The Crunch: In partnership with Harvard and MIT, edX has brought prestigious education to everyone through a free, accessible learning platform. The revolutionary MicroMasters program offered by edX allows students to take a deeper dive into different subject areas while gaining graduate-level expertise in less time and at a fraction of the price. Through edX, employees can earn a Professional Certificate to advance their careers, high school students can take college-level courses, and anyone can learn for the sake of learning — all on their own schedules. With a growing catalog of over 1,200 courses available, edX is looking to shape the way people access education and learn.
Gaining entry to a top university — like Harvard or MIT — has traditionally been an experience reserved for a handful of exceptional students each year. A student’s path usually begins with a stellar GPA, community service awards, a perfect application, and a great interview. That is how the process at top-tier universities has always worked. Without a massive amount of effort, a path to take classes at such storied schools typically doesn’t exist. And it is equally daunting at the graduate-level for those seeking career-advancing education.
But that time-honored process was dramatically transformed in 2012. That was the year a team of professors from Harvard and MIT, including Anant Agarwal, founded edX. The mission was to revolutionize education by providing classes from prestigious institutions to anyone, anywhere, for free.
While the idea was ambitious, the need Anant saw for edX was overwhelming.
“Education hasn’t changed for hundreds of years, and there is a significant skills gap in the market today,” Anant told us. “Students are getting degrees, but they’re not getting jobs. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of jobs in digital marketing or data science are available for the asking.”
Through a partnership with Harvard and MIT, edX sought to change the education space. While they certainly saw the need for such a platform, they couldn’t have envisioned how far edX would come in such a short period.
The very first class, taught by Anant and co-founders Gerry Sussman, Chris Terman, and Piotr Mitros, was an MIT course on circuits and electronics, and it drew an audience of 155,000 students from 162 countries.
In just four years, 9.5 million people have signed up to take an edX course and every country in the world is represented in its student base. Learners flock to the courses because they are easily accessible, run on an intuitive platform, and can produce real-world results.
A Learning Experience System Marries Tradition with Modern Tech
The edX platform offers an engaging educational experience that promotes learning at a student’s own pace. Drawbacks to traditional on-campus courses include classes being held at set times on set days of the week and having to be flexible to a professor’s office hours to ask questions. Also, if a student missed part of a lecture for any reason — being late, drifting off for a moment — that moment is generally lost forever.
None of those potential problems means the education is any less valuable, just less convenient. What edX has done is used technology to provide the same course content conveniently.
Lectures are videos that can be viewed anywhere, anytime, and on any device. They can be rewound and replayed as many times as a student needs to absorb the information. Students can ask a question and get responses from professors quickly, or even get help from other students on the course’s discussion board. Anyone can see a demonstration of how a course looks by signing up for DemoX, which serves as an introduction to the edX learning environment.
Letting students learn at their pace can make a big difference, said Anant, who has seen it in edX’s course data reports.
“We see the max watchings of video between midnight and 2 a.m.,” Anant said. “So why would we drag people into classrooms at 8 or 9 in the morning?”
While a student can have a flexible schedule on edX, some classes do have time constraints. Many course participants find deadlines more motivating than an open-ended learning environment. These courses typically follow the regular semester schedules of universities, but allow for work to be completed at a student’s own pace within those parameters.
The other type of course is truly self-paced and can be accessed as long as a student needs, whether it takes two months or two years. Some courses are even aimed at high schoolers who want to begin college with a better knowledge base. No matter what level of education a student comes in with, they can always leave with more, and edX’s MicroMasters Program offers an even deeper dive.
MicroMasters Programs Offer a Focused Path to Career Advancement
The revolutionary MicroMasters programs at edX offer a graduate-level educational opportunity at a fraction of the time and cost. Some of the programs are designed to be completed in less than a year, which is less time than it takes some students to submit a successful grad school application.
MicroMasters are offered in high-demand areas: User Experience (UX) Design from Michigan, Artificial Intelligence from Columbia, and Supply Chain Management from MIT are just a few of the options. And for students who find money and time in short supply, these programs can be a lifeline.
Anant had us imagine an associate at a Walmart in Memphis who wanted to move up by learning more about supply chain management.
“Before edX, that worker would have had to attend a university and spend $50,000-$60,000 to get an MBA,” he said. “With edX, he can earn a MicroMasters in Supply Chain Management from MIT. It will also take him 25-50% of the time, and he can do it while working and having a family.”
Another feature of earning a MicroMasters is that the credits earned can carry over to a university if a student wants to change course and finish on campus. If a student is accepted into the same university’s graduate program, the edX Verified Certificates can transfer and count towards that degree. If someone feels they need more education before embarking on a MicroMasters Program, edX offers a wide variety of classes and programs, many of which cater to professional education.
A Wide Variety of Courses for Every Level of Education
With over 1,200 courses on the edX platform, students have a variety of different learning paths. One popular offering is the edX Professional Certificate Program. The program includes a series of skills-based courses that can teach in-demand professional skills which can offer upward mobility in many fields. Microsoft and Columbia have teamed up to offer a Professional Certificate track in Data Science which consists of nine courses and a final project. Wharton, the world’s first college school of business, offers a Professional Certificate Program in Digital Marketing which consists of four courses that take 4-6 weeks each. These programs can be particularly helpful to those who want to update their education.
“People may have a traditional MBA in marketing from 10 or 20 years ago, and today’s landscape is very different,” said Anant, describing the rapid changes in the data science and marketing industries. “Now, you can learn digital marketing from Wharton on edX. You can learn from top schools that you may not have had access to earlier in your career.”
Anant went on to tout the cost-effectiveness and flexibility of the programs. “ You don’t have to go back to school and pay $50,000, and you can learn from your couch at home on the evenings and weekends.”
As with all of the courses on edX, the Professional Certificate courses are free. Courses that earn students a verified certificate, which is proof to an employer or school that a course was completed, cost minimal fees.
And if you are just on edX for the fun of learning, the course list is as varied as one on any college campus. Depending on course availability, you could spend the morning taking Introduction to Italian Opera from Dartmouth and switch to Advanced Software Construction in Java from MIT in the afternoon.
With such a wide range of courses, users are bound to find one that piques their interest or fulfills a professional need. Now, even businesses are recognizing edX as a valuable tool.
Companies are Recognizing the Value edX Provides Employees
In a study of edX learners who earned verified certificates, 43% said that the courses helped advance their careers. This means that employers rewarded nearly half of the workers who received a certificate from edX. As continuing education becomes more of a necessity in fields like technology and marketing, businesses are starting to enroll employees in groups and market edX on internal portals to encourage employees to take a class. The courses on edX can be a more structured way for an employee to learn, rather than the business teaching the skills in a less comprehensive way.
“With our edX model, for the first time, corporations and their employees can get cutting edge content from the top universities around the world,” Anant said.
Offering cutting edge continuing education from top schools while also having courses from top companies like Microsoft is unprecedented. And with so many courses focused on in-demand fields like analytics, digital marketing, and entrepreneurship, the partnership between edX and the corporate world is just beginning.
All of this is made possible because of the accessibility of edX. Students no longer have to fill out applications, write an admissions essay, gather transcripts, or collect references. No longer is knowledge confined to a classroom, a campus, or even a university’s online education portal. Instead, education from some of the world’s most lauded institutions is accessible to anyone.
And while the courses will be challenging, Anant knows that so many people around the world who want to learn are deserving of that challenge.
“You may not have had the chance to go to Columbia, Berkeley or MIT, but now you can,” Anant said. “There are no admissions with edX. One click and you’re in.”