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EdX Chooses Algolia to Help Learners Access Education

We had a search product that was difficult to manage from an engineer perspective — and from a product perspective as well. Making changes to it was really difficult for the engineering team. It was much more efficient to switch to Algolia, not just for the use of our time, but for the product itself.

Steve Tiszenkel

Senior Product Manager @ edX
Edx
Use case

B2C and B2B Ecommerce

Headquarters

Cambridge, MA, USA

Customer since

since 2019

Feature usage

Rules, Visual Editor, Dynamic AI Re-ranking, Search API, Dynamic Synonyms, Insights API, Click & Conversion, Personalization

Key results
  • Fast to implementation

  • Ease of use by all teams, across sites and products

  • Freed up developer/engineering time

Key numbers
  • 50% in Lead Volume overnight

  • 2400 learning sites across 196 countries

  • 45 million users globally

The challenges

  • 1.

    Thousands of courses from hundreds of universities and corporate partners, accessible to millions of learners

  • 2.

    A cumbersome and unwieldy search solution that demanded excessive use of engineering time and resources

  • 3.

    Recent acquisition by 2U required seamless integration with unique platforms of the two companies and two other acquisitions

The solution

  • 1.

    Easier to deploy and configure search platform

  • 2.

    Implemented a suite of Algolia solutions: Search API, Dynamic Synonyms, Insights API – Click & Conversions, Rules, Personalization, Visual Editor, AI Re-Ranking

  • 3.

    Used by multiple teams, both B2C and B2B facing

The result

  • 1.

    Exceptionally fast integration, with teams up and working far sooner than expected

  • 2.

    Intuitive UX for multiple teams with diverse needs and intentions

  • 3.

    Shift from engineering focus to product focus

  • 4.

    50% increase in Lead volume

“We had a search product that was difficult to manage from an engineer perspective — and from a product perspective as well. Making changes to it was really difficult for the engineering team. It was much more efficient to switch to Algolia, not just for the use of our time, but for the product itself.” Steve Tiszenkel, Senior Product Manager, edX 

EdX created their preeminent online learning platform to unlock access to high quality education. ‘Everyone, everywhere’ is their mission and their goal. The leading global online learning platform from 2U, Inc., edX’s activities take place all over the world, where their advanced e-learning platform connects eager learners to top universities and industry-leading companies. 

From the very beginning, edX set out to open access to top-notch education for every interested learner. Back in 2012, MIT Professor Anant Agarwal and his colleagues from MIT and Harvard outlined an experimental platform that would offer courses online, for free. In February 2012, Agarwal launched his MIT course Circuits and Electronics and more than 155 thousand learners enrolled from over 162 countries.

Today the Open edX platform powers more than 2400 learning sites in 196 countries. Their partnerships with more than 160 member universities have helped more than 100 million learners to pursue higher education and expand their personal and professional potential. In addition to more than 3600 free massive open online courses (MOOCs), edX now hosts a Research Data Exchange, and offers modular, stackable credentials including bachelor’s and master’s degrees. 

In November 2021, edX was acquired by 2U, and the combination of the two platforms has redefined the online education sector. 

With so many opportunities for learners, edX needed a search solution that could handle all their offerings across multiple pages. Previously, they had used Elasticsearch, but found it difficult and cumbersome. 

“It was a very manual process,” says Steve Tiszenkel. As Senior Product Manager of the Discover squad, Steve and his team are responsible for the search and browse experience on edx.org. “Elastic was more of a search product than a search platform,” he says. “We had to build everything ourselves. It didn’t make efficient use of our engineering and development time.”

Simple, seamless, swift

Steve works with edX stakeholders to determine collective priorities, then with the engineering and development teams to ensure those priorities are achieved. After 2U’s acquisition, those priorities included the integration of their partners’ existing products into the edX platform, which made the need for an intelligent and seamless search solution even more crucial. 

“Onsite search is hugely significant,” Steve says. “It’s the top of our funnel. It’s very important that our learners are able to find the products they need right away. We need a strong search engine to be able to do that.” 

Research and recommendations from industry colleagues led the edX team to Algolia, and the results were remarkable. The main point of entry is a prominent search bar in the edX header, at the top of every single page. “The engineers had previously struggled with Elastic, but once they got started with Algolia, they were able to implement very quickly. Faster than they were expecting, in fact, and they were very pleased by the experience.” 

Steve and his team use Rules, Visual Editor, and AI Re-ranking to make efficient use of the engineers’ time and resources. “Rules helps us make sure we’re recommending the right product in the right circumstances. And AI Re-Ranking is the flip side of Rules. 

AI Re-ranking has been very, very helpful to us. We initially turned it on as a test and saw immediate benefits.” Steve admits his personal favorite feature is Visual Editor. “It’s so easy to use, you don’t need to involve the engineering team at all to find the parameters. Then you can see immediately in real time how the result set changes based on the rules.” EdX uses Algolia on its main site, as well as on their mobile and iOS apps. Steve’s focus is with B2C interactions, the consumer in this case being learners, but also includes a B2B component. On the enterprise website, corporate partners offer employees educational benefits. Though that site doesn’t fall under Steve’s purview, he reports that Algolia is also used there, in the search systems for employers and employees.

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Sweeping Change in Online Education

Although millions of learners had enrolled in edX-hosted MOOCs before 2020, the global pandemic redesigned the online education landscape. “Covid changed everything for us. We’re a very different organization now,” Steve says. “There was a realignment about how people thought about education, and realized they weren’t necessarily tethered to a particular place.” 

EdX keeps track of how and where their learners find them. Currently, their traffic is predominantly international, coming from outside the US. “Our goal is to help those learners make connections between their dreams and the actions they can take. We want to be there as they take control of their destiny using education.” 

To that end, edX invested in its relationship with the company that delivered the best search solution. “We’ve seen a lot of success with Algolia and have a great deal of faith in what will happen in the future.” 

The decision to resign came from more than just satisfaction with the technological product. “With a good vendor you’re not just paying for the product, you’re also getting consulting services. That shouldn’t be discounted. That’s a terrific benefit working with Algolia. I’m connected with them via Slack, and when anything comes up, they’re very much able to respond. When I have a great idea and bounce it off the team, they’ll often have an even better solution. It’s about the relationship, and the services, not just the software.”

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