MITx u.lab: Education As Activating Social Fields

Until last year, the number of students in my classes at MIT numbered 50 or so. Less than twelve months later, I have just completed my first class with 50,000 registered participants. They came from 185 countries, and together they co-generated:
• >400 prototype (action learning) initiatives
• >560 self-organized hubs in a vibrant global eco-system
• >1,000 self-organized coaching circles.

What explains the growth in group size from 50 to 50,000? It’s moving my class at MIT Sloan to the edX platform, making it a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course).

Designed to blend open access with deep learning, the u.lab was first launched in early 2015 with 26,000 registered participants. When we offered it for a second time, in September, we had 50,000 registered participants. According to the exit survey, 93% found their experience “inspiring” (60%) or “life changing” (33%); and 62% of those who came into the u.lab without any contemplative practice have one now.

Inverting the 21st-Century University

One-third of the participants had “life changing” experiences? How is that possible in a mere seven-week online course? The answer is: it’s not. The u.lab isn’t just an online course. It’s an o2o (online-to-offline) blended learning environment that provides participants with quality spaces for reflection, dialogue, and collaborative action.

From the perspective of the course co-facilitation team, the whole u.lab experience felt like a journey of profound personal, relational, and institutional inversion. To invert something means to turn it inside-out or outside-in. In the case of the u.lab, not only was the classroom experience inverted, but so was the conversation among learners and the learners’ cognitive experience. Unlike traditional classrooms, the u.lab is characterized by:

distributed organizing: opening up the classroom to many self-organized hubsaround the world;
generative dialogue: opening up the conversation from teacher-centric downloading to student-centric generative dialogue;
collective governance: opening up the institution to a global innovation context while cultivating spaces that help the system sense and see itself;
prototyping practices: opening up the learning modes through hands-on action learning methodologies;
self-transformation: opening up the deeper sources of human intelligence by activating the open mind, open heart, and open will.

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A Successful MOOC for Kids

[Alex Hernandez uses his insights as a parent and an Edsurge writer on educational technology to share a summer success story for his two twins. The Brain Chase program used a “Blended” approach – physical objects and activities combined online experiences – to create an engaging 5 week experience. ]
Alex Hernandez

Sep 21, 2015

Brain ChaseMy 9-year-old twins recently completed a five-week MOOC (massive open online course). I thought I’d be a proud, high-fiving dad, but MOOC completion rates hover around 6%, so when they completed the MOOC, I was mostly puzzled. Something went terribly… right.

Brain Chase is an online learning experience geared for 2nd to 8th graders designed to cure summer learning loss and provide afterschool enrichment. Each week, children work on a variety of online programs such as Khan Academy, myOn and Rosetta Stone, submit a piece of writing and read–a substantial investment of 5 hours a week during the summer.

Brain Chase’s founders, husband-and-wife team Heather and Allan Staker, shared that 2,000 children between the ages of 6 and 14 participated this summer, and 50% of them completed the five week program. “While the completion rate skewed slightly towards boys, it held at roughly 50% across age and gender,” Allan reported.

So how is Brain Chase bucking the curse of low MOOC completion rates? And what are the implications for online learning?

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Building a Business Model for MOOCs

[The Berklee School of Music in Boston has been a leader using distance learning to develop music skills for post-high school students. Recently they added a MOOC into their mix of offerings. The MOOC has been an incredibly effective tool getting more people aware of Berklee and providing a path to its online and on campus programs. More schools need to look at this business model that provides cost-effective strategies for people interested in learning new skills.]


By taking a very deliberate strategy to structuring their MOOCs, the Berklee College of Music has created an effective pipeline for their credit-bearing online courses and programs

By taking a very deliberate strategy to structuring their MOOCs, the Berklee College of Music has created an effective pipeline for their credit-bearing online courses and programs

Berklee College of Music was founded on the revolutionary principle that the best way to prepare students for careers in music is through the study and practice of contemporary music. For 70 years, the college has evolved to reflect the state of the art of music and the music business, leading the way with the world’s first baccalaureate studies in jazz, rock, electric guitar, film scoring, songwriting, turntables, electronic production, and more than a dozen other genres and fields of study.

Berklee Online, the online continuing education division of Berklee, has been teaching music online for 13 years. Building on Berklee’s rich tradition of distance education—including mail-based correspondence courses in the 1960s and 70s that brought the likes of Alf Clausen, Gary Burton and David Mash to the college—Berklee Online was established in 2001. Our mission is to expand the reach of the college and provide music education opportunities to a global base of aspiring musicians. Over the years, we’ve developed a diverse portfolio of online offerings, from free to degree, all representing contemporary music and music-related studies.

Berklee President Roger H. Brown describes Berklee Online’s portfolio as a “Wedding Cake” of options for students. As you move up through the layers, the costs increase as does a student’s access to Berklee curricula and faculty in small, intimately sized cohorts.

In 2012, after teaching more than 75,000 students online, we became a partner institution with both Coursera and edX. This added a new bottom layer to our wedding cake of options: MOOCs.

Read more from The evolllution article.