Harvard, MIT Will Bring Classes To The Masses With Their ‘edX’ Online Learning Initiative

Distance learners rejoice! Harvard University and MIT jointly announced their new non-profit edX online learning initiative in Cambridge earlier today, which aims to both enhance on-campus teaching and make courses from both schools available to people around the world for free.

“This is the single biggest change in education since the printing press,” said Anant Agarwal, newly-installed president of edX. Despite both schools chipping in $30 million a piece (not to mention a chunk of their respective staffs), edX is an independent entity with Agarwal reporting to the organization’s own board.

Beyond just offering Harvard and MIT courses to scores of avid learners worldwide, the two schools plan to build up the open-source MITx platform which itself was only announced at the end of last year. The goal is to make the platform available other to institutions as well, so they too can jump in and offer their own content. It’s still early days for the platform though, so no additional partners have been announced just yet.

Still, MITx provides quite the framework to begin with. Rather than just providing videos of lectures and scanned class handouts, MITx takes things a step further further with “embedded quizzes, immediate feedback, student-ranked questions and answers, online laboratories and student-paced learning.” Access to these online courses will be free to anyone with an Internet connection, though the issue of monetization quickly came up during the event’s Q&A period.

“The drive is not to make money,” said MIT Provost Rafael Reif. “That said, we intend to find a way to support those activities. There are several approaches we are considering, and we don’t want this project to become a drain on the budgets of MIT or Harvard.”

EdX president/professor Agarwal noted that in the prototype class MITx class he taught, students who passed the course received a free certificate to commemorate their achievement. That should soon change though, as a FAQ posted to MITNews points out that the two schools are considering charging a “nominal fee” for those certificates when a student proves their mastery of a subject.

AllThingsD reports that the first slew of EdX courses will go live this fall, but it seems as though Harvard may be looking to start a little sooner than that. The Boston Globe reports that Harvard is considering launching their first EdX courses this summer, with classes in computer science, social science, and the humanities expected to round out that first online term.

Agarwal went on to say that the more online educators there were, the better off the world would be, and there’s little question at this point that edtech space will continue picking up steam. Online education startup Coursera announced just weeks ago that their own distance learning platform would soon play host to courses from Princeton, Stanford, UPenn, and the University of Michigan. Meanwhile, StraighterLine also recently announced that they raised $10 million in funding for their plan to offer general requirement courses online (and on the cheap).