As higher education confronts COVID-19, edX provides unique success model

The free-for-all online education NGO, with over 32 million users, is engaged with Israeli universities to ensure students and teachers could work, no matter what.

Allies of the Machane Yehuda market stand empty due to coronavirus (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Allies of the Machane Yehuda market stand empty due to coronavirus
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
EdX in Israel is opening opportunities to continue education, which may prove to be a critical asset in the new coronavirus reality that has disrupted schools and colleges, and has left many unemployed.
In Israel, universities and government officials clashed over end-year exams and, as the nation now faces a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, there’s no telling if classroom studies will resume. What edX offers is to expand the classroom to include the world.
Created by Harvard and MIT as a nonprofit in 2012, edX offers 5,000 courses from the top universities in the world in two paths. A user could learn any course for free, but should one want to, one could pay to get accreditation. True, you still can’t get a medical degree online, but the variety is staggering. This reporter had taken classes on Criminology, the Middle East, Indian and Tibetan Buddhism – other classes, on computer programming, law, and languages, are also available.
When COVID-19 erupted, ““through our Online Campus Free initiative, we gave each university free courses [to help them] finish their school year,” edX Head of Business Development John Schwartz told The Jerusalem Post, “we had a scalable, easy solution.”
John Schwartz/ Courtesy
John Schwartz/ Courtesy
Schwartz had been in the company since 2016, and he sees edX as “unbundling time,” meaning “people can work when they have the time.” In the same vein,  Audible founder Don Katz has been able to reshape commuting time into hours spent hearing audiobooks. Audible is also in the education business, offering audio-lectures as part of its Great Courses Series.
While innovative, edX isn’t the only option people have to gain new skills and insights. Those who like hearing lectures can purchase audiobooks and courses, those who enjoy writing can acquire academic degrees via the Open University of Israel. Many universities currently offer Multiple Open Online Courses (MOOC), mostly for free. What makes edX unique is its quality. The ChinaX course, for example, is a special chance to learn from the top China scholars in Harvard. It also has special know-how.
“We use MIT Neuroscience,” Schwartz told the Post, “we can learn from the keystrokes of 32 million learners and, for an example, place quizzes after videos to maximize retention.” This optimization of the learning experience is a particular advantage edX has. “We put a lot of knowledge into impacting the learning experience,” he said.
The benefits of opening higher education are manifold. As the cost of a college degree in the US becomes steeper, it may not be a bad idea for a future student to take a few courses for free just to check if he is keen on the topic or not. As the courses can be transformed into academic credit, they can be used to transfer to a more traditional college, or as evidence to a possible employer that the applicant has the skills the job requires.
“In the next decade, 80% of the jobs we now know will be gone,” Schwartz told the Post. He said that life-long education is “the only way to meet the acceleration of change.” While he takes many edX courses, he pointed to Berkley’s “The Science of Happiness” as one he would highly recommend.
In Israel, edX operates IsraelX, where Tel Aviv University now offers a course called “Viruses and How to Beat Them.” Schwartz explains that edX is working with the Social Equality Ministry’s Digital Israel taskforce as well as the Technion, Haifa University and other institutions.
As he sees it, edX is meant to help existing institutions offer a blend of educational means, not so much to replace in-person classes.
“The future is in blended learning,” Schwartz said. “We are aware of the importance of social interaction and maturing in the classroom. Many universities experiment with both.”