EdX: Expanding Education Beyond the American University

In May 2012, faculty from Harvard University and MIT teamed up to create a massive open online course (MOOC) platform for students and institutions of higher education alike. But unlike its for-profit MOOC peers Coursera and Udacity, edX—the new venture—was guided by more academic, pedagogical goals. By making its source code accessible to the public and licensing the distribution rights to its software, edX now allows participating institutions to adopt its platform for their own use and improve the existing code—for free.

Today, edX boasts 1.6 million users from around the world and provides courses from some of the world’s best educational institutions spanning fields from biology and computer science to literature and music.

According to its website, edX bases its mission on a three-part philosophy—expanding universal access to education, enhancing teaching and learning both on campus and online, and advancing teaching and learning through research.

“This is about experimentation; it’s about research; it’s about rethinking education,” said Harvard Provost Alan M. Garber ’76 last May, when the initial partnership between Harvard and MIT was announced.

Although conceived by two elite American institutions of higher education, edX has quickly established a global footprint among not only college students, but also working adults and high-schoolers looking to supplement their formal degrees.

As edX continues to expand its presence overseas and partners with an increasingly diverse array of non-educational institutions, professors and students agree on the initiative’s international significance but say its precise impact on the landscape of higher education remains uncertain.