Interactive visualization of worldwide enrollment for HarvardX courses

by Sergiy Nesterko, HarvardX Research Fellow

Below is a "beta" interactive visualization of worldwide enrollment data for HarvardX courses offered via edX, the not-for-profit online learning enterprise founded by Harvard and MIT. Once finalized, the HarvardX research team will officially release the tool as part of the growing Research section of this site.

The visualization interface allows users to "mouse over" or tap specific countries to explore HarvardX enrollment data across all courses. In addition, through the drop-down menu, users can focus in on a specific HarvardX course. More detail about how this was created is available here.

Additional Background Information

Global reach and enrollment. During the 2012-2013 academic year, HarvardX offered 6 courses on edX. Now the total number of courses (past, current, and future)  is 17, including 12 brand new courses due to launch throughout this fall and in early 2014.

As the number of courses increased and more individuals learned about edX/HarvardX, worldwide student enrollment in HarvardX courses reached 200,000 in the winter of 2013. Since then, enrollment has more than doubled to 516,479 (as of August 18). Students from almost every country in the world are now enrolled in at least one HarvardX course.

While the total global enrollment in HarvardX courses is impressive---representing more students than Harvard College, for example, has graduated in its entire 377-year history---HarvardX students are different from their residential counterparts. Part of the HarvardX research agenda is to investigate the intentions and behaviors of online students as well as identify the most effective ways to deliver learning experiences to this diverse student body in this new and evolving environment. 

Initial Insights. While the data is still being refined, the map gives you a sense of the kinds of insights researchers hope to glean with "massive" amounts of student enrollment data. Here are a few examples:

  • American HarvardX students 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 with 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 50,000 students.
  • In South America, Brazil has 10,535 students who registered for HarvardX courses.

Note: 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.

Future inquiries. HarvardX student enrollment data suggests that the courses are indeed of global interest. A quick look at the tool also suggests opportunities to further that reach.

  • The majority of global HarvardX learners come from English-speaking countries. (This is not surprising, as most HarvardX and edX courses are taught primarily in English, with select foreign language subtitles.)
  • Only 4,497, or 0.87% of enrolled students (estimated), hail from China---in spite of its large population of 1.3 billion (over 19% of the Earth.)

These findings suggest that we can further adapt HarvardX educational content to different cultures, languages, and student learning goals.

A technical document that specifies the way the data were obtained, lists possible limitations and links to source files can be downloaded here. The HarvardX worldwide enrollment dataset as of August 18, 2013 can be downloaded here.

Follow Sergiy on Twitter: @snesterko