MOUNTLAKE TERRACE, Washington — Achieving universal education is a huge goal for development throughout the world. The United Nations has continuously stressed the importance of global education and has specified many priorities to achieve this strategy.
But they target children and providing primary and secondary education. College and university level courses are still far from being realized.
Developed nations, more often than not, have structured educational systems, granting educational access to the majority of their populations. But beyond high school education, university degrees can more often than not be the difference between living in poverty and being well off.
In order to help bridge the gap and provide education to people who have less access to higher level courses, Harvard and MIT collaborated in 2012 to introduce free online courses. The program was called EdX and started in the 2013 school year.
Many of the courses are free and taught by professors in online modules. As MIT President Susan Hockfield described it, “Online education is not an enemy of residential education, but rather an inspiring and liberating ally.”
Harvard President Drew Faust added, EdX brings a “possibility of transformation through education to learners across the globe.”
The initiative took off and many other institutions have joined EdX, including the University of Chicago, the University of Washington and international institutions such as Peking University and the Australian National University.
Courses offered vary widely from history and art to business and science. Students can also pay a small fee to receive official certificates as well when fulfilling professional development course requirements. Since its inauguration, EdX has been utilized by more than 1.7 million participants.
Fast forward two years later, and MIT and Harvard have released data about the efficiency of their free online courses. The results are promising but offer interesting insights into the world of free online education.
The results indicate that there is substantial enrollment and steady growth. The study indicates that enrollment grew at 2,200 new participants a day. Those who register come from all around the world. They are highly educated professionals for the most part and hold college degrees.
Another interesting finding is certification is intended by a slight majority. Those who intend to certify are most often teachers. This is a promising find, perhaps indicating that those who are engaged in the pursuit of knowledge are willing to utilize the Internet to gain new skills.
Certification and enrollment differ by discourse. The Computer Science and STEM courses had average certification rates that were about half that of Humanities, History, Religion, Design and Education (HHRDE) and Government and Health and Social Sciences (GHSS) courses — seven percent and six percent versus 14 percent and 11 percent, respectively.
After analyzing the data, EdX has identified new opportunities and the next steps necessary to continue the program’s success. The first step is to identify course-level and institutional priorities for increased access.
Using this data, there is an opportunity to increase the number of participants and certificate-earners from underrepresented and underserved groups.
The second step is to increase and formalize the flow of pedagogical innovations to and from residential courses. There is an opportunity to make the “secondary” use of open online course resources by teachers a primary goal that will be beneficial for all efforts targeted toward teacher development.
The program is creating new opportunities for groups that have not previously had access to advanced courses. New strategies learned in online teaching courses on EdX can be shared with educators around the world, improving efficiency.
Regions currently suffering from lack of educators will have new ways to ensure that professionals can continue learning after high school at their own pace. The future is bright and Internet education is leading students into the future.
– Adnan Khalid
Sources: edX, edX 2, MIT News, Social Science Research Network