- Candace Thille, a leading expert in learning science and education technology, has taken a leave of absence from Stanford University to be Amazon's director of learning science and engineering, according to Inside Higher Ed.
- Thille — who is the founding director of the Open Learning Initiative at Carnegie Mellon University — is to work with Amazon's Global Learning Development Team to enhance workplace learning for employees, though a company spokesperson told Inside Higher Ed that Thille is "taking time away" to work on another project she is "not really at liberty to discuss."
- While it's unclear whether Amazon is going to dive into higher education services, ed tech observer Louis Soares, vice president for policy research and strategy at the American Council on Education, noted that Amazon constantly experiments with new technology and educational learning platforms for its employees that fit into the company's innovation framework.
Amazon has been popping into higher education conversations more often, as the company narrowed its list of now 20 cities where it could place its second headquarters — potentially creating a technology career hub for graduates in the chosen location. Microsoft made a similar, but deliberate, move to do this when it invested $1 billion in the University of Washington to create a pipeline of skilled graduates for the company.
But, this latest move by Amazon to hire Candace Thille is perhaps not as exciting to industry stakeholders for the development of a potential new competitor, though the company hasn't revealed much information about its intentions beyond developing corporate learning platforms — which means nothing substantive yet.
Other tech giants like Google have dipped their toes into the credentialing business, but mostly through online microcredentials. For instance, Coursera — the online learning provider that teams up with universities around the world to provide courses for degrees and digital badges — announced in 2014 that it had teamed up with Google and Instagram to develop capstones in tech-related fields.
And Facebook has tested features on its site that could allow educators to upload course units creating quasi-online classes, when the company dabbled in online learning for employee training. It teamed up with Udacity to develop programs on artificial intelligence and internet-connected devices with online learning modules, but many in the education space have noted these features are available more widely. And similar to Amazon, Facebook has not shared much information as to whether it is trying to create an online learning platform.
As to whether tech firms want to start offering higher education degrees, Google's Jaime Casap, who has been with Google since its launch of Google Apps for Education at Arizona State University, offered some insight at the 2015 Educause conference. "I don't like to get on the 'education is broken and it's terrible' bandwagon," Casap said. "What we need to do is take the best of what we've done in education — because we've learned a lot about how to educate people in the last 150 years — and implement it."
When it comes to creating technology and applying it to education, he explained Google's efforts are meant to aid educators, rather than to replace them.
"It is a tool that was literally designed by educators, and all the feature requests that come in come from the feedback that we get from those educators that are using classroom," he said, adding that Google isn't trying to replace the college experience. "I don't think that you'll ever be able to do anything about a kid living at home and then moving away to college, and that first-year experience of doing that."