Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Educating 1 billion students in 10 years: Open edX Conference 2015

Ramón Talavera-Franco
Anant Agarwal, CEO of edX was clear about the goal of the organization: Educating 1 billion students in the next 10 years. By 2015, Open edX—a non-profit organization established in Boston, MA—has reached 5 million students from more than 196 countries. The organization partners with 90 educational institutions in 40 countries, and offers 700+ courses online. According to these numbers, reaching the 1 billion students goal
seems far away. However, Open edX is proactively working to expand education around the world, improve the quality of education, and advance research and learning to attain this goal.

Maybe the answer is in the following question: Why bundle university time into 4 years, starting at age 18? Agarwal's opening remarks during the 2015 Open edX Conference questioned the educational model implemented decades ago. The world changes and we need to keep learning—Agarwal argued. What we learned years ago when we finished our bachelor’s degree probably does not apply anymore to the new realities. Agarwal continued: we need to update knowledge; progress happens every 5 years in huge ways. Hence, we need a new model of learning such as the Life Long Learning model.

After attending the university and going to work—Agarwal claimed—jobs demand new knowledge that needs to be acquired. Why not select from a consortium of online universities where you can choose á la carte the course that you need? Even better, why go to the university for four years when one or two years probably are enough to acquire the campus experience? Why not to continue unbundling students’ education through different universities and courses? 

As an example of unbundled education, Argawal mentioned The global freshman academy. edX, in partnership with Arizona State University, is offering 1 year of courses online that are equivalent to a first year of college. To get a verified certificate for each course, students have to pay a $49.00 fee. Those who want to continue their college degree on Arizona State University campus or in other university that accepts this accreditation, will need to pass a proctored exam, and pay a fee of $600.00 USD.

Another model to unbundle education is the Micromaster degree offered by MIT. The Supply and Chain Management program offers a Micromaster degree after registering in 5 verified certificate MOOCs, and passing a proctored exam. If the student is interested in getting the whole masters degree, he or she can continue one more year at MIT campus.

Education needs to change. Colleges offer lectures, professors, facilities, libraries, room and board, etc. Unbundling education—giving students the possibility to take the course that they need from the institution that they want, and helping them to craft their own pathway to achieve knowledge and gain skills that are valued in the job market, is now a dream. Will it come true?

I billion of students in the next 10 years will probably have much to tell about what today is an innovative and difficult idea, but not an impossible one.

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