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Thought Leaders in Online Education: Bharat Anand, Faculty Chair, HBX at Harvard Business School (Part 1)

Posted on Wednesday, Jan 27th 2016

Online first or classroom first? This discussion delves into the design principles of the two models.

Sramana Mitra: Let’s start by introducing our audience to yourself as well as to the Digital Learning initiative at Harvard.

Bharat Anand: I’m a Professor in Strategy at Harvard Business School. I also served as Faculty Chair of our new online learning initiative called HBX, which launched in 2014.

Sramana Mitra: What is the mission of HBX?

Bharat Anand: We started HBX as a way to keep up what seemed to be fascinating trends in the online education space. We really tried to think about how we, as a school, can create some offerings that serve our residential students well as well as allow us to better fulfil our mission, which is training and educating leaders who make a difference in the world. Those are really the objectives behind HBX.

Sramana Mitra: Specifically though, is HBX designed to supplement regular courses at Harvard? Is it more like edX, which is more of a global mission? What is the focus of HBX? How then does it differ from edX? Harvard and MIT started it but it has evolved to be a broader charter at this point.

Bharat Anand: Harvard, as you know, is made up of 13 schools. At the  business school, we did it for several reasons. One is, we wanted to provide our faculty with a powerful platform for disseminating their ideas globally, which we already have in certain aspects elsewhere. We wanted to think about ways to complement and also enhance our on-campus offerings.

We wanted to think about ways we can reach new learners who never set foot on the Harvard Business School campus. This goes back to our mission of training and educating leaders. It would be a complete coincidence if the total number of leaders were only the ones who could manage to come to campus. There are many people out there who have a lot of talent and who could potentially have a big impact in their own communities. This was really a way for us to reach them.

Sramana Mitra: What you’re saying is exactly what edX’s vision is as well. I’m curious why, from roughly the same organisation, you need another platform.

Bharat Anand: I’ll come back to that in a second. I’ll just complete the story. We were also thinking about how we can build a robust and sustainable model. There were really three questions that defined our initial conversations around HBX. First was what problem are we trying to solve? In other words, for what kind of learner? It seems like a benign question but it’s a fundamental question that goes to the heart of many developments in online education.

If you think about many of the trends in education online, the first wave was, “Let’s put content out there and see who comes.” We flipped it around. I think it has some important implications. Before we thought about content, we asked, “What problem are we trying to solve and for whom?” That was the first question. The second question is whatever we do, we would like to create something that is digital first. When we think about the first wave of online courses, it had probably the character of saying, “Let’s take our offline residential content.” That’s a little bit like the PDFs of newspaper articles that we had put online in the media space about 20 years ago.

One of the things we said is, “Rather than trying to do that because that’s essentially relegating the online learner to experience a product which was first created for the classroom, let’s flip it around.” Let’s see if we can take the digital medium and completely reimagine how we think about education in that medium.

This segment is part 1 in the series : Thought Leaders in Online Education: Bharat Anand, Faculty Chair, HBX at Harvard Business School
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