Data from HarvardX Research: worldwide student enrollment

by Sergiy Nesterko on August 22nd, 2013

Summer is coming to an end: weather is starting to cool down, the lazy toasty feel in Cambridge streets is gradually going away. The fall is about to set in, residential courses at Harvard are about to start. At HarvardX, however, learning and teaching have been going on full speed and show no signs of slowing down or changing pace with the start of the conventional academic year. If anything, every day it's becoming busier and busier, and much, much more interesting. It's challenging to keep pace, but I want to say that we at HarvardX Research are managing.

The past two months have been quite busy: we needed to define infrastructure to store and analyze HarvardX data to supply course developers, researchers, leaders, and the public with much needed tools to gain insight on this one-year-old enterprise that's shown immense growth. Indeed, just a few months ago HarvardX offered just 5 courses. Now the number is 17, with 12 more courses due to launch in the Fall and early 2014. HarvardX enrollment reached 200,000 in winter and has now more than doubled to reach 516,479 students worldwide as of August 18. Currently, HarvardX has students from almost anywhere in the world:

The visualization above allows to hover over countries to check their enrollment and select one of the 17 HarvardX courses from the menu to see the breakdown by course. It is going to appear on the official HarvardX website.

Global reach of HarvardX. In about one year, over 500 thousand students from 204 countries registered for HarvardX courses. That is a larger number than the number of students Harvard College graduated in its entire 377-year history. Of course, the HarvardX student body is substantially different from residential students, and it is going to take much effort and experimentation to find out meaningful differences and the most effective ways to deliver educational content to such diverse student body in the new setting of online learning.

Enrollment activity. One of the immediate insights is that there are many American students, but they account for less than a half of all HarvardX students. In Africa, Nigeria is the most enrolled country with 11,490 students, Spain has the most students in Europe (8,668; the second largest enrolled European country is Great Britain with 7,321 students), India is the highest-enrolled country in Asia with almost 50 thousand students, and in South America, Brazil has 10,535 students who registered for HarvardX courses. Enrollment per country is estimated based on known total enrollment and relative numbers of students with reported and recognized countries. The enrollment may be affected by various factors such as country population, Internet use in each country, legal regulations, and cultural patterns.

Expanding access. Although HarvardX has demonstrated a vast reach over the past year, this interactive graphic suggests opportunities for expansion. The majority of global HarvardX enrollment comes from English-speaking countries. An estimated total of 4,497, or 0.87% of enrolled students come from China in spite of its huge population of 1.3 billion (over 19% of Earth population). These findings suggest that we can further adapt HarvardX educational content to different cultures, languages, and student learning goals.

As we are shaping the HarvardX Research infrastructure, we are working to cope with data idiosyncrasies caused by the rapid evolution of the edX platform. In addition, we are working to convert data from edX and other platforms to a common format (for example, MCB80x). The data and visualization above are subject to several possible biases and errors: (1) total enrollment includes course team and edX staff registrations, (2) enrollment by country is estimated based on self-reported mailing address at registration and assumes missing-at-random (MAR), (3) mailing address parsing may have accuracy issues, (4) this data is from a system in beta development stage and may contain errors. A technical document further specifying the way the data were obtained, listing possible limitations and links to source files can be downloaded here.

Data and visualizations such as above are going to help power innovation at HarvardX.

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