edX aims to quadruple learner base in India in next 5 years

edX provides online education and massive open online courses (MOOCs) which are one of the latest progressions in the education sector.

Tall and well-dressed, wearing a full sleeved shirt buttoned at the cuffs, Anant Agarwal looked every inch a professor. Of course, he is a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) but also a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of edX, an online platform that bring education courses to people. 

Agarwal has set an ambitious target for the next five years which is to quadruple its user base in India.With the present user base of 1.1 million learners here,company aims to reach 4 million people by the 2022.“We aim to reach 40 million users in next 5 years,globally, and in India, the plan is to bring about 4 million learners online,” said Agarwal, one of the recipients of Padma Shri this year for his contribution in field of education. 

edX provides online education and massive open on-line courses (MOOCs) which are one of the latest progressions in the education sector and offer the promise of parity and quality in education for all. According to a 2016 report by management consulting firm Technopak, India’s education market was then valued at $100 billion.

In 2012, Agarwal became the CEO of edX, and today,company has grown to 11 million users worldwide among which United States leads the pack with learner base of 30% followed by India at 10%. The other countries racing upward include UK, Brazil and China with user-base of 4%. India has become the largest market for e-learning after the US, and the sector is expected to receive a boost from the government’s Rs.1.13 trillion digital India initiative, as per a recent report by the UK-India Business Council. 

The concept of edX recognises the fact that e-learning also has a role to play in providing the required skill sets to future job market entrants. By 2022, India is expected to face a potential shortage of 250 million skilled workers across sectors, according to surveys. To solve country’s skilling problem, company has launched a program called micro masters, which teaches one quarter of a master’s degree and aims at up-skilling of employees.“At a fraction of the time and cost, when someone is already working in a company, we think micro masters will solve this problem,” Agarwal said while adding that three of the top FMCG companies and IT industry body, Nasscom are using micro masters already in India.

Interestingly, in India, the median age of users at edX is lesser than the global average. In India, users’ median age is 23 years against the global age of 26. “It reflects the importance of India in our growth plans. Its younger demographic dividend is our core target and makes India as a potential destination,” Agarwal explained while sitting in a coffee shop of an upmarket hotel in the central Delhi.

It is not just the urban cities which are eager to find courses online. But the traction from the Tier II as well as Tier III cities is growing among the edX learner base.

Of late, the participation from non-metro cities such as Bareilly,  Gorakhpur, Ludhiana, Vijaywada and Kota has gone up, thanks to the swelling internet penetration across India.According to the latest report by Internet and Mobile Association of India and market research firm IMRB International, urban India with an estimated population of 444 million already has 269 million (60%) people using the internet. Rural India, with an estimated population of 906 million, has 163 million (17%) inter-net users. “Thus, there is huge potential. There are many users who are yet to become internet users and hence,market for online courses has lot of untapped potential,”said the hopeful Agarwal. Company, working with millions of learners, is capturing amazing amounts of data about students, how they learn, how they perform and many other insights.“We have big data on learning. We gather data on every click of mouse. In fact, every company that subscribes our learning programs can access to data about the progress of employees to understand their return on investments,” Agarwal said.

Otherwise too, emerging technologies including cloud and big data are changing the way e-learning con-tent is being produced and consumed. “With the evolution of the technology, the way we learn and work is also being evolved and technology is disrupting the education sector globally. Big data allows for greater customisation of learning solutions. This opens up endless possibilities for us,” he said. For instance: Professors, at edX, can see that which section of their videos is being paused or replayed most. “It makes them understand that the portion needs to be simplified or requires further clarification,” Agarwal , who is also a successful serial entrepreneur, having co-founded several companies including Tilera Corporation, which created the Tile multicore processor, and Virtual Machine Works.Among the learners who attain certification from the online courses of edX, 43% of them mention about the certification on their resume, 47% of them post the certification on their LinkedIn profile and 43% of them get advancement in their career in form of earning new job,pay raises or promotions, the company claims. Other players in the online education field across the globe includes Masterclass, an online teaching platform which offers unique classes from some of the biggest celebrities in respective fields and Byju, a test preparation app which managed to get funding from Mark Zuckerberg,CEO of Facebook under a philanthropic initiative.

Agarwal taught the first edX course on circuits and electronics from MIT, which drew 155,000 students from 162 countries. He has served as the director o fCSAIL, MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, and is a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT.

This article was published in BW Education issue dated 'April 7, 2017' with cover story titled 'BW Education Inaugural Issue April-May 2017'

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