Harvard, MIT to offer free online courses

New York: Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology have joined hands to launch an ambitious USD 60 million initiative under which they will offer free online courses to students, a collaboration that will be headed by Indian-origin professor Anant Agarwal.

The new online education platform `EdX` would be overseen by a Cambridge-based not-for-profit organization and be owned and governed equally by the two universities.

MIT and Harvard have committed USD 30 million each in institutional support, grants and philanthropy to launch the collaboration. Agarwal, who holds a PhD from Stanford and a bachelor`s degree from IIT Chennai, will be EdX`s first President.

Director of MIT`s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, Agarwal led the development of the platform.

At Harvard, Provost Alan Garber will direct the effort, according to statements from the two universities. "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.

EdX would draw on the faculty, research, and institutional backing of both universities to provide Harvard and MIT courses to users around the world. MIT and Harvard expect that over time other universities will join them in offering courses on the EdX platform.

The gathering of many universities` educational content together on one site would 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.

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 said.

Agarwal called the new initiative a "historic partnership." He said online education is creating a ""revolution" driven by "the pen and the mouse," adding that EdX is "disruptive, and will completely change the world."

The new possibilities afforded by today`s technology have created "the biggest change in education since the invention of the printing press," he said. Agarwal likened EdX`s not-for-profit model to the Khan Academy, which offers a set of online lessons for students.
The Khan Academy is founded by MIT alumnus Salman Khan.

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

EdX would offer its first courses under the Harvardx and MITx brands 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, the two universities will work cooperatively 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 fall 2012. Certificates of mastery will be available for those who are able to demonstrate their knowledge of the course material.