Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) today announced the launch of edX, a transformational partnership in online education. Through edX, the two institutions will collaborate to enhance campus-based teaching and learning and build a global community of online learners.

EdX will build on both universities’ experience in offering online instructional content.  The technological platform recently established by MITx, which will serve as the foundation for the new learning system, was designed to offer online versions of MIT courses featuring video lesson segments, embedded quizzes, immediate feedback, student-ranked questions and answers, online laboratories, and student paced learning. Certificates of mastery will be available for those motivated and able to demonstrate their knowledge of the course material.

MIT and Harvard expect that over time other universities will join them in offering courses on the edX platform. The gathering together of many universities’ educational content on one site will enable learners worldwide to access the course content of any participating university from a single website, and to use a set of online educational tools shared by all participating universities.

EdX will release its learning platform as open-source software so it can be used by other universities and organizations that wish to host the platform themselves. Because the learning technology will be available as open-source software, other universities and individuals will be able to help edX improve and add features to the technology.

MIT and Harvard will use the jointly operated edX platform to research how students learn and how technologies can support effective teaching both on-campus and online.  The edX platform will allow study of which teaching methods and tools are most successful.  The findings of this research will be used to inform how faculty use technology in their teaching, which will enhance the experience for students on campus and for the millions of people expected to take advantage of these new online offerings.

“EdX represents a unique opportunity to improve education on our own campuses through online learning, while simultaneously creating a bold new educational path for millions of learners worldwide,” MIT President Susan Hockfield said.

Harvard President Drew Faust said, “EdX gives Harvard and MIT an unprecedented opportunity to dramatically extend our collective reach by conducting groundbreaking research into effective education and by extending online access to quality higher education.”

“Harvard and MIT will use these new technologies and the research they will make possible to lead the direction of online learning in a way that benefits our students, our peers, and people across the nation and the globe,” Faust continued.

Jointly owned not-for-profit structure

The initiative will be overseen by a not-for-profit organization based in Cambridge, Mass., to be owned and governed equally by the two universities. MIT and Harvard have committed to a combined $60 million ($30 million each) in institutional support, grants, and philanthropy to launch the collaboration.

MIT’s Anant Agarwal, director of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, who has headed development of the MITx platform under the leadership of MIT Provost L. Rafael Reif, will serve as the first president of edX.

At Harvard, Provost Alan Garber will direct the Harvardx effort, and Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Michael D. Smith will play a leading role in working with faculty to develop and deliver courses.

It is anticipated that near-term course offerings from a range of Harvard and MIT schools will be included on the edX platform.

Research to enhance residential model

EdX will enhance the traditional residential model of undergraduate education on both campuses by supporting an unlimited number of experimental online approaches to teaching that can be used by Harvard and MIT faculty and that will benefit students in Cambridge and Boston.  It also will have the benefit of providing global access to some of the world-class instruction that already occurs in Cambridge and Boston, but which is only one aspect of the full Harvard and MIT experience.

“The campus environment offers opportunities and experiences that cannot be replicated online,” said Hockfield.  “EdX is designed to improve, not replace, the campus experience.”

EdX will be separate from ongoing distance-learning initiatives at both institutions, including MIT OpenCourseWare and courses offered by Schools at Harvard, such as the Harvard Extension School, the Harvard Business School, and the Harvard Medical School.

First courses by this fall

The universities will work to develop further the online learning platform already begun with MITx and to populate the edX website with courses from the MIT and Harvard faculty.  During the early stages of the effort, the two universities will cooperate to offer as broad an initial set of courses as possible.  A first set of courses is scheduled to be announced in early summer and to start in the fall.

“We are already moving forward quickly,” said Agarwal. “There’s a lot of energy in the air, and the teams at Harvard and MIT can’t wait to collaborate.”

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