As the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's Postsecondary Success strategy enters its fifth year of learning technology investments, it is a good time to take stock of what has been learned and to draw implications for future investments. The foundation asked SRI Education to review the major courseware-related projects in the Postsecondary Success portfolio and provide an independent synthesis of findings.
The foundation identified the 12 major postsecondary courseware-related projects in Exhibit 1 as sufficiently completed to contribute to SRI's review. Three of the projects were actually sets of multiple grants or subgrants addressing a common goal. In total, the courseware investments reviewed by SRI involved 137 courses and represented approximately 90% of the foundation's financial investment in postsecondary courseware over the last five years.
Primary data sources for this synthesis and review were final and interim reports submitted by the 12 projects and their subgrantees, interviews with principal investigators, and project-related research articles and additional data provided in response to SRI's request. Proposals, RFPs (requests for proposals), and project websites provided additional background information.
SRI analyzed the features of the 137 different courses developed or evaluated through these projects and performed a quantitative meta-analysis of student outcomes for those projects that provided the data needed to estimate the impact of the project's courseware.
It is important to keep in mind that this review reflects a window in time. Technology advances rapidly, and product features and approaches that are commonplace today were either just emerging or even unheard of in 2009 when the first of the grants reviewed here was awarded. To take a prominent example, MOOCs (massive open online courses) as they are known today did not really arrive on the scene until 2012, and the MOOCs that were the products of some of the Postsecondary Success grants reviewed here were using early versions of MOOC platforms that have since been revised.