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MOOCs on edX: A World of Unlimited Learning Opportunities

By Khalid Ahmed

Whether you are in a high school or a college or working already, these MOOCs can help you succeed.

The edX mission is to increase access to high-quality education, to enhance teaching and learning on campus and online and to advance research.

EdX—a nonprofit founded by Harvard University and MIT in 2012 is today a leading online learning destination and MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) provider with more than 7 million learners from every single country of the world.

Quite a few people in Pakistan would know that edX has currently around 90,000 learners from the country. The edX offers courses in a variety of subjects from computer science to languages, engineering, history and entrepreneurship to name a few. Designed by some of the top universities and corporations of the world these courses are available for free. A nominal fee ranging between USD 50 to 100 (PKR 5,000 to 10,000) is charged in case a leaner wants to earn a certificate after completion of a course.

MTRPK recently interviewed Anant Agarwal, the CEO of edX. Anant holds a Ph.D. from Stanford and a bachelor’s from IIT Madras and is a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT. The interview comprises his thoughts on MOOCs and online courses in general and edX philosophy and growing popularity in particular.

According to Anant Agarwal in many cases where students may not have access to a very high quality and low cost university and they can’t afford a university, it is possible today to complete education online. He believes, the lucky ones who are already going to college and university and can afford it and they have a good quality college, MOOCs and online courses can serve as a supplement.

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Anant Agarwal, President of edX, in his office in Cambridge, MA. The computer screen behind him shows a portion of a video lecture from 6.002x, Circuits & Electronics, the MITx course taught by Agarwal.

Tell us something about edX?
EdX is a leading MOOCs provider and offers courses from some of the best universities and corporations in the world including MIT, Harvard, Tsinghua University, China, IIT Bombay, IIM Bangalore, Microsoft and World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) etc.

Whether you are in a high school, a college student or working already you can take some of the best courses from the best universities/ institutes in the world. You can take these courses for free!

How does edX design its courses?
EdX has around 100 partners including universities and world class corporations. We partner with leading institutes and they create the courses. For example we have a fantastic course from the MIT on Python programming. We have also a fantastic course on entrepreneurship called Entrepreneurship 101 and it has been designed by Sloan School of Management at MIT. We also have courses from top non-universities like W3C. They have a course on HTML.

Tell us something about edX leaners. Where do most of them come from?
We have more than7 million students and we offer nearly 900 courses in a variety of subjects. Founded in 2012 we have grown very rapidly. A bulk of our students, 30 percent, come from U.S., second highest category is from India which is about 11 percent and following that are Brazil, UK, China and Columbia.

Do students stay on course? How do you keep them engaged?
There are a lot of engaging tools in EdX. Earning a certificate is one of the biggest motivators. The leaners can take edX course on smart phone devices and they can watch and download course videos and watch whether they are connected or not. There are videos of exercise and discussion forums. Those who have signed for a certificate the completion rate is between 60 and 80 percent.

Do you have any physical presence in Pakistan?
EdX has one international support and development office in Lahore, Pakistan. We also have a development team in Lahore. We are proud of our team. We believe everybody is a potential learner and we want to provide 7/24 support to all our students.

People in Pakistan are really concerned about online education after Axact scandal. How does edX address this concern?
We represent some top universities of the world and offer their courses on our platform. You can imagine our reputation is phenomenal. Above all our courses are for free. We are a nonprofit. The learners have to pay in case they want to earn a certificate—and this fee depends on course to course and institute to institute. Generally speaking for profit organization the pass rate is around 30 percent while for nonprofit organizations its 50 to 70 percent.

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Piotr Mitros, Chief Scientist at edX, uses a Rostrum camera to create an overhead camera-based lecture. During this process, voice and video are recorded for an interactive tutorial.

Are there some success stories?
Yes, there are many. For example a housewife in Lahore, Pakistan had dropped her high school when she got married. Then she discovered Harvard courses on edX for free. Today she is 25 and her husband is very supportive and she is taking online courses on edX.

Then there is Akshay Kulkarni from India. He had Engineering degree and then he took EdX courses from MIT, Harvard and UC Berkeley and applied at Microsoft in Hyderabad and because of certificate that he earned from EdX he now has a job at Microsoft.

Do you see potential partners from Pakistan in future?
I had met some of Pakistan’s key leaders in education at Davos. I also know many of the leaders of your universities and one of them is Umar Saif, Vice Chancellor of Information Technology University (ITU) Lahore. Yes of course, we will be interested in collaborations with Pakistani universities.

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