Day Two: ACCT Leadership Congress Focuses on What’s Next

edX CEO predicts blended online, in-person learning models are the future of community colleges.

October 7, 2020

The founder and CEO of one of the world’s largest online learning platforms urged community college leaders to consider the long-ranging benefits of this year’s rapid pivot to online learning during the second day of the 2020 ACCT Leadership Congress.

“Now is the moment for true transformation for many of the processes you've adopted during COVID… to think about adopting them in a more permanent manner for the future,” said keynote speaker Anant Agarwal, founder and CEO of edX. “Unless we get together and make it happen, it is not going to happen by itself.”

The rapid shift to online instruction this spring mirrored the initial explosion of massive open online courses (MOOCs) and stackable credentials in 2012, Agarwal says. A recent survey conducted by edX found that more than half of respondents (58 percent) are now seeking extra education as a result of the pandemic, and nearly as many (45 percent) were more likely to pursue online learning. 

“Any number of students have told me that [driving] 50 miles to a community college is really hard for them, but if they could learn through online education that comes to them, it’s much easier to access,” Agarwal said. 

Since the first large-scale expansion of online learning nearly a decade ago, much has been learned about what works well in online settings. Blended models which include faculty instruction augmented with online tools used by institutions including San Jose City College and Bunker Hill Community College have yielded “staggeringly good” results, Agarwal said, noting that retake rates dropped from 41 percent to 9 percent in one study. Other research suggests that students experience less stress in blended settings and fare as well as their fully in-person peers—and better than fully online ones.

Institutions, Agarwal said, “will move towards a blended model of learning where it is roughly half online, roughly half in person. The affordances of online learning—the flexibility, the better learning outcomes, the instant feedback—are all mechanisms that make blended learning simply superior to purely online or purely in person.”

Some community college trustees and CEOs are gathering this week to convene ACCT Leadership Congress watch parties to discuss educational sessions in real time — one example of how virtual and in-person education can work.

Moving forward, artificial intelligence and other technologies will “take us to yet another level of digital learning,” Agarwal said, while the move towards short-term, stackable credentials and micro-degrees could ultimately spark even more dramatic educational transformation.

“The beauty of online learning is that every student can get a personalized experience and learn at their own pace,” Agarwal said. “We need to move from a bricks and mortar culture to a bits and bytes culture.”

Also during Tuesday’s keynote session, 48 students were recognized as Phi Theta Kappa New Century Pathway Scholars, which recognizes students going directly into the workforce. 

More than 1,000 community college leaders are participating in this year’s Congress, which was re-envisioned as a virtual event focused on the exchange of critical information and ideas on successful new models, innovations, programs, as well as active networking with community college leaders from across the country. In addition to the keynote presentation, day two featured 20 concurrent sessions that addressed topics ranging from governance best practices to the surprising real price of college, racial diversity, equity and inclusion, community college baccalaureate degrees and more.

“Every community college is important, but we can harness the power and influence of the entire sector through interconnectivity,” ACCT Board Chair Dawn Erlandson, trustee of Minnesota State Colleges of Universities, said during Tuesday’s general session. “There is tremendous value and power in using our voices in concert as one to support our students across the country.”

The second day of the 2020 ACCT Leadership Congress wrapped up with a live Latin fusion cooking demonstration presented by The Washburne Culinary and Hospitality Institute at Kennedy-King College of the City Colleges of Chicago, one of the oldest culinary schools in the nation that left attendees with a pleasant taste for online learning and a feeling of deep pride about the high quality and sophistication of our nation's community colleges.

All 2020 ACCT Leadership Congress sessions, including general sessions and all 60 concurrent sessions, will be available for on-demand viewing by live participants beginning October 12.
The ACCT Leadership Congress continues online with more than 60 virtual sessions through Thursday, Oct. 8. For more information, visit http://congress.acct.org. Search #ACCT2020 on Twitter for more from the event.