Online-based distance learning is not something new – the first fully online class was introduced way back at early 1990s. Different forms of online classes emerged, and many traditional universities are trying to catch this online learning wave by introducing their online version of their offline curriculum. The first open platform innovation in education arrived in early 2010s, when a wave of Mass Open Online Courses (MOOCs) attempted to disrupt how the world thinks of learning. MOOCs are open platforms that connect content providers and global learners. Content providers can upload their course content to the online platform, whereas users from anywhere in the world can sign up for these courses mostly for free.
Value creations from network effect
EdX is one of the most prominent players in the market today. This nonprofit was created jointly by Harvard and MIT in 2012 to provide university-level courses in a wide range of disciplines to learners all over the globe. It was started with a MIT course on circuits and electronics, but quickly evolved itself to having ~500 courses spanning across areas such as business, computer science and engineering designed by various higher education institutions. Unlike some other MOOCs, EdX is operated as an open source platform that enables other higher education institutions to make similar offerings. Such platform allows EdX to form partnerships with schools all over the world in expanding their reach and content even further. Schools that are slower to put their eye into MOOCs also are forced to pay attention as the network of schools grows bigger and bigger, and making their content exclusively to their own students is no longer feasible in the digital era.
With course offerings from some of the world’s most renowned universities, learners who otherwise would have no access can now learn from these once exclusive materials. To them, the value creation is huge – not only it paves the opportunity to better learning materials, but also save people time and money. The increasing amount of content providers has created an indirect network effect to make the users value even more the platform. At the same time, there is also direct network effect, of which the more users engaged in the learning platform, the more interactions it enabled through channels such as discussion forums.
Further innovation to increase network effect
Recently, EdX has announced a partnership with Arisona State University to launch the Global Freshmen Academy, which would host all the freshmen content course online on EdX platform. What is significant about this partnership is that students would get actual credits out of course completion, which could be used for credit transfer if they enroll to ASU. In another words, users can get official recognition of completing these online classes, and could save a year of time and money in college if they later on decide to do so. This is definitely an exciting move and will cause higher education players to think how they can use MOOCs as complements instead of direct competition.
Of course, there are a lot of debates about the effectiveness of MOOCs, mostly centered around the uneven quality, completion and retention rate. However, as EdX improves its technology and continuously improves its selection on both higher quality content providers and learners, it has a lot of potentials to become a prominent player in the education industry.