Ed School Launches Self-Help Course on HarvardX

The Graduate School of Education launched its first course through the online education platform HarvardX on Tuesday.

The new courseGSE1x: “Unlocking the Immunity to Change: A New Approach to Personal Improvement”will focus on helping people achieve their personal goals through online videos, interactive elements, and forums.

It is taught by two members of the Graduate School of Education faculty—professor of adult learning and professional development Robert Kegan and lecturer Lisa L. Lahey.

In 2009, Kegan and Lahey co-authored a book that presented the “Immunity to Change” theory, which uses the immune system as a metaphor to explain how humans resist change. The book also offers a set of psychological tools that, according to Kegan and Lahey, facilitate change.

According to the edX website, the new HarvardX course will use “a world-wide experiment to see if Kegan and Lahey’s ground-breaking, award-winning approach can be deployed online.”

The website describes the course as a tool for people to realize personal goals that they have struggled with.

“[Kegan is] really the theorist who has helped people see how development truly happens from infancy to adulthood, and my interest was in how you take something that is a theory and help people to apply it to themselves,” Lahey said. “The ‘Immunity to Change’ process was born out of an effort to make the abstract more concrete.”

The course differs from other more technical or content-based HarvardX courses in its focus on personal growth.

This shift also presents new challenges that stem from the course’s online format, which is atypical for other self-help classes.

Kegan said that while he formerly harbored doubts about whether online platforms could ever accommodate the openness and intimacy of interpersonal relationships essential to the process of personal growth, he has since changed his perspective.

“With the intersection of the new generation and the new technologies, people are increasingly comfortable with sharing personal material online with people they never meet face-to-face,” Kegan said. “In some cases I wondered whether the levels of engagement and the sharing in the online format was even stronger than they might be in an Ed School section.”

Lahey said she has had trouble finding a way to connect with an online audience, though.

“The biggest challenge I personally face is the large amount of videotaping,” she said. “You are talking to a camera lens.”

The Graduate School of Education’s foray into online education coincides with the announcement of recent partnerships between edX and three other institutions.

The Linux Foundation—a technology consortium founded to propagate the operating system Linux—has partnered with edX to become the third non-university institution to do so. The Linux Foundation will offer its first course, LFS101x: “Introduction to Linux,” later in 2014.

“One area where we believe MOOCs can have a huge impact on knowledge sharing and the jobs economy is as a delivery mechanism for specific, tangible, technical skills,” said Jim Zemlin, the executive director of The Linux Foundation, in a press release.

Colgate University and Hamilton College will also be partnering with edX and are planning to launch four online courses within their first year of partnership.

—Staff writer Michael V. Rothberg can be reached at mrothberg@college.harvard.edu. Follow him on Twitter @mvrothberg

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