Today, Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and edX announced a joint effort with education technology company 2U to further the reach and impact of online learning across the world.
Under the agreement, edX will be converted to a public benefit entity that is fully owned and operated by 2U. 2U will use its resources to grow the online learning platform with the speed, and at the scale, that learners need today.
The proceeds of the acquisition will be used by a nonprofit led by Harvard and MIT that will focus on closing the learning and opportunity gap through the development of new partnerships, digital tools, and strategies. The nonprofit will devote significant resources to forging partnerships with institutions of higher education, particularly community colleges and other educational institutions that serve under-resourced communities. It will also seek to partner with other nonprofit organizations to tackle longstanding inequities in education, and with enterprises and governments to address workforce reskilling needs, while advancing learning experience platforms and research in all these areas.
The Gazette spoke with Alan M. Garber, provost, who is co-chair of the board of directors of edX, a position he’s held since edX began, and Bharat Anand, vice provost for advances in learning, who is also a member of the edX board of directors, to learn more about the context that led to these developments, and to discuss how Harvard hopes to help build a more equitable future through the work of the nonprofit.
Alan Garber and Bharat Anand
GAZETTE: edX has been a successful venture over the course of its nine years in existence. Remind us of how it came to be and how far it has come in such a short time.
ALAN GARBER: Harvard and MIT started edX in 2012 as massive open online courses (MOOCs) were just taking off, and when we were exploring how best to use promising technology platforms to improve learning and expand access to educational content.
The mission of edX from the beginning was to make courses from the world’s best universities available to everybody who had an internet connection. We also aimed to develop strategies to enhance residential education with these new online technologies, and we sought to conduct research that would support evidence-based approaches to improve learning.
Over the course of nine years, edX has had widespread impact. It has grown tremendously. It now offers more than 2,800 courses from 194 partner universities, educating more than 39 million learners worldwide to date. Several countries have also leveraged the open edX open-source learning platform as part of their educational strategy.
GAZETTE: Tell us why now was the right time to decide to pursue this effort with MIT and 2U.
GARBER: Since we launched edX, approaches to teaching and learning at large scale have diversified and grown, and enjoyed remarkable success. Enrollment in edX courses boomed during the pandemic, which focused even more attention on the value and potential of high-quality online learning. Taking full advantage of that potential will require capital investments at greater scale than is readily attainable for a nonprofit entity like edX.
During this time, the economic disparities and social inequities that plague our world have also continued to expand. The change in ownership will enable the mission of edX — including access to low-cost and free courses to meet the needs of diverse learners — to be carried out with continued innovation at a greater scale.