EdX To Charge Students for Optional ID-Verified Certificates

EdX will now offer its students the option of paying a fee to receive an ID-verified “certificate of achievement” for completing an online course, marking the first time the 17-month-old virtual education nonprofit will monetize its free content.

“Think of it as a premium model,” EdX President Anant Agarwal said of the new initiative Tuesday at an appearance at a Graduate School of Education-sponsored forum.

The new certification process, which is debuting for three edX courses this fall, comes at a time when providers of massive open online courses, or MOOCs, are increasingly thinking about making money from their services.

Students registering for any of the three participating courses are now able to choose from among three possible tracks. They may audit the course for free without the expectation of any certificate, sign up for a free certificate, or pay a fee to receive an ID-verified certificate upon successful completion of class requirements.

Paid certificates cost $25 for Stat2x: “Introduction to Statistics,” $50 for CS169x: “Software as a Service,” and $100 for 6x: “Circuits and Electronics.”

Students signing up for an ID-verified certificate also have the option of donating more than the minimum fee to support edX—an initiative that Agarwal said has already yielded results.

“When I last looked, the amount of money that was coming in was about 10 percent more than the minimum the student could have paid,” said Agarwal.

Students who cannot afford to pay but wish to receive an ID-verified certificate will have the option of petitioning edX to receive an “honor code certificate.”

Agarwal’s comments about the new certification process came as part of a larger discussion about edX at Tuesday’s forum, which was entitled “EdX: Reinventing Education.” Speaking to a packed audience of Harvard and MIT affiliates and members of the general public, Agarwal presented edX’s mission of improving educational access, quality, and research and sharing its educational tools on an open source platform. Agarwal pointed to the new ID-verified certificates as one of many efforts by edX to make its business model “self-sustaining.”

Another potential revenue-generator, Agarwal said, could be licensing of what he termed “new age textbooks”—digital course materials that could be purchased and used by other instructors.

“Today, I am very comfortable using the textbook from a colleague,” Agarwal said. “Why not use videos or other forms of content? The printed page has been replaced by the multimedia experience from your laptop or whatever else.”

In addition to the new certification process, this fall MITx, MIT’s subset of the larger edX initiative, will launch a collection of courses linked to a particular discipline to offer more depth in a subject area.

The “XSeries” sequences will cover an amount of content equivalent to two to four traditional university courses and take between six months and two years to complete. The two inaugural XSeries sequences, which will launch this fall and next year, will each be divided into short, specific modules without direct on-campus equivalents.

According to HarvardX Faculty Director Robert A. Lue, Harvard’s branch of edX decided at this time not to launch an XSeries because faculty are still debating many questions regarding the execution of such an initiative.

—Staff writer Amna Hashmi can be reached at amnahashmi@college.harvard.edu. Follow her on Twitter @amna_hashmi.

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