MITx and Harvardx Join To Create edX

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The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) launched an effort 10 years ago to make high levels of learning more accessible to learners and communities. This effort was made through the release of OpenCourseWare (OCW), a response to the “Open Source” movement on the internet that sought to provide greater accessibility to crucial digital learning and production tools

With notoriously rigorous entrance requirements , and tuition approaching insertsnumbinglyhighnumberhere for a 4-year degree, this made elite levels of education inaccessible to—statistically speaking—almost every person alive.

Now, 10 years later, MIT has upped the ante, releasing MITx.

MITx now not only offers accessibility to materials, but access to other learners.

“The technologies available are much more advanced than when we started OpenCourseWare,” Mr. Agarwal said. “We can provide pedagogical tools to self-assess, self-pace or create an online learning community.”[i]

MITx now provides a crucial layer of not just access to the MIT “brand,” but full-on integration with other learners, evaluation via assessment, and closure on the learning experiences via credentials.

Maybe most interesting is the offering of free product—not just access, but participation in the MIT learning community. With MITx learners are eligible to receive “credentials.” While not full-on MIT university credit, the concept is parallel: take the courses, perform academically, and receive MIT-endorsed credit for your learning.

It will be interesting to see how such a bold move impacts MIT in terms of brand and legacy. While a faultless idea on the surface, such institutions benefit greatly from their relative inaccessibility—basic business principles attached to general scarcity of “goods.” When speaking of widgets, as availability increases, value tends to decrease. Even more crucial will be how the business community reacts to such learning products as the model grows.

The first course available is 6.002x, Circuits and Electronics, and more courses will be available in the Fall of 2012.

On May 2, Harvard University joined the fray as an MIT partner and established Harvardx, a set of courses available from Harvard. Together, they create edX, which take the approach of Open Source learning and combine it with the collaborative spirit of both Open Source and social media that, pooled with the resources of the two traditional academic giants, will make for a win-win for learners globally, no matter the editorializing you hear that suggests otherwise.

Of course, there are questions to consider:

Is this social service or a pre-emptive move to keep universities relevant in a changing learning and economic environment?

What is the relationship between edX and MOOCs?

How will other universities respond?

And what can communities do to establish literacy levels that support success in high-level learning environments such as that provided by MITx/Harvardx/edX?