After this conversation with Anant, I went and talked to Radhika Ghosal, the 15-year-old from New Delhi, who took the MIT Circuits and Electronics course.
Sramana: Radhika, how did you find out about edX?
Radhika Ghosal: I found out about edX back when it was called MITx. I read about MITx on Hack A Day (www.hackaday.com), a popular blog on hobby electronics.
Sramana: How old were you when you took the MIT edX course?
Radhika Ghosal: I was 14 when I started the course on edX.
Sramana: Which course did you take?
Radhika Ghosal: The course I did was 6.002x, Circuits and Electronics.
Sramana: Why did you choose to take that course?
Radhika Ghosal: When I was around 12, I taught myself how to solder and got into the world of DIY electronics, and I moved on to making more complicated circuits like music amplifiers and tinkering around with ICs. Thing is, I liked making all this, but I didn’t know how they actually worked. When I saw the course description of 6.002x, it matched with what I wanted to know.
Sramana: How difficult was the course for you?
Radhika Ghosal: It was a fairly hard course for me, because I had none of the prerequisites to handle the course, like basic calculus and an AP-level background on electricity and magnetism. I had to learn advanced math from Khan Academy on the fly while doing the coursework itself. Luckily the course started right after my final exams, during my vacations, so I had some time to catch up with the knowledge I didn’t have. Otherwise, I had an absolute blast doing it.
Sramana: How much time did you have to commit to complete the course?
Radhika Ghosal: The estimated effort for the course was given at 12 hours per week. I spent around 20 hours per week due to my lack of prerequisite knowledge. I finished the course within the stipulated period of 14 weeks. I did have to put in extra hours to complete my regular school and edX homework on time.
Sramana: What are some of the key things that you learned from edX?
Radhika Ghosal: Some of the key things I learnt were analyzing circuits, the working of MOSFETs (a kind of transistor), amplifiers made using them and op-amps (a kind of abstracted model of an amplifier which is super important in ICs). I also learnt about many circuit components like capacitors and inductors. The course description provides a better explanation of this, I guess.
Sramana: How is the edX experience different from how you learn in school in Delhi?
Radhika Ghosal: I can’t write enough about how different the edX experience was different from school. Starting from the online circuit lab to the quality of teaching and Professor Agarwal’s awesome demos. I have never, ever seen a demo like this one in my life and after seeing it, I thought, “Awesome-est teacher EVER!” Everything was so much different from school. I didn’t find schoolwork engaging and challenging, but in edX, everything is so much more exciting. For the first time in my life, I did something academic on my own and did it willingly.
Sramana: Are you planning on applying to MIT for your undergraduate degree?
Radhika Ghosal: I know it’s hard to get admission into MIT for an undergraduate, but it would be beyond awesome if I somehow managed to stumble into MIT.
MOOCs have both generated great excitement in the world of online learning, and garnered criticism. One of the key issues is that learners tend to abandon online courses often.
My personal view is that the culture of online learning is not yet deeply integrated into society and human behavior. However, over this decade, it will become thoroughly embedded, and the impact of projects like EdX and 1M/1M will become far-reaching both in depth and breadth.
Also, EdX competes with Coursera and Udemy, that are heavily venture-funded startup companies. My guess is that whether the MOOCs would be successful as venture funded companies is still a rather large question mark. EdX is a non-profit from the start, and doesn’t have to become a billion dollar company to be sustainable. There are enough people who would be willing to fund its growth (eg. Bill Gates), as long as it can continue to meet its operational costs over the long term, and deliver value.
Coursera, to survive, will need to grow fast and become a billion dollar public company. Or it would need to exit somehow via M&A.
Time will tell, which model wins. For now, both sets of experiments are welcome for the future of education.