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EdTechX Summit: Lessons learned for higher education during COVID-19


Author: Holly Shiflett PhD, Head of Partnerships 

I’ve always wondered when and if we’d ever reach a point when online education would be considered business as usual, rather than an extension or alternate approach.  I think that time is now.  The pandemic has forced us to adopt EdTech in new ways and it’s great to see online formats as an expected part of the new normal. I recently participated in the EdTechX Summit Europe.  It was hosted from everywhere and when I say “recently, ”I just participated last weekend.  The conference actually ran in it’s live online form on May 12 and 13 but one of the many benefits of a “Virtual” conference is that you can access it anytime!

To be honest, I’ve watched recorded sessions from face-to-face conferences, and I’ve participated in short webinars but this was my first fully virtual conference event. Accessing from a safe social distance in San Diego, California, the virtual conference format allowed me to dip in and out and also come back later.  As well, it’s quite interesting to be invited into the living rooms or offices of the speakers from locations around the world.  I should also say that I found virtual networking was a great way to meet and interact with a global cohort of EdTech experts both during the conference and afterwards.  For me, mostly afterwards as I’m still following up with the many contacts from the session.

The conference was organized around 3 very appropriate themes:

  • Lessons Learned – Covering the immediate effects of the COVID-19 outbreak – highlighting actions taken and lessons learned
  • Second Wave – Understanding how COVID-19 will affect education and work for the next 6-18 months and how the industry can prepare
  • Beyond COVID-19 – Looking ahead to see what future trends will arise due to the outbreak

For this first blog, in the series of 3, I will investigate the topic of Lesson’s Learned.

Lessons Learned was an interesting track as I think we’ll be learning lessons for some time to come.  Online education has always provided access and flexibility which are two of its strengths. The COVID19 pandemic highlighted these benefits with new urgency as every college and university quickly moved everyone off campus and adopted a virtual approach.  Businesses too moved employees off site and into virtual office arrangements. Some employees may never return to the office. Twitter will allow employees to work from home forever, Shopify and many others will support future work at home, as well. With social distancing requirements, office capacities will be limited forcing many work at home arrangements to continue.

Thinking about “Lessons Learned” I thought I’d check out the session from Harvard Business School OnlineI shared time with Patrick Mullane, Executive Director of Harvard Business School Online and Srikant M. Darar, Arthur Lowes Dickinson Professor of Business Administration and Senior Associate & Dean for University Affairs at Harvard Business School. Professor Darar informed us that their approach was to be adaptive and creative. “It was clear” he said, “that the change had to happen fast and at scale.”  Universities, all universities, were required to set up infrastructures, training and support for learners, staff, and faculty members and they had to do it quickly. At Havard 1,900 MBA and doctoral students went online and 125 faculty members were trained to go online, with many of the faculty members being first timers to online education. Key elements for success were running practice sessions, contingency planning, and staffing to respond to technical issues. But perhaps most importantly was the understanding that these were unique circumstances. Harvard’s mantra was “Keep it simple, 80% is good enough, be patient, be forgiving, be resourceful and be adaptive.” 

Very good advice.  Keep an eye out for post 2 of 3 on the Second Wave – Understanding how COVID-19 will affect education and work for the next 6-18 months and how the industry can prepare. 


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