Online Education to Receive Boost from Gates Foundation

Three students in classroom with computer

The Gates Foundation has provided large donations to the study of the effectiveness of online education.
Image: Shutterstock


While online education may be hot in terms of educational trends and potential philanthropic donations, the jury’s still out on how effective it is. In fact, a recent Inside Higher Ed survey suggested that faculty:

  • are skeptical about how effective online learning really is
  • consider the instructor/student relationship essential and not necessarily provided by online learning environments
  • are concerned about the lack of support for online course development
  • don’t want outside companies to create their courses or curriculum

Obviously more research is needed to determine the most effective ways to run digital learning environments, or massive open online courses (MOOCs).

Cue the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has made several large donations specifically to studying the effectiveness of MOOCs and alternative education opportunities. Total donations have reached nearly $9 million, including $1.6 million to the University of Texas at Arlington for their Learning Innovation and Networked Knowledge (LINK) lab and $1 million to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s MITx program.

UTA’s LINK lab supports researchers looking into digital learning’s effect on modern education. The grant will allow UTA and nine other institutions, including Carnegie Mellon, the University of Michigan, and Stanford, to thoroughly study the most effective ways to use online learning in higher education. Research topics will include analytics, MOOCs, the global growth of higher education, and attaining credentials for online learning systems.

MIT’s MITx is a blended online/real time educational system. The Gates Foundation grant will allow for the development of a course that will serve low-income students in a “flipped classroom.” This means that students at partner colleges will watch the MITx video during what would normally have been lecture time and then use the rest of the classroom time for group work. While running the program, MITx will also test what percentage of the core course knowledge comes from the online portion to determine if the class should be run again and how to do so effectively.

With online education becoming more and more popular, donations such as those from the Gates Foundation are needed to make sure students are getting the best education possible.



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