Preparing Humans to Use Tomorrow’s Technologies for Good: Inside an edX Grant-Winning Course from Arm Education
Discover how Arm Education is teaching creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving through Business Models for Technology Innovators—the first of many free online courses to be launched on edX that focus on developing essential human skills for the virtual age.
The Fifth Industrial Revolution has the potential to usher in a new golden age of greater harmonization between smart technologies and human skills. Will the world’s workforce be ready to realize this potential? Arm is a driving force in the global semiconductor industry, and according to the company’s education team, Arm Education, thriving in this new era will require a particular combination of skills.
“With AI, robotics, and the Internet of Things (IoT) becoming more a part of our everyday lives, the challenge today is figuring out how all of these technologies dovetail with human decision-making,” says Becky Ellis, Arm Education’s user research and certification manager. “At Arm, our successful business model and expansive industry partnerships give us unique insight into which skills employers will value most down the road. Exceptional creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving are some of the core skills our future leaders need in order to harness technology to do good in the world.”
To help build the workforce of tomorrow, the Arm Education team decided to respond to an edX request for proposal (RFP) pledging $1M toward the development of free online courses that teach Essential Human Skills for the Virtual Age. Centered on such skills as leadership, communication, and emotional intelligence that employers are prioritizing in an increasingly virtual world, the grant reflects edX’s continued commitment to increasing access and affordability in high-quality education that meets learners’ needs at scale.
Arm Education proposed the creation of Business Models for Technology Innovators, a free online course that takes tech enthusiasts at all experience levels through a series of cutting-edge case studies, prompting them to apply strategic business concepts in proposing how technology can solve pressing global challenges. Launched in July 2022, it’s the first of 10 grant-winning courses to grace the edX platform.
Technology as a Facilitator
To develop the course, Ellis partnered with Alec Sanderson, an engineer, entrepreneur, and adjunct lecturer at University College London. She needed a seasoned practitioner who could speak to the real-world experiences of professionals who know how to fit a great technical idea into an effective business model in order to meet a viable need.
“Engineering operates very much like a business,” Sanderson says. “They both involve innovation and problem-solving, just some of their terminologies are different. If you understand how they’re connected, it’s easier to pivot if your first idea doesn’t work out. That’s something I wish I had known at the start of my career—I would’ve felt a lot less fearful to dive in. The online course sounded like a great way to impart that insight to a mass audience.”
In designing the course, Ellis and Sanderson wanted to keep the barriers to entry low and appeal to as many different learners as possible—from aspiring engineers, entrepreneurs, and product managers to technology-curious generalists.
“Arm Education is also focused on increasing diversity in tech,” Ellis explains, “so we didn’t want the course to call for any prerequisite knowledge or get weighed down by technical jargon. We wanted anyone to be able to start from a zero baseline, work through the curriculum, and come out feeling confident and inspired.”
Adds Sanderson: “We wanted people to realize you don’t have to be an entrepreneur to be innovative. That’s why we chose some pretty hefty global problems as our case studies to draw people in—and then use them to show how technology should be a facilitator, not a driver. We don’t support the notion of innovation for its own sake. We believe technology should facilitate the creation of something that offers societal benefits.”
The Promise of Problem-Based Learning
From a pedagogical perspective, Ellis and Sanderson were eager to apply principles of problem-based learning (PBL), a learner-centered approach in which students work in groups to solve open-ended problems. The duo crafted probing questions around technical applications in such areas as digital farming, electric vehicles, and diabetes care.
“Many of these areas are still in their infancy,” Sanderson says. “Who knows where digital agriculture is going to go, for example. How will it help farmers increase production, save costs, and eliminate risk—and what new possibilities will we discover along the way? We wanted to inspire learners to push the boundaries of their own thinking and come up with solutions that could actually drive the conversation forward and also inform their own practice.”
Developing the questions was the easy part. Creating model responses that learners use to review others’ answers was the more formidable task.
“Peer assessment is one of the most beneficial, research-supported aspects of PBL,” explains Ellis. “Once you start marking other people’s work, you begin thinking more critically about your own work and internalizing those markings. We did a lot of thinking around what a great answer would look like versus a good answer versus a poor one. That way, when learners reflect on the quality of their peers’ submissions, they have some standards to compare those answers against. (See image below.) They’re also more likely to transfer that iterative thinking back into their own careers. I was thrilled to hear that, in user testing, our peer assessment component was one of the best-reviewed parts of the course.”
Welcome to “The Future of Teaching”
Now that their course has launched, Ellis and Sanderson look forward to digging into survey feedback that’s rolling in from learners around the world. They’re also still energized by the excitement they felt upon winning an edX grant.
“When we first got word, it felt incredible, knowing all of our hard work paid off,” recalls Sanderson. “edX validating the subject we chose was very meaningful to us.”
“To see Arm Education on the same list with other prestigious academic organizations, like Harvard and Cambridge, meant we’ve got some real currency in our ideas,” Ellis adds. “A lot of our partners see the potential in this course for augmenting their curriculum and empowering tomorrow’s leaders.”
For Sanderson, it all comes down to the democratization of education.
“A platform like edX is the future of teaching,” he says. “It gives everyone access to the same global educators, material, and thinking. In the past, you had to get into a top university for this kind of education, creating barriers for many. But now we’re helping to level the playing field for all, giving them access. That’s what I love about it—and it’s the direction education should be going.”
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