Grant Writers, Get Ready — Bill Gates Is Fired Up About Online Learning

Bill Gates praises the potential of online learning today in his annual letter about the priorities of his foundation, which has a $34-billion endowment.

The Microsoft Corporation chairman says he’s a fan of the movement to publish course materials free online. He seems especially impressed with online systems that gauge students’ knowledge and give them specific feedback, a specialty of the Open Learning Initiative at Carnegie Mellon University. But while he acknowledges the work of open-content aggregators like Academic Earth, Mr. Gates wants to see better organization of the vast course materials on the Web.

“The foundation has made a few grants to drive online learning, but we are just at the start of this work,” Gates writes. “So far, technology has hardly changed formal education at all. But a lot of people, including me, think this is the next place where the Internet will surprise people in how it can improve things—especially in combination with face-to-face learning.”

Mr. Gates’s interest could be welcome news for a movement that lost one of its main sources of philanthropic support last year, when the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation announced plans to close a longstanding online-education grant program.

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