Global Experience
Case Studies: Kiron

Providing Educational Opportunities For New Arrivals

Minerva’s Class of 2019 studied in Berlin one year after Germany enacted its open-door migrant policy, a significant political event that precipitated more than one million migrants entering the country in search of refuge. Opportunities for these individuals to pursue university degrees are practically nonexistent; less than one percent of migrants have access to higher education — a figure the Berlin-based organization Kiron is working to change. Through a selection of massive open online courses (MOOCs) provided by other institutions, the program enables students to begin degrees, while maintaining their refugee status. Credits earned can later be used to transfer to Kiron’s partner universities, where such students are able to complete their degrees free of charge.

Sultanna and Qiqi at Kiron Offices
“A lot of the completion rate issues Kiron was experiencing with its students were due to a lack of understanding of how to use MOOCs, how to learn effectively online, and how to do so as a refugee. Our team found that nothing existed at Kiron that addressed those questions and supported students in the ways they needed. That’s when we realized that creating a MOOC to introduce new students to MOOCs was a compelling way to impart this information.”
– Natalie Kanter, Class of 2019

Minerva students learn about Kiron during an introductory meeting.

Difficulties With Online Learning

During an introductory event, a Minerva student team met with the Kiron team to learn about a problem common to MOOCs, which the program seeks to overcome: low course completion rates. Applying the habits of mind and foundational concepts (HCs) they learned during their Foundation Year, the Minerva team facilitated a follow-up design thinking session at Kiron with professionals knowledgeable about migrant issues, to help determine the root causes of low completion rates and develop ways to improve them. During the session, the team identified five central reasons Kiron students were not completing courses:

  1. Lack of understanding of how MOOCs work
  2. Difficulty prioritizing and setting goals
  3. No designated learning space
  4. Weak student community
  5. Lack of perceived usefulness of the MOOCs

An Intriguing Insight

To address the problems identified during the design thinking session, Minerva students began by conducting a comprehensive web search for information related to effective online education and other insights related to learners in a state of transition. While the search results were limited — they found some material on techniques for improved online learning — the dearth of information spurred a compelling idea: what if the solution were a MOOC itself?


“At Minerva, we live together in each global location. For this project, we were exploring questions like: how might we design something that would invoke a similar sense of belonging to the Kiron community?”

– Lucy Chen, Class of 2019

By creating an introductory course that addresses the five central issues they had previously identified, the Minerva team was confident that new students would more readily adapt to this different approach to learning. In close collaboration with Kiron, including the Head of Student Communication and Recruitment, the Minerva team worked for more than three months to develop a script, film footage, interview Kiron students, and complete post-production.

Set Up For Success

The resulting course comprises six hours of material, and has four chapters: a welcome to Kiron, time management tips, space management advice, and support for effective learning. You can view the introductory video here. Hosted online on the edX platform, the MOOC is a mandatory prerequisite for all incoming Kiron students — approximately 1500 each year — so they become familiar with the format and learn how to successfully navigate a digital student experience before taking on more complex subject matter. Additionally, the collaboration gave Kiron a deeper understanding of the MOOC creation process, particularly with respect to tailoring content to fit their students’ specific needs. The organization will use this knowledge as it prepares to create its own MOOCs, for both internal and external use on KironX, which offers refugees free higher education courses in partnership with edX.