Anant Agrawal on Online Learning

Anant Agrawal on Online Learning


: edX is learning destination where we have
learners from ages of eight years old to 95 years old on our platform. And so we’ve always
had this interest in having a diverse set of courses whether at the high school level
or university level, professional education and so on. A lot of our courses right now
are university level courses and learners are looking for more basic courses, you know,
they lack many of the prerequisites. And some of these prerequisite courses come from high
schools. And so therefore it is really important that we get the high school courses on the
platform. Certainly high school level courses, very basic courses, are more challenging from
universities because universities tend to focus on courses that are at the university
level. And so with organizations like GEMS and high
schools and so on we have the opportunity to get high school level courses that can
be more on ramps, can serve as on ramps to university level courses. The challenges that
are posed with high school level courses is that high schools very often don’t have the
resources or video production capabilities and so on to create some of these quality
courses. And so there tends to be more of an issue of how do you do the production?
How do you provide the support for courses like this?
So our thinking there is that edX has a services team. We are very interested in getting what
are called advanced placement level courses in the U.S. So one example is that we could
use our production team to provide support for some of these courses. We’re also looking
for funding from philanthropists and other foundations that might be able to provide
the funding for these courses. We can then partner with high schools or other organizations
like GEMS that can then create these courses. GEMS, for example, has a large cadre of teachers
that are already providing, offering courses in a number of areas. And so an organization
like GEMS is a natural one to partner to get these high school courses.
We also are thinking about courses that are before the advanced placement level. Think
of pre-algebra for example. And we’re also developing a lot of tools that will enable
students to do simulations and various kinds of online laboratories. That tends to be a
challenge as well and we are looking to develop a small team within edX that can create some
of these enriched content types as well. So STEM subjects versus humanities subjects
tend to have different kinds of components that you need. In the STEM area one of the
areas that tends to be challenging are laboratories. How do you provide the kind of hands on laboratory
experience. At edX we’ve created online labs that we call, you know, virtual laboratories
based on simulation technology. So there students can have a game-like experience as they work
with the circuits lab or as they work with the chemistry lab. Or in physics, you know,
they can work with an object like a pendulum so they can set the object at various places
and see how it moves around all through simulations. So we’re able to use simulation technology
to provide a rich game-like experience for the labs in STEM subjects.
Now let’s understand that, you know, not everything is possible to do. So, for example, in chemistry
it is hard to capture the smell. But you can certainly look at color and some of the other
compositional issues as you titrate different chemicals in various quantities and so on.
Now in the humanities side there are other challenges. You may not have the laboratories
along the lines of lab benches and so on but in humanities you have other challenges that
we try to address in different ways. One example is for assessments in humanities tend to be
assessments tend to focus heavily on open responses such as an essay, for example, or
a descriptive response. That tends to be challenging. So edX addresses
this challenge by developing technologies that can automatically grade and provide feedback
for essays. So we have several technologies to do that, three in fact. One of them is
called AI Assessment. This technology uses machine learning to grade essays where the
professor grades the first 100 essays, for example, against a rubric. And then that is
— that kind of grading trains a statistical machine learning model which can then grade
a number of other essays and provide feedback. A second technique is called peer grading
where students grade each other’s work. And the third technique is called self-assessment
where the students can grade themselves. So that tends to be an issue with humanities.
Another challenge with humanities is how do you create the small group feel of small group
discussions. And for that on the edX platform we’ve created cohorts. Cohorts is a way for
the instructor to divide a big discussion forum into smaller fora so that students can
have a more intimate group discussion feel. We also work with a partner, Google, who integrated
instant handouts into our platform that enables students to connect with a small group of
other students and have instant chat or a video chat session with the other students.
That can begin to simulate the kind of small group feel that you might find in small liberal
arts colleges.

Danny Hutson

12 thoughts on “Anant Agrawal on Online Learning

  1. Thanks for sharing and it is really very good concept. May I know but how edX is different from other similar platform like 'coursera' ?

  2. If people learn only through online courses won't that deny them certain things that can only be acquired through learning in a classroom? 

  3. Online learning can only work if there is regulation in the system. With the lack of authority/social pressure/etc. there would be little incentive for many students to effectively work. Alternatively, if a student is very determined and diligent, then it will definitely be beneficial.

  4. High school could have a course in video production that could in turn video the other courses intended to be on-ramps to college level education.

  5. If people learn through online courses rather than going to high school, considering that high school is compulsory how would that be enforced? It would be easy for someone to apply for online learning and then not do it, or at least don't do it as much as they would have to in the classroom. If there is some "kicked from online course for lack of progress" that could either be an issue around the student not learning as fast and when they are learning on the net they are just a number, but if the student was kicked for being lazy, would they be forced to go into high school instead or would they just be left?

  6. Edx is changing the education platform. Personally i hope that they can monetize this well enough to extend the course-ware to professional level courses. 

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