Harvard, MIT ink Partnership to Offer Free Online Courses

Remember the Stanford professor, Sebastian Thrun, who took the world by storm last fall when a surprising 160,000 students applied to take his Artificial Intelligence course? The evolution of online education is moving so rapidly that video lessons, Skype study forums, real-time feedback from professors, and the ability for students to set their own pace while learning, has become more and more attractive to potential students.

Wednesday, Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced a new and exciting venture for students called edX. It is their new non-profit partnership that aims to provide free online courses from both of the highly respected colleges.

MITx Courses

The partnership was spurred by MIT’s. announcement in December about their open online learning project, called MITx. Circuits and Electronics was the first course that MIT offered started in March, with an enrollment of around 120,000 students, with about 10,000 students who just recently accomplished the mid-term exam.

Free college courses? There has to be a catch…Students who take courses through MITx will receive a certificate of mastery and their work will be graded, however they will not receive official college credit for the classes that they take through the MITx program.

EdX Courses

EdX, the program offered through the collaboration of Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, will be similar to MITx in that students will receive a grade and certificate, however there will not be official college credit for successfully completed courses.

The edX program will start out by offering five different courses in the fall of 2012, and the entire project will be overseen by both MIT and Harvard, in the form of a nonprofit organization. MIT and Harvard have been rumored to have invested $30 million each for the edX project.

A team has been made up from professionals at both colleges to help implement and deliver the courses, including Anant Agarwal, MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory director (and new first president of edX) and Dr. Garber and the dean of faculty of arts and sciences, Michael Smith, both from Harvard. Other faculty members are also participating in the development and delivery of these courses.


This concept, massively open online courses, known as MOOCs, is being embraced by several other elite universities who are planning on establishing more partnerships in order to jump on this new bandwagon. With $16 million in investment capital, Stanford, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Michigan just announced that they, too, will be offering MOOCs through a partnership with Coursera, a new commercial company that helps colleges offer online classes.

This new online platform will not only offer classes for free from highly established colleges, it will also provide a platform for colleges to evaluate, research, and improve upon the technologies and teaching methods that are used for online education.

Provost Alan Garber from Harvard noted: “My guess is that what we end up doing five years from now will look very different from what we do now.”