Over the past year, a boy genius from Mongolia has been schooling MIT on how to improve the elite institution’s free online courses.
When he was just 15, the Mongolian wunderkind Battushig Myanganbayar earned a perfect score in MIT’s first massive open online course, or MOOC. Designers of the course touted him as a poster boy for the power of free courses to spread high-quality education to the farthest reaches of the globe, and the New York Times hailed his story. But leaders of edX, the consortium started by MIT and Harvard University to develop free online courses, also did something else: They offered the star student a job, hoping he could make their MOOCs work better for other high schoolers.
As it turns out, edX needed the help. Despite the hope that courses from name-brand universities would draw students from high schools and less-selective colleges, some 70 percent of people taking edX courses already hold a college degree. MOOCs today are primarily serving the education haves, not disadvantaged learners.
“That certainly surprised me,” said Anant Agarwal, the CEO of edX and the instructor of the course Myanganbayar aced. “I expected more people who were in college [and high school],” he added. “We’re looking to change a few things to increase that number.” (Other MOOC providers have seen similar demographic trends, he notes.)