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5 Ways That edX Could Change Education - Online Learning - The Chronicle of Higher Education

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"But in the process, the world will become part of an expensive and ambitious experiment testing some of the most interesting—and difficult—questions in digital education.

EdX and its collaborators view the project as a means to study big issues, like understanding how people forget—and creating strategies to prevent it.

'It's a live laboratory for studying how people learn, how the mind works, and how to improve education, both residential and online,' says Piotr Mitros, edX's chief scientist.

Over time, enrollment in edX is expected to climb into the millions. That has major implications for research.

'Basically, everything that a student does is logged and can be mined by researchers,' Mr. Mitros says. And the platform is rigged so researchers can show content to one group of students and not to another, and then test the results.

This will permit once-impossible cognitive-science research. If you're like many people, you've forgotten much of your formal education. But studies show that if you repeat things—you take a freshman physics class, say, but continue to use those concepts throughout college—you retain them. Researchers might show refreshers to students at different points in time after a course has been completed, Mr. Mitros says, tracking what they recall.

'You can build a mathematical model of how memory works, based on data from a large number of students,' he says. The results of such research could be applied directly to improving education.

One question is how edX might improve elite universities, which are late to the e-learning game. In the spring, MIT tested an edX class on circuits with about 20 on-campus students. It was a hit: A majority said they would take another Web class.

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