WGU Labs was launched in 2018 with the vision to improve outcomes for learners everywhere by incubating and accelerating innovation of education technology solutions. Since its launch, WGU Labs has been growing rapidly and diversifying its projects. I talked to Jason Levin, WGU Labs Executive Director, about the development of Labs and the key role of research in driving innovation and impact in education.
Q: How would you describe WGU Labs?
A: I would describe WGU Labs is an innovation hub that is working to accelerate the pace of scalable educational solutions for diverse learner populations. We believe that there isn’t enough high quality research in education technology and that leads to a proliferation of products that don’t improve student outcomes. We aim to change that. We are looking to partner with innovators who are passionate about efficacy and committed to research. We employ a talented staff with diverse skills—learning experience designers, engineers, artists and content creators, business and marketing experts, scientists, and more—that can help build, test, and grow innovative education technology solutions for our learners.
Q: What areas have you focused on as you’ve developed the Labs team?
A: Our team has been expanding rapidly since Labs launched and the Accelerator began taking on clients. My leadership team and I have focused on expanding our work and projects around three core themes: Equitable postsecondary access and outcome, empowering education and career success and, effective learning design and delivery.
We look to work companies and projects that have a positive social impact, are mission aligned with WGU, and companies that have a great idea that we can help grow into a successful, revenue positive company.
My goal is to cultivate a team of creative folks from carefully chosen disciplines to drive innovation in our work. Our work is really a consequence of diverse expertise coming together to produce outputs that are greater than a collection of individual achievements.
Two areas in particular that we’ve been focusing on developing are learning experience design and research. Both areas are foundational to what we do here at Labs. For example, we use learning science to evaluate education technology products and drive the development of our incubation products, such as Red Flag Mania. Research, on the other hand, is foundational to all of the work we do. At WGU Labs, efficacy matters—we believe understanding the causal relationship between innovation and outcomes is the only way to advance education.
Q: Research is a strong focus of Labs work. Why is this so important?
A: Research is our foundation. Prior to Labs I was the Vice President of Institutional Research at WGU. I understand the value of data and research, and how important rigorous research is to having a real impact. Rigorous research is especially needed within the education technology space because most products are developed without research scientists on staff.
Our research foundation is a unique feature of Labs. It’s nearly impossible to build effective, scalable learning solutions without research and testing to demonstrate that those products positively impact student outcomes.
Our team has developed research protocols centered around our research values of rigor, transparency, and impact. Our research protocol also utilizes open science as a solution to many of the common problems education technology research faces, such as credibility issues that arise when companies pay for research on their products. I’m proud of the work our research team does and believe this is a key aspect that makes Labs stand out.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about two of Labs’ main projects, The College Innovation Network and The Equity Initiative?
A: Last year, we made a strategic priority to secure funding for projects that are both important to us personally and are likely to have a big impact within the higher education space. The College Innovation Network (CIN) is really exciting because it’s facilitating the integration of education technology to higher education institutions that serve underrepresented and underserved student populations, and using that scale to rigorously test the impact of those products on their students. As CIN continues to grow over the years, I’m looking forward to seeing the impact we can have on students, as well as setting a high bar for rigorous research at scale.
Our other main project is The Equity Initiative at WGU which is a research-heavy project using a mixed-methods approach to understand what WGU can do to help underrepresented student groups attain their degrees at higher rates. At the conclusion of this initial phase, we’ll have developed a Plan for Equity that we think will have a substantial impact on WGU students.
Both of these projects launched this year and are still in their early stages, but it’s been exciting to see them kick-off and I’m really looking forward to seeing the impact of our work in the future.