Israel is an educated society with almost half of adults holding a college degree. But preparation varies between state-secular, state-religious and Arab schools. After high school, young people perform military service and then take a test to determine whether they have a place in university. Students from better schools and families that can afford tutors have a big advantage. Tel Aviv University is using online and blended learning to address both sets of inequity.

Yuval Shraibman is CEO of TAU Online. His charge is to change value proposition by thinking differently about what they offer students. Like the U.S., leaders in Israel are aware of online learning but actual usage is relatively low. Shraibman is trying to change that. Here is part of my conversation with Yuval on what the Center is and its progress in online learning:

MOOCs as a Tool for a New Educational Ecosystem

TAU Online develops massively open online courses (MOOC) for college and high school use. Each course takes more than one year and costs more than $100,000 to develop. MOOCs are part of the TAU curriculum. They are primarily elective courses and are accessed autonomously and asynchronously by Tel Aviv University students, or by online learners on the diverse MOOC platforms. High-quality video, animations and in-video quizzes boost engagement and persistence. Shraibman explained more about the center’s vision to change Israel’s education ecosystem by using MOOCs:

Israeli youth start university at 22 or 23 after military service. TAU Online wanted to challenge that fact and launched the Online Academic High School. High School students can take an academic-level MOOC that will count toward their High School matriculation, as well as give them the opportunity to earn academic credit.

One year into the program, Tel Aviv University has realized that this new reality is shaking some more of the most traditional basic assumptions in the realm of education (e.g., the age at which one can start higher education becomes below 18); the type of courses with which one should get initiated to academia (electives vs. introductory); a pro-active outreach to all sectors of society will empower also the more remote sectors to apply to university.

With a rising number of school children applying to university as they have already gained academic credit, Tel Aviv University gears up for its next adjustment to the digital era: what is the best way to assess and select future students? MOOC-based academic achievements or the common Standardized Tests? Soon, Tel Aviv University will be announcing the launch of the new MOOC-based application process, presenting a win-win for the recruitment officers, and more importantly for the future students who will now have an alternative to standardized tests.

Like the U.S., independent MOOC completion rates weren’t great. Shraibman found that most learners need a leader and a group.

“We strongly believe in the positive impact of group learning, as well as in the crucial role of the teacher in conducting learning processes,” said Shraibman.

Pearson’s Nathan Martin (who recently visited) appreciates TAU’s use of “cutting edge online courses” and the way they partner with local cities to deliver choice to the course level.

Martin appreciates TAU’s effort to support local hubs of excellence with course access, allowing local cities to supplement local offerings with high quality blended courses. “This means that traditionally underserved communities can engage with a rich and engaging curriculum–these are the exciting and robust courses that get kids excited about learning,” explains Martin.

Instead of paying for expensive tutors or sitting a high stakes exam, students can take TUA courses and if they demonstrate competency they are ensured admittance to Tel Aviv University. Students can take these affordable courses before or during military service.

While there is little philanthropy in Israel, there is significant government investment in learning and a growing venture capital community. The Israeli Minister of Education is a former EdTech entrepreneur who started and sold a company.

Nathan Martin also appreciates that “They’re also working closely with a neuroscience institute to bring the best of learning science to bear on their work.”

“Israel is the startup country and Tel Aviv University is the startup university,” said Shraibman. The annual summer Israel EdTech Summit brings EdTech startups, investors, and policymakers together to discuss the needs of the market and explore the trends of the future.

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