Improving Access to Education Through LinkedIn Online Learning Content and Economic Graph Data

This year’s Cyber Summit will be hitting “pause” to focus on the inequalities that have arisen during the rapid advance of our digital economy. To shed light on some solutions to these inequalities that are already being implemented here in Canada, Jake Hirsch-Allen, Economic Graph and Higher Education Lead at LinkedIn Canada, will be speaking at the Cyber Summit on November 8-9 in Banff, Alberta.

The theme for this year’s Cyber Summit is focused on the issues surrounding technology disparities, and how they affect different regions and different sectors. Tell us about projects you have worked on that tie in with this theme.

The theme of this conference is very much in line with a central struggle throughout my career, namely the fight against inequality. I grew up as a "diplobrat" in the developing world. I experienced first-hand and at a young age the contrast between a private international school and the shanty towns of New Delhi. In response, I’ve worked to integrate social impact into my work in intellectual property and public international law. I've also incorporated this thinking into the founding of hacking health, Lighthouse Labs – a software development bootcamp that teaches how to code in cities across Canada – and other tech endeavors. My teaching experience, work in both the education and healthcare industries, and even my current role at LinkedIn have all involved the fight against inequality.

I fully realized my passion for education when I was invited to chair the Technology Committee of the Global Education Platform, which brought together 70 global organizations – from UNESCO to the Brookings Institute and EdX to LinkedIn – to talk about how to increase access to online learning and make it useful for the least advantaged populations in the world.

Years later, when I started work with LinkedIn, was acquired on my second day on the job. This returned the focus of my career to online learning. It also coincided with the evolution of LinkedIn’s broader vision to be a place that is very in line with my struggle with inequality, namely, to provide economic opportunity to every member of the global workforce. Specifically, I am currently working to bring government, the private sector and post-secondary institutions together to increase access to online learning across Canada, while taking advantage of LinkedIn’s data on career and learning pathways to provide equality to the entire workforce, rather than just to white collar professionals.

What challenges exist in the world today that inspire your work?

As a kid I spent a lot of time on the early versions of the World Wide Web. I was caught up in the widely held aspiration that the internet, by dramatically increasing access to information, would support democracy and decrease inequality. Despite the best intentions of the founders of Google, Facebook and many other large tech companies, I fear that over time technology has actually decreased equality. My recent work is focused on countering that phenomenon by using a global platform like LinkedIn to help those who need it most. In a world that is moving so quickly, rural communities and small schools can’t keep up financially. Simultaneously, larger institutions, like universities, can’t adapt fast enough to changing educational tools like online learning, or the changing realities of a world where the shelf-life of skills is shrinking radically, and, therefore, requires them to embrace more just-in-time curriculum.

LinkedIn is helping educational institutions to better leverage online learning with and LinkedIn Learning. With our data of more than 500 million professionals worldwide, we’re also able to play a pivotal role in helping employers to look at skills and other important signals – apprenticeships, boot camps, etc. – when evaluating potential talent, thereby expanding their potential talent pools beyond only those with prestigious degrees. This shift, also accelerated by technology, has the potential to equalize. I think this is one of the more interesting topics for this conference to address.

Where do you think LinkedIn has the opportunity to have the biggest impact on communities with its data and educational resources?

In Canada, our economy and demographics are changing so fast that very few can keep up on their own. We are in a new era of big data and data science yet, despite massive volumes of data, we have a less accurate picture of our economy now than we did 10-20 years ago, because of the pace of change.

With ~14M members in Canada, and ~500M worldwide, LinkedIn is leveraging that data in a meaningful way to help its members be more productive and successful. We want to show what skills are in demand, where people are coming from, as well as where they are going, and why so that we can reveal learning and migration patterns, close skill gaps and assist workforce development. We want to provide access to real time information to help schools and government in ways that few other organizations can. As I suggested earlier, among the more important trends for higher education is the changing value of credentials. LinkedIn is at the intersection of changes to the value of credentials and how people learn.

Is there a community or industry where you would like to see improved access to technology, connectivity and/or computing resources?

Alberta was once a thought leader in learning technology and changes to pedagogy, not only across Canada, but even worldwide. BCNET and BCCampus were modelled after eCampusAlberta, which was shut down last year. Yet I would argue these are exactly the areas Alberta and its educational institutions need to be funding. These concepts pull together online learning content from colleges and universities across the province, and share best practices across these institutions, creating a learning ecosystem that benefits staff, faculty and students.

Alberta needs to return to being a centre of educational innovation. If it can do so, in not two, but maybe ten years, it could return to being the top economy in Canada and the world. Through public-private partnerships, and with its colleges and universities, government can affect change in a broad way at a low cost, albeit over the medium term.

If you could make one bold statement that describes your goals for 2018, what would it be?

I would like online learning to begin to work for the people with the least access to education and history of education. I think technology should serve the interests of the most disadvantaged communities rather than those with the greatest wealth.

Want to hear more from Jake Hirsch-Allen at the 2017 Cyber Summit? Get tickets now!