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The EdX Factor

Doane’s online expansion continues through membership with edX, a MOOC leader founded by Harvard and MIT

It’s been a whirlwind year to say the least.

Last March, Doane University was launching its online Master of Business Administration program, a significant step forward for the College of Professional Studies and its offerings for working adults.

This March, it introduced itself to an average of 2,000 new students—from all around the world—each week through edX, a leading provider of massive open online courses founded by Harvard and MIT in 2012.

DoaneX, its moniker on the platform, signals the school’s first foray into the world of MOOCs. In the first six weeks following its Jan. 17 debut, more than 13,000 students from 168 different countries had enrolled in Doane’s edX programs with no signs of slowing down.

From whirlwind to a windfall of new students, Doane’s all in with DoaneX. “We’re agile, we’re nimble, we’re innovative,” says Andrea Butler, associate vice president of academic affairs for adult and online operations. “We have a board of trustees and president in alignment of being progressive in online education. We have the funding and structure in place to do that, and for a university our size, that’s unique.”


That’s how it went from a concept to reality in a matter of months.

After watching online programs like the MBA and Prerequisites for Health Professions take off, President Jacque Carter and Vice President of Information Technology Mike Carpenter saw the potential for Doane to move into the MOOC space with edX. Carter and Carpenter connected Butler with edX staff last spring, and a mutual interest was sparked.

“The initial conversations between edX and Doane centered around Doane’s desire to update its existing online courses into cutting-edge, state-of-the-art experiences for students,” says Anant Agarwal, edX CEO and MIT professor. “Doane had already made the commitment to providing quality online prerequisites for health professionals in 48 states; it was clear that Doane’s energy to partner with edX was fueled by this initial investment in the power of online learning to transform and amplify the traditional on-campus approach.”

Doane put together a portfolio of its online work to date and pitched itself as a logical fit within edX, thanks in large part to the new health programs under the leadership of Assistant Professor of Practice Dr. Amanda Renshaw McKinney ’98, who doubles as the director of Doane’s Institute for Human and Planetary Health.

“They were so blown away with what we were doing (online), and that’s how we got our invitation to join them,” said Dr. Paul Savory, vice president for academic affairs.

Doane’s edX membership puts it in the same educational space as seven of the eight Ivy League Schools (Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Penn, and Princeton) and prestigious international schools in Bombay, Canberra, Hong Kong, London, Paris, Reykjavik, Tokyo, Vancouver, and Zurich.

After their official agreement, Doane began laying the groundwork for the new team that would be responsible for implementing DoaneX. Dr. Debra Meier was hired as the program manager, bringing extensive experience building programs in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Office of Online and Distance Education and its College of Business’ executive education division.

Along with two dedicated instructional design and technology specialists, Diona Hartwig and Lindsey Carter, Meier’s small team was assembled and in a span of four months had the first DoaneX program launched.

“As a team, we started in September and then we launched this full series in January,” Dr. Meier said.

Partners can offer two main types of certificate programs through edX. The Professional Certificate focuses on professional competencies critical to career advancement. The MicroMasters Certificate focuses on master’s-level coursework that is a standalone credential but is also credit-eligible for specific master’s degree programs elsewhere.

DoaneX currently has connections with both types of certificates.

Developed by Dr. McKinney, Doane’s initial offering is the Lifestyle Medicine Competencies Professional Certificate Program, bringing together three, self-paced courses: Lifestyle Medicine Core Principles, Health Coaching for Patient Care and Chronic Disease Treatment with Lifestyle Medicine.

MITx’s MicroMasters in Supply Chain Management is linked to Doane’s online MBA. Students who successfully complete the program through MITx can use it to satisfy Doane’s supply chain management emphasis when they enroll in Doane’s master’s program, reducing the credit hours needed to complete the degree from 30 to 21.

Being part of the MicroMasters program with MITx will be beneficial for current and future Doane students. Dr. Savory says it will feed students into Doane’s MBA program but Doane can also send its MBA students to edX to participate in MITx’s program.

Doane has already admitted its first MITx MicroMasters learner to its MBA program.

“You’re getting some of the best teachers in the world, some of the best content in the world and it’s at a reduced cost—and it feeds back into our program,” Savory says. “Not only is it the MITx students who are coming to us to get their MBA, it’s our own Nebraska students that we’re able to send to one of the best programs in the world.”

Doane already has its sights set on building more programs. Butler attended the 2017 edX Global Forum Dec. 5-6 in Whistler, British Columbia, and began pathway talks with other schools. MITx is looking at collaborating with Doane for a nonprofit leadership program, and the University of Adelaide, a leading research school in Australia, is also interested in joining forces. Even Microsoft, which features dozens of free courses on edX, has discussed options with Doane.

In house, Dr. McKinney is working with Meier’s team to develop two courses for a MicroMasters program dedicated to healthcare administration. They’ll have a specific  focus on lifestyle medicine, population health and disease prevention, and management programs. These courses, she says, will be imperative for future healthcare professionals as the industry is disrupted.

Not unlike higher education, the Doane alumna says.

“I really see that edX and those types of platforms are how people are going to get education going forward. I think there’s always going to be a place for the campus experience in Crete, because there are always going to be students who want that residential experience,” Dr. McKinney says.

“But in terms of the majority of people, they’re going to get educated through these other alternative ways like edX. While that’s frightening for some people because it’s change and it’s doing things differently than it’s ever been done before, the reality is that’s what people are asking for and it meets their needs. If we don’t fill that space, someone else will. I don’t want that to happen—I want us to be the ones that are innovating and meeting people’s educational needs.”

Photo of Dr. Amanda McKinney.

DoaneX aims to fill those gaps by developing new courses that students around the world are asking for. The team will continue to work with Doane’s faculty as well as its adjunct faculty pool to develop programs, record course content, and package it to the edX platform.

Even though Doane doesn’t have the same recognition as the Harvards and Oxfords of edX, students around the world have already taken notice of what’s being offered. The numbers after the first six weeks say so.

“With numbers like 16,000-plus coming into our courses, coming into a brand, a name that people weren’t aware of, (shows) what we have done is found the quality topics that people want to know about,” Dr. Meier says. “It will give us some recognition in the global market, but the bottom line is we have good, solid, quality programs to put out there that will keep bringing the learners in.”

Whereas most colleges and universities don’t work in tandem, the unique nature of edX allows schools to collaborate instead of compete.

So what could be the most enticing aspect of the edX partnership—beyond the new global reach of Doane’s education—is having a seat at the table with the schools determining the future of higher education.

“One of the goals out of this is to be part of those conversations as we re-envision what education looks like for the next 50 years, because it’s only going to change. It’s going to continue on this same trend,” Dr. Savory says. “By being part of this neighborhood, it allows us to be part of what that conversation is and to really be at the forefront as we integrate it back into our traditional classes.”