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Harvard, MIT Partner on Free Online Platform

Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on Wednesday announced a new online teaching and learning partnership and platform that, if all goes according to plan, will grow far beyond the two institutions based in Cambridge, Mass.

The new open-source EdX is an expansion upon the MITx platform used by MIT to deliver online versions of its courses through video and text instruction as well as Web-based student collaboration. The idea is not only to open free courses to anyone willing to enroll, but also offer the platform to any institution wishing to host its own courses there, according to the EdX website. The two institutions will retain ownership of the not-for-profit platform, but invite others to contribute to its content and maintenance.

Harvard and MIT join other universities such as Stanford, Yale, and Carnegie Mellon in offering free online courses to the public, and even MIT has offered free course materials online for more around a decade, according to the Associated Press. But MITx and now EdX appear to be unique in offering students who pass the courses an official certification of completion.

It's unclear whether any K-12 institutions (presumably secondary schools) could contribute their own online course content to the platform, though it would appear to be a natural fit for the Maynard, Mass.-based Virtual High School Global Consortium. The VHSGC comes closest to a K-12 parallel of the EdX idea, with its model of brick-and-mortar schools acting as a collaborative and donating resources—including faculty members' time—to help the non-profit virtual school offer courses to students around the world.

Much of the rest of the K-12 online learning world, however, has been driven by the for-profit sector. While many states and districts offer public virtual school options, they often do so through for-profit management companies like K12 Inc. and Connections Academy, who usually receive compensation from the state or district for their services. And even Florida Virtual School, which is a public institution considered its own school district within the state, has a for-profit branch that offers its services to students, schools, and districts in other states and even globally. Perhaps success of a model like EdX on the postsecondary level would lead to a similar shift in K-12 online education.

The first EdX courses will be announced this summer and will begin this fall.

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