Getting an education from two of the most pre-eminent universities in the world will soon be as easy going online.
At least, that’s the unified goal of Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which on Wednesday announced they were teaming-up to offer a new online education program, dubbed “edX.”
The inaugural class begins in the fall of this year, and the initial courses are expected to be announced in the summer.
Not only that, but there are absolutely no pre-requisites for the initial courses, aside from having a working computer or mobile device that can connect to the Internet.
“Anybody can sign up, there is no admissions process, there are no entrance exams, nothing” said Anant Agarwal, director of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday afternoon.
Harvard and MIT expect “millions” of Web users to enroll in the edX courses, based on the startling number of users, some 120,000 who signed up for an online MIT course on circuitry over the spring.
That course was developed under MIT’s previous and ongoing effort in open source online learning, a program called MITx first unveiled in December 2011. MITx is now being folded into the joint edX project.
Those 120,000 students who registered for MITx’s single circuits and electronics course were almost equal to the number of MIT’s living alumni, according to MIT president Susan Hockfield in a press conference announcing edX on Wednesday. Watch her remarks and those of other MIT and Harvard administrators in the video below:
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The two institutions have prepared the edX platform accordingly, hosting the online course content in what’s known as the “flexible cloud,” or a cloud-based platform that can rapidly expand to include new servers and corresponding new storage space, to accomodate an influx of new users.
“It completely turns the admission process on its head,” Agarwal added, “The idea is that of an inverted funnel — if you sign up and do well on exams you can get certification…All you need is a platform that supports any of the major Web browsers.”
Agarwal further said that the majority of edX’s online instruction could also been done using a mobile device such as a smartphone or tablet. The only portion of the online education that would require a desktop computer is the “online laboratory” component of some courses, but Agarwal told reporters that the edX developers were working to make this accessible on mobile browsers as well.
MIT and Harvard haven’t yet announced how many courses will be offered come summer, but administrators of the program said that these details were still being worked out.
Still, MIT and Harvard are clearly heavily invested in the success of the program, pouring a combined $60 million into it, $30 million from each institution.
Furthermore, although MIT and Harvard administrators said that they would consider adding some paid courses for continuing education or professional students to edX’s offerings, the focus will remain centered on providing as many Web users as possible with free online education at the university level.
“There is a serious commitment from both universities to free online content,” said Alan Garber, Provost of Harvard, in the conference call, “We expect to try a variety of [payment] approaches, but we also expect much content to be available for free going forward.”