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Education The Internet

Interview: Ask CEO Anant Agarwal About edX and the Future of Online Education 55

Anant Agarwal is a professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT and the CEO of edX. A massive open online course platform founded by MIT and Harvard, edX offers numerous courses on a wide variety of subjects. As of 2014 edX had more than 4 million students taking more than 500 courses online. The organization has developed open-source software called Open edX that powers edX courses and is freely available online. Mr. Agarwal has agreed to take some time out of his schedule and answer your questions about edX and the future of learning. As usual, ask as many as you'd like, but please, one question per post.
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Interview: Ask CEO Anant Agarwal About edX and the Future of Online Education

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  • Is it time dump / rework the degree system?

    A big issues with the Education system is that there is way to much push on getting a degree and if stuff was re engineered to better fit today's world. Maybe the trade / tech schools would be in better shape and or the USA will have something like the German apprenticeships split schooling system.

    • by Rinikusu ( 28164 )

      The biggest challenge in my mind are the legions of cheaters who want to game the system (i.e. not doing the work/taking the tests themselves). I mean, this isn't much different from real, physical college, but at least in real, physical college it can be a bit more difficult to do.

      I'm currently enrolled in a real credit-granting/transferrable class at edX. I'm personally learning a lot (or, rather, relearning), but I can tell there's a lot of students, based on the discussions, who really aren't up to th

  • Coursera is the platform i'm spent time on. Up until six months ago, there was a huge variety of offerings, as a one or two course format. Lately, there seems to be paid 'specializations', and the offers have decreased. My questions is: "will MOOCs be consolidating to a few paid offers in the future ?"
    • In other words ... are online courses just another business model being pushed by those who stand to profit from them, but being passed off as the future of education?

      I've learned not to put much trust in the people who are telling us what the future is when their personal wealth is tied to that coming true -- they tend to be less than objective about it.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    and do you have a study prep course for kobayashi maru

  • A couple of years ago edX got a bunch of investment money and was being run as a business, with hopes of making money from the course offerings, despite having no clear business plan or strategy for doing so.

    (I believe originally the plan was to have companies pay to get lists of high-scoring graduates for potential employees, which didn't work out, and last I talked to [edX chief scientist] Piotr [], he said you had something going with Pearson but couldn't elaborate because of NDA.)

    What is your business plan

  • Do you foresee MIT and other prominent colleges offering a wide range of affordable online-only degrees at any point in the future? Right now there are a few accredited universities offering online-only degrees in a number of fields (most notably, Western Governors University). But most fields of study at most major universities still require old-fashioned physical class attendance. Aside from a few token classes and maybe one or two fields of study, most universities still do classes the same way they've b

    • NO!

      MIT will never water down their degrees that way. They will offer certificates of achievement but they would never flood the market with thousands of graduates.

      • MIT is a business whose goal is to make money. If they could figure out how to do it, they would in a heartbeat.
        • Regarding their goal, its in their charter []:

          [...]for the purpose of instituting and maintaining a society of arts, a museum of arts, and a school of industrial science, and aiding generally, by suitable means, the advancement, development and practical application of science in connection with arts, agriculture, manufactures, and commerce; with all the powers and privileges, and subject to all the duties, restrictions and liabilities, set forth in the sixty-eighth chapter of the General Statutes.

    • by CPIMatt ( 206195 )

      MIT is already doing this. For Supply Chain Logistics MIT has already added on two more classes and with a final exam you can get a Micro Masters in Supply Chain and with one more semester on campus you can get a full Masters degree in Logistics.

      Eventually, you will be able to do this completely online.


  • What about the quality of the course? Not just the content, but how it is organized, how it is taught/facilitated, etc? I know that QualityMatters is out there, but is "certifying" a course as being QM compliant enough?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    So far I've completed quite a few online courses in edX and Coursera. One thing that find troubling is that there is no way beforehand to know if a course really is worth the time and effort to commit to complete all the activities or not. Honestly, some courses are *pretty* bad while others you couldn't find any better even paying big bucks. And not always is obvious to idetify which is which without a significat effort.

    Do you think that could be useful to solve this problem:
    - Require every course to have

  • by Anonymous Coward

    How does edX think of the issue of measurement at scale, in ways that go beyond multiple-choice or other constrained response models? In particular for courses in subjects where responses are not structured: liberal arts, social sciences, art...

    Traditionally the essay is the preferred mode of measuring student progress. For good reason. The trouble is that essays need to be graded. NLP-based tools for scoring essays can help a bit -- at least for determining holistic scores. But the state of NLP is suc

  • I'll word them in the form of questions?

    Can you improve the search capabilities of the Discussions to make them less write-only? It would be especially good if while writing a new comment, the student's keywords and sentiments towards the keywords could be evaluated in a high-dimensional space so that 'nearby' (cosine distance metric?) comments and threads would be brought to the student's attention. Pie-in-the-sky to support smoothly merging new comments into existing discussions... Perhaps deferring unrel

  • Coursera and EdX primarily source their instructors from college professors. Udacity is more open to bringing in experts from technical fields. In my experience, college professors in the computing fields are often people who chose to get a PhD straight out of college (perhaps because they were mostly interested in research), and as such may not have much (if any) industry experience. Why has EdX chosen a model that focuses limits the ability for technical experts to provide classes?
  • EdX came out of MIT. MIT used to be a strong proponent of OpenCourseware. OpenCourseware classes were both open access *and* open source, so that other instructors could use the material, though admittedly many classes (at least in the computer security domain) never posted videos. EdX courses are open access, but rarely (if ever?) open source. Do you think dropping the requirement to be open source has helped EdX succeed where OpenCourseware failed?
  • To my mind, a platform like yours ought to be well suited to offer a very wide range of courses in niche subjects. I tried, just for the heck of it, to search for things like Inuit Language, Bobbin Lace and K-Theory, none of which turned up results (as expected). I understand that it takes time, of course, to make these things, but my question is - will there ever be that kind of courses which may only attract small audiences, or is this going to yet another 'profit first' educator, like so many others?

  • Professor Anant ex students from 6002x are eagerly waiting for a next course from you as you are probably also missing the contact with the students . A topic about Multiprocessors would be nice even if it's about the 1990 MIT Alewife Machine. Is there a chance you'll give another earth moving course on Edx?

To write good code is a worthy challenge, and a source of civilized delight. -- stolen and paraphrased from William Safire