Students from U.S. and India Top HarvardX Registrants List

New course enrollment data released by HarvardX last week ranked India as the country with the second most enrollment in the University’s new set of online courses, with the United States capturing a plurality of total registrants last year.

The United States led the pack with 223,302 enrollments, 43 percent of the total number of enrolled students for all HarvardX courses since its launch in the spring of 2012. India was next with 50,900 registrants, followed by Canada with 19,975.

Sergiy O. Nesterko, HarvardX research fellow and creator of an interactive visualization tool that displays relatively real-time course enrollment by country, speculated that India’s large population and relatively high degree of English proficiency may be possible explanations for its large HarvardX registration.

“To better understand this interactive visualization [world map of enrollment], you should keep the population of the country in mind,” said Nesterko. Brazil and Nigeria, the most populous countries in South America and Africa respectively, have the most HarvardX registrants on those two continents.

However, registrants from China, the most heavily populated country in the world, represent less than 2 percent of registrants for all HarvardX courses, with the exception of SW12x: “China,” whose development team has made concerted efforts to market the course through Chinese social networking sites, according to HarvardX spokesperson Michael P. Rutter.

Some members of the HarvardX team have already begun to utilize enrollment data to tailor educational experiences for online students.

“When we found out that the second-largest enrollment population after the U.S. was India, we actually started to think about how kitchens in India were organized,” said Pia M. Sörensen, the HarvardX Fellow for SPU 27x: “Science & Cooking: From Haute Cuisine to Soft Matter Science,” a virtual course in which students prepare recipes in their own homes.

“We found that a lot of kitchens in India don’t have ovens, which is a common staple for kitchens here,” said Sörensen. “We have two labs that require an oven, and because of that, we are tweaking both of those labs so that you can create something on a stovetop, microwave, or even a water bath.”

The newly-released data also broke down course enrollment numbers by academic discipline. While HarvardX features courses from engineering, social sciences, and the arts and humanities, the fields were not equally popular among last year’s virtual students.

The four least-registered open online classes all fell under the realm of humanities. As of Thursday, HDS1544.1x: “The Letters of the Apostle Paul,” AI12.1x: “Poetry in America: The Poetry of Early New England,” AI12.2x: “Poetry in America: Whitman,” and the Fall 2013 version of CB22.1x: “The Ancient Greek Hero” had 6915, 4073, 3728, and 1789 registrants, respectively.

These numbers may not be completely representative of actual enrollment rates, however.

Registration for a class does not necessarily reflect future participation. A significant proportion of registrants never interact or click on the course material, Nesterko said.

—Staff writer Amna H. Hashmi can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @amna_hashmi.