EdX – learning for anyone, anytime, anywhere

How they help global learners to increase access to some of the best learning contents in the world

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.

Looking ahead

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.

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Student comments on EdX – learning for anyone, anytime, anywhere

  1. This seems like a really interesting case where the network effect is limited by external factors such as universities accepting course completion for credit. Like you mentioned, now that the recognition stumbling block is starting to erode, we might see even more courses posted for credit which could lead to students taking and completing more classes. Having universities accept only a portion of courses could also help correct for the uneven quality issue you highlight.

  2. I wonder, with not-for-profit platforms such as EdX that are so effective, would there still be a space for for-profit online education? Could a private company try to capture value if they created such an open platform? What if EdX started charging its users money? Would it be an effective education platform?

  3. Great post – thanks for sharing! I wrote my blog post on Coursera and hit on a lot of the same issues you brought up here. A few questions I have in general about MOOCs and network effects include:

    – How does multihoming (of both users and platform partners/universities) affect network effects and the basis of competition?
    – How do you think different MOOC platforms are differentiating themselves given how common it is for users and platform partners to multihome?
    – Given the Arizona State University partnership you mentioned, do you feel that MOOCs providing official accreditation will put them at risk of angering platform partners such as universities, which are primarily responsible for giving out accreditation?

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