Anant Agarwal edX

Today’s Campus Innovation Interview #10 – Anant Agarwal of edX

Anant Agarwal edXI have written a few pieces on the higher education landscape including interviews with some of the key players such as the Coursera founders Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng as well as Chip Paucek, co-founder and CEO of 2U.
Another key player in the field of MOOCs is, without doubt, the MOOC platform edX founded by MIT and Harvard University and launched in fall 2012.

I had the chance to talk with Anant Agarwal, President of edX about the first lessons learnt and how edX contributes to changing higher education in general and its economics in particular.

Similar to other MOOC platforms edX was started under the premise of democratizing higher education and to bring lectures from top professors to students all over the world as well as to allow them to learn at anytime and anywhere. What makes edX distinct however is its nature as a not-for-profit and the pursuit to open-source its platform.

Although we are still early on in seeing MOOCs actually in action and to draw conclusions of whether they are an answer to what the future of higher education online might look like, edX has of course gathered data about how many students take their MOOCs and maybe more interestingly, how many complete the courses.

During our talk Agarwal tells me that some of their most popular courses have been taken by more than 50,000 students from all over the world, and I share his excitement here as it proves that technology is not a hurdle anymore but that one can take a MOOC and thus have access to world-class tuition even if they live in a developing country or remote area. I also agree that lowering the barrier of access to free knowledge and education lets the high-potentials shine, the ones with the brain but not necessarily with the money to afford and MIT or Harvard education. If these or some of these then get accepted by one of the best universities in the world simply based on their successful completion of a MOOC is undoubtedly democratic. However, I’m almost sure that these high-potentials would have also made their way if the circumstances were different. The way would have looked differently but I believe many of them would have found success without MOOCs.

This brings me to what do completion rates look like when we look at MOOCs more in general? The numbers of MOOCs taken solely online are very modest. Agarwal says for edX they are around five percent. Study groups, whether formed online or in the offline world, can help increase completion rates but can’t be seen as the end to the story. edX and the other players have to find ways to make the experience stickier and to help prevent such high dropout rates.

Already today Agarwal sees a significantly higher completion rates when the individual MOOC is part of a blended experience, so part online and part on-campus. The professor of the respective course at San Jose State University saw pass rates increase from 55% to 91%.

The last part of our talk focusses on the impact of many more highly educated people on the job market in the future and related to that the discussion of how much a paid four-year college education will still be worth compared with a MOOC certificate of completion and the ability to prove your skills to an employer.

Quotes to share on Twitter

I can’t imagine a better thing brought to public knowledge than education.

We had ten years worth of innovation happening in education in the space of one year.

Image LicenseAttributionNoncommercial Some rights reserved by American Council on Education

Kirsten Winkler is the founder and editor of EDUKWEST. She also writes about Social Media, Digital Society and Startups at

  • Jenny Grant Rankin

    I tend to find the best edtech endeavors are those fueled by a passion for making a difference and other noble goals. edX’s non-profit nature and goal of bringing quality instruction to all those around the world who desire to learn seems like a great example of this. Very inspiring! 🙂