edX President Thinks An Online Learning Transformation Is Coming


Many people believe that the world is on the verge of a true transformation in online learning, where many classes and college programs will be free, or at least very low cost.

One of those people is Anant Agarwal, professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT, and president of edX, which is a top provider of MOOCs, or massive open online courses

According to a recent media interview, the goal of edX is to provide as many people as possible with access to a top quality education. There should not be barriers of access based upon your income or where you live in the world. At edX, Agarwal is trying to apply modern technology to improve the quality of education, as well as its scale and accessibility. Currently, there are about one million people enrolled at edX. The company partners with some of the best universities in the world, including Harvard and MIT, to attract learners around the globe.

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The education is different at edX because of the smart use of Internet technology. It is now possible to vastly increase the numbers of people who can simultaneously attend the same class. There have been cases where thousands of students have taken a MOOC at the same time. With current technology, students are able to pause the lecture, rewind it, and even mute the speaker and read the online transcript. The discussion forum for each class is also very productive; students are able to interact and to learn from each other.

For the professor, an edX MOOC is a great way to reach many more students with their teaching. It is possible for a professor teaching a single class online to reach more students than he or she would in years of teaching in the classroom.

One of the questions about MOOCs that often comes up is how to grade essays. edX uses artificial intelligence assessments, peer assessments and also self assessment. With AI, the first one hundred essays receive a grade by the professor. They are graded by using a statistical model. The computer uses the model and also machine learning technology to provide grades for all other essays. So, the first 100 could take the instructor a few days to grade, but after that, essays are graded in seconds. In peer assessment, the students will grade one another’s work.

Agarwal thinks that MOOCs will present large challenges to the traditional forms of education. At MIT, about 1500 students are taking classes online, and this is helping to improve education a great deal, as well as hugely expanding the access.

He thinks that this influence will expand in the future. In 20 years, he believes the college campus will not resemble what it does now. Agarwal envisions much open and flexible spaces, with many places for people to have coffee, collaborate by mobile and computer device, and to just share information.

One of the biggest changes he sees with MOOCs that will come soon is the possibility of an online degree from one edX’s partner schools. He believes that we will soon see free or low cost online degrees from some of the top schools in the US.

If that does happen, the complete transformation of the university education system will not be just a theory – it will happen.