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International Monetary Fund To Offer Courses Through edX

By Madeline R. Conway, Crimson Staff Writer

UPDATED: June 20, 2013, at 11:24 a.m.

The International Monetary Fund has announced that it will partner with edX to become the first body outside of higher education to offer courses through the online learning venture.

The IMF, an international governmental organization of 188 countries, has long offered courses in policy, finance, and economics to government officials in member nations at centers across the world. It plans to broaden its reach by providing instruction on these same topics to a wider audience through collaboration with edX, the free, nonprofit virtual education platform launched by Harvard and MIT last year. Twenty-five other colleges and universities have since joined the platform.

“This collaboration with the IMF demonstrates another innovative use of the edX platform,” edX president Anant Agarwal said in a press release dated Wednesday announcing the partnership. “It is a natural progression for us to work with a variety of other institutions seeking a flexible, feature-rich and massively-scalable platform to deliver their own educational programs.”

The IMF will pilot two online courses—“Financial Programming and Policies” and “Debt Sustainability Analysis”—that will be made available to groups of government officials in the months ahead and released to the public in 2014.

“We are delighted to join with edX in this new initiative, which will allow us to respond to the demands for more training from our member countries,” Sharmini A. Coorey ’80, director of the Institute for Capacity Development at the IMF, said in the press release. “We look forward to being able to offer online access to a broader audience through future massive open online courses.”

Following the announcement, several Harvard faculty members said expanding economic training programming through edX could serve to benefit people around the world.

Eric D. Werker, an associate professor at Harvard Business School who has researched emerging economies, wrote in an email that “all education has some element of public good to it.”

“When the target audience [of education] is policymakers in countries in poor countries, the public good element can be even stronger, since—at least in theory—they are there to create the regulatory scaffolding for citizens to improve their prosperity,” Werker wrote. “It makes sense to have this content be as widely available as possible, to make government itself more competitive and to give citizens the tools to engage with their governments.”

Michael Woolcock, a lecturer on public policy at the Kennedy School, said that organizations like the IMF that offer training programs as part of their business model can be constrained by distance and cost. Partnerships like the one with edX, he suggested, can help alleviate those constraints.

Woolcock, who is also lead social development specialist with the World Bank’s Development Research Group, said the online platform could be a “low-cost, high-access way of engaging with really routine and entry-level kinds of issues for some people, but around which there's a big payoff to having a broad base of understanding” of what he termed “core technical issues in development.”

“I imagine that’s the main imperative driving these kinds of partnerships,” he said.

—Staff writer Madeline R. Conway can be reached at mconway@college.harvard.edu. Follow her on Twitter @MadelineRConway.

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