EdX Offers Amazon Web Services Credit for Course Completion

When edX courses Entrepreneurship 101 and 102 opened Friday, enrollees had an extra incentive to complete the courses: Users who pass either class will receive $1,000 in credit to spend on Amazon Web Services.

“[The Amazon offer] is to provide a valuable incentive for people to take and finish the course,” edX spokesperson Nancy Moss said.  

In 2014, a series of working papers published by researchers at HarvardX showed that only about 5 percent of students enrolled in Harvard and MIT courses offered through edX in the 2012-2013 academic year earned certificates of completion. Moss said she anticipates that “thousands and thousands,” even “tens of thousands,” more registrants will complete the Entrepreneurship 101 and 102 courses because of the Amazon offer.

In addition to motivating students to complete their courses, edX, an online learning platform started by MIT and Harvard, has billed the credit offer as a way to help its entrepreneurship students launch their own start-ups. The Amazon credit offers students the ability to apply what they learn in Entrepreneurship 101 and 102, said course instructor William K. Aulet ’80, who teaches at the MIT Sloan School of Management. He said resources such as the Amazon-edX offer are essentially a necessity for entrepreneurship courses.

“This is what we do with our classes at MIT and Harvard,” Aulet said. “You offer students additional resources to take what you’re talking about and put it into practice. For aspiring entrepreneurs, it’s just something that really helps them launch their business and realize their dream of a new company.”

For entrepreneurship in particular, Aulet said, it can be difficult for students to apply what they learn, and so he said the offer could enhance the courses’ value.

“You may learn the stuff in a class, but you don’t really have a deep understanding of it until you apply it,” Aulet said. “Being able to have access to [Amazon Web Services] really takes the learning experience to another level.”

EdX is also offering successful Entrepreneurship 101 and 102 students several other opportunities. According to the edX blog post announcing the offer, students who pass either course can participate in web training, attend virtual office hours with experts, and receive assistance from companies that help start-ups.

As for the intention of incentivizing students to complete the courses, Erdin B. Beshimov, the producer of Entrepreneurship 101 and 102, said the Amazon-edX offer may indeed motivate students to finish the courses, but said it is not a sustainable solution to edX’s low completion levels.

“The way to fix dropout rates is to make better courses,” Beshimov said, adding, “This offer is really just a benefit for the students. Some of them will want to start ventures after completing the course, and this is a great way for them to get something online.”

According to Aulet, the online entrepreneurship courses already saw enrollment figures in the thousands when they were first launched on edX last year. Combined enrollment for the two courses started at 20,000 and eventually rose to more than 66,000, he said. He did not specify how many of those initial enrollees had finished the course.

—Staff writer Hannah Smati can be reached at hannahsmati@college.harvard.edu.

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