NSF News

New awards aim to improve online learning for today's workforce

The National Science Foundation is making five new awards to create and study open-source learning platforms to train and reskill workers in fields ranging from engineering to manufacturing, with the support of a $10 million gift The Boeing Company made in 2018.

The University of Southern California, Purdue University, Northeastern University, the Colorado School of Mines and Oregon State University will each receive roughly $2 million to create online coursework that focuses on building key STEM skills. Additionally, Production Engineering Education and Research (PEER) award recipients will explore educational topics such as how to conduct experiments through telepresence to teach students, and how different demographic characteristics of students affect learning performance.

"To stay competitive and innovative, today's companies need skilled STEM workers," said Karen Marrongelle, NSF assistant director for Education and Human Resources (EHR). "This is an issue of national importance. These new PEER awards will explore how to provide current workers, who are looking to develop skills, with effective STEM learning. They will result in platforms that schools, companies, nonprofits and others can use to enable their current employees to become their workforce of the future. In addition, such platforms can be adapted to educate future STEM workers."

Across the U.S., industries are becoming increasingly dependent on technology that is rapidly changing, creating pressure for employers to find workers with STEM skills and knowledge. Training in science, technology, engineering and mathematics has become vital for a wider range of employees than ever before.

Utilizing funding provided by Boeing, NSF's PEER program aims to create tools that will teach vital STEM skills through online micro-certificates at the community college, undergraduate, graduate and professional levels.

"This investment represents our commitment to making STEM education as accessible as possible for today's classrooms and workplaces, and also accelerates training in critical skill areas for current and future Boeing employees," said Heidi Capozzi, senior vice president of Human Resources at Boeing.

The learning platforms developed by PEER awardees will be online courseware, an increasingly prevalent educational tool that has received comparatively little study due to its recent emergence. In addition to developing new platforms, PEER awardees will study the effectiveness of online courseware, finding out what connects best with learners at various levels of skills in a number of different environments.

Additionally, PEER will fund three conferences, bringing together experts from across academia, industry, nonprofits and governments to focus on challenges and opportunities for strengthening lifelong STEM education.