edX new MOOC from Harvard/MIT

So, following on from Norvig and Thrun, others are jumping into the MOOC race. Harvard and MIT announced on May 2 that they would be supporting a new venture, edX.As the site proclaims: EdX is a joint partnership between The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University to offer online learning to millions of people around the world. EdX will offer Harvard and MIT classes online for free. Through this partnership, the institutions aim to extend their collective reach to build a global community of online learners and to improve education for everyone.

MIT’s Director of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory Anant Agarwal serves as the first president of edX, and Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Michael D. Smith leads faculty in developing courses. Along with offering online courses, the institutions will use edX to research how students learn and how technology can facilitate teaching—both on-campus and online.

The new venture, called edX, grew out of MIT’s announcement last year that it would offer free online courses on a platform called MITx. The combined effort will be overseen by a nonprofit organization governed equally by both universities, each of which has committed $30-million to the project. Anant Agarwal, director of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, who led the development of MITx, will serve as edX’s first president.

edX plans to host its first courses this fall, across an array of disciplines. Mr. Agarwal said the platform would allow colleges to join Harvard and MIT in creating brands with the “x” signifier, also would be offered as open-source software for institutions that want to build on it. It will be distinct from the continuing distance-education programs at Harvard and MIT, including Harvard’s Extension School and MIT’s OpenCourseWare, which has been putting course materials online for a decade.

This comes on the heels of the Princeton/Standform/UMich/Penn offering called Coursera, which itself comes on the heels of Norvig and Thrun’s initial jump which resulted in Udacity. It seems that everyone is getting into the game.

The Chronicle started asking some questions about the business plans of these consortia. Are they simply spending their endowments for goodness and reputation, or do they have a plan to monetize? They could use an iTunes model, selling courses for pennies at large scales. For pennies and big names, corporate recruiters might even want to use it for filters.

There is also some speculation about them enabling the greats to find undiscovered talents in developing countries. But this doesn’t wash for me, as they are already oversubscribed and the scale of effort here doesn’t seem to be justified at all. I would return to the profile raising and iTunes benefits. I think that it also plays into the debate on badges. Certainly worth watching.

About Shawn Mehan

Shawn Mehan
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