Anant Agarwal is the CEO of edX, an online learning platform offering free courses founded by Harvard and MIT. Agarwal began edX by teaching an online course on circuits and electronics from MIT, which drew 155,000 students from 162 countries. He has also served as the director of CSAIL, MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, and is a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT. Agarwal is a successful entrepreneur and has co-founded several companies including Tilera Corporation, which gave way to the Tile multicore processor and Virtual Machine Works.
Agarwal has been recognized for his innovative ideas and was chosen by the Scientific American as one of the 10 World-Changing Ideas in 2011 for his work on Organic Computing. Moreover, he is known as a game-changer in education as he was named in Forbes’ list of top 15 education innovators in 2012. Agarwal is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a fellow of the ACM. Agarwal won the Maurice Wilkes prize for exceptional contribution to computer architecture and MIT’s Smullin and Jamieson prizes for teaching. A fun fact about this educator is that he holds the Guinness World Record for the largest microphone array, and is the author of the textbook “Foundation of Analog and Digital Electronic Circuits.” Anant earned a Ph.D. from Stanford and a bachelor’s from IIT Madras.
Agarwal’s goal for education is to utilize new technologies to close the gap between the education-rich elite with university degrees and the education-poor. Many children in developing countries do not have access to basic education and university education is still out of reach for millions around the world. Not only does he want to close this gap, but he also wants to solve the problem of students getting an education that prepares them for the rapidly changing workplace.
Since 2012, the MOOC (massive open online course) movement has shown that high-quality education can be accessible and affordable at a large scale to students around the world. Online education platforms have already impacted millions of people and helped them achieve college readiness or develop their skills at prices far below those compared to traditional education. The edX, an online education platform backed by Harvard University, MIT, and other top institutions, has enrolled 25 million people, from every country in the world and has awarded 1.6 million certificates of completion.
Agarwal sees the role of digital technology to reach new audiences and reinvent the delivery of education. By improving access to digital technology and fund tuitions, we can expand the opportunities for more people to pursue higher education regardless of their location. He envisions digital technology to play a significant role in “supporting free or low-cost general education by providing an on-ramp to college for traditional and non-traditional students in developed and developing countries alike.”