificate, according to a study HarvardX and MITx conducted on their 2012-13 online offerings.

“When students are on teams, they become much more committed to both each other and the class,” she says.

If Herzlinger is successful at getting students to work together — and do it for the duration of the course — the program could prove instructive for the broader business school sector. This spring, Harvard Business School is expected to launch HBX, its own online effort.

Herzlinger said that they have “done everything” in a bid to ensure popularity of online learning. However, she warned that people must make reasonable decisions when choosing online learning.

“We’ve done everything we can to encourage collaboration and foster interaction online,” says Herzlinger. “The drawback is that you can’t have the kind of personal interaction that $50,000 to $60,000 a year will buy you. But you also don’t need to leave your job and come to campus and make a huge financial sacrifice.”

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