Dynamics of Lifelong Learning, Part I: “Reinventing Corporate Education” @ SXSW EDU

On the “Reinventing Corporate Education” panel were representatives of a tripartite team offering MIT-based systems engineering training to Boeing engineers on the EdX platform.  Anant Agarwal – CEO of EdX,  TC Haldi – Sr Director of MIT xPRO, and Mark Cousino – Boeing’s Director of Learning Design and Technology each gave their perspective on the program that they had recently rolled out.

There’s a lot that’s impressive about this partnerships.  Boeing is showing impressive results: 5000 learners have received certificates and the program had a 98% completion rate (a completion rate incentivized by Boeing paying for $2500 program, so long as the learners complete it).  MIT has designed a program to be immediately relevant and practical in the workplace, and can offer it not just to Boeing employees but to anyone on EdX.  And this post-MOOC-hysteria version EdX seems to have found a comfortable space to show meaningful engagement and outcomes.

The most interesting part of the conversation, though, may have been what it said about being in the workforce today.  In researching their 30,000 systems engineers, Boeing noted that not many had been formally trained in their field.  These were people who had learned on the job, studied on their own time, entered the field from all directions, and brought diverse skills and knowledge to their roles.  It’s obvious how it would benefit Boeing to assure that these employees shared some basic skills and were well-informed about the state-of-the-art.  And it’s equally obvious that this is a textbook case for the sort of thing MOOC’s are good for: remote, motivated learners, where there can be a high degrees of standardization in the content and skills, and also a degree of flexibility in the pace and style of learning.

There’s a lot to be happy about here—an alignment of the interests of employer and employee; a thriving collaboration between the academic and corporate spheres; and a recognition that job skills are constantly evolving and employees need to be supported in evolving with them.  Yet at a conference where there may have been a hundred panels on equity and diversity for every one panel on corporate learning, it wasn’t surprising when questions from the audience focused on the workers whose skills weren’t being developed, and whether programs like this only exacerbated the division between the have’s and have-not’s, between the well-trained and the left-behind.

Each panelist could point to efforts to address this,  but the bigger questions were beyond the scope of the panel.  They are, however, the questions that inform parts II & III of this blog entry.

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