Harvard And MIT Create EdX To Offer Free Online Courses

May 3, 2012

Online educationTwo more elite universities -- Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology -- plan to join the small group of elite schools offering free online academic classes.

This comes on the heels of April news from Princeton University, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor that they would offer massively open online courses, or MOOCs, through the company and platform, Coursera. Already, Stanford University and the University of California at Berkeley have been providing such courses.

Harvard and MIT each contributed $30 million to host the no-cost online classes through a newly-formed nonprofit partnership called edX, The Chronicle of Higher Education noted. Harvard came on board after MIT launched its open online learning project, MITx, The New York Times reported. MIT's first course, Circuits and Electronics, started in March with 120,000 students. Following the recent midterm examination, about 10,000 remained enrolled.

edX plans to host its first five MOOCs in varying subjects, including engineering and humanities, in the fall. Students completing them can receive a certificate but no credit. Both schools aim to use edX not only to offer free courses worldwide, but also to research teaching techniques and technologies. Because the technology used for online education is evolving rapidly, many consider it still in infancy.

"My guess is that what we end up doing five years from now will look very different from what we do now," said Harvard Provost Alan M. Garber in The New York Times.

In fact, the schools intend to release their software when it's fully developed to anyone for free. The new trend of elite universities offering free MOOCs is changing higher education, NPR explained. Because they're much cheaper and easier to now provide, online classes have burgeoned. Tools like interactive quizzes, video lessons, immediate feedback and student-paced learning have helped make them practical. These MOOCs offer students who, for whatever reasons, can't take campus classes an opportunity to do so. At the same time, they perhaps pose a threat to other types of schools.

"If I were president of a mid-tier university, I would be looking over my shoulder very nervously," George Siemens, a MOOC teacher at Canada's online Athabasca University, told The New York Times.

Attempts over the last decade to offer MOOCs have failed. Fathom, a company that involved, among others, Columbia University, the University of Chicago and the University of Michigan, folded in 2003. AllLearn, a nonprofit collaboration between Yale, Princeton and Stanford also ended in 2006.

Yet several education experts are hopeful about the recent collaborations and offerings.

"Online education is here to stay, and it's only going to get better," said Lawrence S. Bacow, a past president of Tufts and member of the Harvard Corporation, one of the university's governing boards, in The New York Times.

Compiled by Doresa Banning


"Explosion in Free Online Classes May Change Course of Higher Education," npr.org, May 2, 2012

"Harvard and M.I.T. Team Up to Offer Free Online Courses," nytimes.com, May 2, 2012, Tamar Lewin

"Harvard and MIT Put $60-Million Into New Platform for Free Online Courses," chronicle.com, May 2, 2012, Nick DeSantis

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