November 15th, 2014
02:02 PM ET

When big data meets education

Fareed speaks with Anant Agarwal, who runs edX, a so-called massive open online course or MOOC. Watch the full interview this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN.

So one of the criticisms people make about MOOCS is the very successful, it's vast. You have hundreds of thousands of students or tens of thousands taking a class. But you make the case that actually, the very size of the student body taking the same course makes it possible, ironically, to make the education more personal. Explain.

Absolutely. Yes. So we are gathering the big data of learning. And big data and data mining have improved virtually every field known to mankind. We can now improve education, whether online or in the classroom. So as an example, we could do A/B testing on an educational platform...

Explain what A/B testing is.

So on edX we launched A/B testing, where, as part of a course, a professor can have multiple sequences for students, an A sequence, a B sequence and a C sequence. And the platform automatically distributes the students among these sequences. And the professor can give a test at the end and figure out which of these sequences worked best. So in the future, they can then decide that the B sequence, the B approach of teaching was the best...

So you're beta testing the course as you go along.

It's like software. Today, software is in continual beta. You don't spend a year testing it. You put it out there. You do A/B testing and you continually improve it. So we could keep improving education like we improve Web sites today.

And I imagine that also what can happen is as students take tests, because you have so much information on a single course, if a student does badly in the second quiz, you can immediately direct them to some remedial module and say clearly, we know from hundreds of thousands of students taking the same test that you need to go and relearn these two things or something like that.

Absolutely. The Holy Grail for all of us is personalized learning, the kind of learning where you have a tutor sitting next to you like the, you know, like the old ages and the relics where we had only children of kings and so on, who were able to work with a single guru.

Here, the idea would be like you said, to be able to use big data to analyze how a student is learning. And depending on that, to make available specialized pathways for each student and personalize the learning for each student so that if I didn't know something, I'm shown that piece of knowledge. But if I know it already, then I can move ahead faster. So we are launching a few courses along these lines imminently.

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soundoff (157 Responses)
  1. Mr. banasy

    Come on, baby. Why you gots to mention me on your FB page? LMAO

    November 16, 2014 at 8:15 pm |
    • banasy©

      I respected his privacy. That's why.
      An asshole drunk such as yourself would not understand that.

      Your attemps to make his as uneducated-sounding as you is a giant fail, by the way.

      November 16, 2014 at 8:19 pm |
      • banasy©


        November 16, 2014 at 8:21 pm |
  2. Mr. banasy

    Please, baby. PLEASE don't mention me on your FB page. Give you money for doughnutz?

    November 16, 2014 at 8:31 pm |
    • banasy©

      Why are you so interested in my husband, Philip? He's hetero, and he's happily married. He wouldn't be interested in you.

      November 16, 2014 at 8:42 pm |
      • rupert


        November 16, 2014 at 11:09 pm |
  3. Mr. banasy

    What about the 3 towers. banazi?

    November 16, 2014 at 8:32 pm |
  4. Mr. banasy

    What about the Carlyle Group smuggling weapons through US embassies to Barack H. Obama foundation backed Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, banazi?

    November 16, 2014 at 8:34 pm |
  5. Buh Nazi

    Is how it sounds.

    November 16, 2014 at 8:35 pm |
  6. Buh Nazi

    A banazi is a woman that would have voted for a Clinton or a Hitler. Or a Bush.

    November 16, 2014 at 8:36 pm |
  7. little data

    I'm ignorant. Should I vote?

    November 16, 2014 at 8:39 pm |
  8. banasy©

    Good night, Philip. Have fun getting sloppy drunk and fantasizing about married men who could squash you like the cockroach you are.

    November 16, 2014 at 8:46 pm |
  9. not

    What computers still can't do is what MOOCs can't do. We will produce competent rule followers and programmed puzzle solvers. (Where 'competent' is not what we really want.)

    November 16, 2014 at 9:00 pm |
  10. chri§§y

    Lmao @ banasy he DID get something right...he is a "chrussty" perverted old goat. When he isnt playin "queenie". And i think he fantasizes about richard simmons when isnt having wet dreams about children being rayped that is!

    November 16, 2014 at 10:21 pm |
  11. rupert


    November 16, 2014 at 11:07 pm |
  12. Robert Clegg

    I have 3 mediocre songs. Just because i can a/b test them doesn't make one a hit! How can someone in charge of education make this logical fallacy?!!! He doesnt really understand education.

    November 17, 2014 at 5:19 am |
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