Why Harvard and MIT’s edX is a huge deal.
Today, Harvard and MIT announced edX, a joint initiative to make online courses available to the global community through an open platform. The press release is here: http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2012/mit-harvard-edx-announcement-050212.html, and some great commentary by the New York Times is already available here: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/03/education/harvard-and-mit-team-up-to-offer-free-online-courses.html. I’d like to offer some observations and opinions from the perspective of a student of a participating institution.
This new partnership is a seriously huge deal, particularly coming from research institutions steeped in tradition. Harvard and MIT certainly aren’t the first institutions to bring learning online, as organizations like Khan Academy, Stanford, Coursera, and Udacity have already begun to deliver an amazing online educational experience. The incredible potential for this new venture lies in its collaborative organization. Working together, Harvard and MIT will be able to deliver a better experience than either of the institutions could produce on their own, and tremendous value will come from discussions among the experienced educators of both universities. Perhaps more importantly, though, is the inter-departmental collaboration that will supplement the cross-institutional cooperation. Students will be able to learn from minds specializing in a wide variety of fields, from the natural sciences to the humanities to the social sciences. By centralizing this immense breadth of knowledge in a single online platform, students and instructors alike will be able to learn from each other in order to create a revolutionary new way to learn. Whenever individuals come together for a common good—-in this case, whether that be to develop edX or to participate in its courses—-there’s potential for something to become a huge deal.
edX genuinely seeks to improve education for students. This initiative does not exist to generate more revenue for these universities or to serve as a bullet point on an admissions brochure. Rather, Harvard and MIT are poised to carry out one of the most historic educational research studies the world has ever seen. Not only will students learn new skills and ideas from their instructors (and perhaps more than ever, from their peers), but massive participation in the open learning platform will enhance future generations’ classroom experience—-whether that be online or in-person. It’s a win-win for everyone, and it’s a huge deal.
To accomplish these goals, edX has not set out to be simply a network of static content. I find it hard to believe that Harvard and MIT have invested $60 million to host lecture notes online. Instead, these institutions have dedicated significant resources to rethinking what a modern online education should look like and how platforms can effectively engage with students. This investment suggests that the philosophy behind edX, open learning accessible to everyone, is quickly becoming an integral part of these universities’ missions, and that’s a huge deal.
The ridiculously low admissions rates of these universities and others, in my opinion, has long necessitated the launch of programs like edX. To keep such a wide breadth of knowledge contained at this level and to exclude individuals with a genuine interest in advancing their own education from expanding their horizons is to perform a disservice to instructors and students worldwide. Harvard and MIT have made it clear that they will welcome collaboration with other interested institutions, and I sincerely hope that this announcement is the beginning of a larger trend of making high-quality eduction a more fundamental and accessible aspect of the lives of individuals around the world. That, my friends, would be a pretty huge deal.
I can’t wait for the fall semester.