Agarwal is the CEO of edX, the open source, nonprofit learning destination that is breaking down barriers to high-quality education, teaching more than 2.95 million students from every country in the world in just two and a half short years. “As an engineer and professor prior to joining edX, I’d only ever dreamed of reaching the number of students that I’ve now been able to reach. I am humbled and grateful to every student who participates in any edX course, helping my colleagues and me to become better teachers and encouraging our endeavor to provide free education to everyone, everywhere,” says Agarwal.
EdX offers more than 300 courses from 57 prestigious colleges, universities, organizations and institutions worldwide, including Harvard, MIT, Caltech, Cornell, the Smithsonian and the Linux Foundation. Recently added new members include the University of Notre Dame, the University of Adelaide, the Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS), Pilani, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Wageningen University and the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore. “Our work with our member institutions furthers the edX mission to remove barriers to quality education and to inspire and educate our future leaders and innovators,” says Agarwal.
He says the technology edX has introduced and continues to develop is crucial to education because it brings access to education to anyone, anywhere with Internet connectivity. Additionally, edX was created to be built upon; as more programs identify the benefits of online courses, edX empowers them to host their courses online and create more game-based learning programs. Since the platform is open source, edX’s community of developers is continuing to improve the tools and portal to help deliver the best educational experiences for its learners.
Additionally, edX is finding meaningful insights in the data it is collecting. The data from the first prototype course alone (Circuits & Electronics) is staggering and would fill 110,000 books. EdX recorded every click - all 230 million of them - and discovered the following:
• Half of the students started working on their homework before watching video lectures. It appears students get more excited about learning when they try to puzzle out a problem. Researchers are now looking at whether professors should assign homework before the lecture, instead of after.
• A student who worked offline with someone else in the class or someone who had expertise in the subject would have a predicted score almost three points higher than someone working by himself or herself. Conclusion: Collaboration strengthens learning.
• Frequent questioning translates into better retention, so a physics class was transformed at MIT to include an online e-text with questions embedded in the lessons.
EdX shares research with universities so it can collaborate on learning tools and practices to increase effectiveness in teaching methods, such as peer assessment. Organizations and institutions can learn not only from edX’s data and technology, but also ideally from its pedagogy: “We really believe an open source philosophy and focus on people, not profit, inspires teachers and learners, and lends itself to future knowledge sharing,” concludes Agarwal.