Liz Gannes

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Harvard and MIT Launch $60M Nonprofit Online EdX Platform

Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology today are launching a nonprofit, open-sourced joint online learning venture called EdX, with the first courses to start in the fall of this year.

Basically, Harvard is jumping in as an equal partner to a previously announced project called MITx, with each school contributing faculty leaders and putting up $30 million in funding.

EdX (which was pronounced both “ed-ex” and “ee-dee-ex” at a press conference this morning) will offer Harvard and MIT classes online for free; in the future, other schools will be invited to join.

The two Boston-area schools are essentially leapfrogging Stanford University, where a set of online classes last year gave rise to the creation of two for-profit companies led by the Stanford professors who taught the classes — Sebastian Thrun’s Udacity and Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng’s Coursera. Stanford is still figuring out its own approach to online learning.

EdX will bring MIT and Harvard courses to students around the world, with no admissions requirements, free classes, and “a modest fee” for credentials earned by students, according to plans posted today.

The open source platform will include “self-paced learning, online discussion groups, wiki-based collaborative learning, assessment of learning as a student progresses through a course, and online laboratories.”

The first courses have not been chosen yet, and many other details have yet to be figured out.

“Online education is not an enemy of residential education, but rather a profoundly liberating and expanding ally,” said MIT President Susan Hockfield at a press conference this morning.

EdX is also an opportunity to push forward education research, said the project’s leaders.

EdX President Anant Agarwal

EdX is inspired in part by Sal Khan’s Khan Academy, and will include videos made in his style, said Anant Agarwal, director of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. Agarwal will be the first president of EdX.

Of other online learning initiatives, including those that are for profit, Agarwal said, “Of course, all of us are looking at each other. At the end of the day, I think the more online educators there are, I think the better off the whole world is.”

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work