edX, the non-profit online venture of Harvard and MIT, now serves more than 800,000 students across dozens of countries. That’s more people than the combined alumni of the two universities have had through their history.
More than 30,000 new students enroll to take free courses with edX every week, three times the entire enrollment of MIT.
Anant Agarwal, the President of edX, says the world of massive open online courses is expanding educational opportunity to every area of the globe. But the real revolution, he told the AIM Executive Forum this morning, is the data-driven improvements that online college courses are making to the quality of teaching.
“Our mission is to improve access to learning and improve the quality of learning,” said Agarwal, an MIT engineering professor who has run edX since Havard and MIT launched the company with a $60 million investment a year ago.
“We record every click, when people watch the videos, how long they watch them, how they do on the tests … It’s a kind of particle accelerator for education. We get data in hours that used to take 100 years to gather.”
edX is part of an exploding marketplace of online course platforms that are rapidly remaking the traditional model of a college education. Agarwal told more than 150 business executives at this morning’s forum that there have been few innovations in the delivery of education since the advent of the blackboard in the 19th century.
“We have not been eating our own dog food,” he quipped.
edX students are able to register for online courses offered by faculty members at institutions such as Harvard, MIT, the University of California at Berkeley, Georgetown, Wellesley, the University of Texas and McGill University in Toronto. Students follow learning sequences that employ a combination of videos, text, discussion groups, virtual labs, instantly corrected tests, and links to free textbooks.
The platform even uses artificial intelligence to allow computers to grade essays.
Initial results indicate that approximately 5 percent of students who sign up for an edX course complete the session and earn a certificate. edX data shows that students who spent the largest amount of time doing exercises and problem sets were most likely to pass the courses.
Agarwal said edX eventually hopes to become financially self sustaining by licensing private versions of its courses to universities and school systems worldwide. He does not believe that edX will replace the experience of attending college, but acknowledges that institutions are struggling to determine how the proliferation of online courses fits into their own degree programs.
He said edX really boils down to placing the Socratic teaching method online.
“For the first time in decades,” he said, “people are paying attention to education.”