HarvardX To Provide Online Courses Restricted to Alumni

In an effort to sustain and strengthen alumni networks, HarvardX—the University’s branch of the online learning venture edX—will offer course content restricted to alumni beginning in March of this year.

The new program, called “HarvardX for Alumni,” was announced this weekend at the University’s annual Alumni Leadership Conference. The program will draw from pre-existing HarvardX courses such as CB22x: “The Ancient Greek Hero” and MCB80x: “Fundamentals of Neuroscience,” while adding new features such as forums for local Harvard Clubs and Shared Interest Groups as well as live chats with faculty, according to Robert A. Lue, the faculty director of HarvardX.

“One thing I’ve heard time and time again is that alumni really miss the connection to the courses, the new coursework that is going on, the intellectual life of the university. The Harvard Alumni Association really does a good job of trying to keep those ties strong, but ultimately, it’s hard for alumni to connect with the courses,” Lue said. “The idea is to use [HarvardX] as a foundation to really create an online environment that will pull alumni back to Harvard so they can reconnect and continue to network with their peers.”

The initiative, which has been nicknamed AlumniX, was born out of collaboration between the Harvard Alumni Association and HarvardX. Lue said he got the idea after a conversation at an alumni event with Sam W. Lessin ’05, who now works for Facebook.

“We were joking and saying, ‘This is how we’re going to achieve Harvard Class of Forever,” Lue said. “Wouldn’t it be great to—as you go through the world—continue to connect with new Harvard people?”

While AlumniX will share qualities of the overall HarvardX program, it will include a stronger, more explicit focus on networking, both among alumni and between alumni and the University.

“One of the things we were always concerned with was the question, ‘How do we make possible alumni connection?’ Socially, it’s not a problem. However, intellectually, this is more difficult,” Peter K. Bol, the vice provost for Advances in Learning, said. “That is what we are trying to do with AlumniX.”

In addition, AlumniX will serve as an incubator for experimentation with modular courseware, which combines components of multiple different courses interspersed with original material  such as interviews with faculty members.

“We’re increasingly interested in the power of modular content,” Lue said. “A ‘course’–that fixed thing–is not really the most effective bite size. Perhaps smaller modules will be more effective.”

Though HarvardX for Alumni was not conceived as a catalyst for the ongoing capital campaign, Lue said the reconnection it encourages might be beneficial to the campaign.

“There’s no direct and explicit connection [between HarvardX for Alumni and the capital campaign],” Lue said. “It’s not like we’re tied with the campaign in any way at all. However, one might argue that it’s always good for the campaign to reconnect with alumni. So that’s kind of frosting on the cake.”

—Staff writer Michael V. Rothberg can be reached at mrothberg@college.harvard.edu. Follow him on Twitter @mvrothberg.

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