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We'll forgive you if you failed to take MIT up on its offer take its courses for free when it rolled out its MITx online learning platform last year. However, Harvard took notice of its efforts, and has joined MIT online to form the edX platform and offer courses and content for free on the web. There's no word on the available subjects just yet, but video lessons, quizzes and online labs will all be a part of the curriculum, and those who comprehend the coursework can get a certificate of mastery upon completion. edX won't just benefit those who log on, either, as it'll be used to research how students learn and how technology can be used to improve teaching in both virtual and brick and mortar classrooms. The cost for this altruistic educational venture? 60 million dollars, with each party ponying up half. The first courses will be announced this summer, and classes are slated to start this fall. Want to know more? Check out the future of higher education more fully in the PR and video after the break.

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MIT and Harvard announce edX

Joint partnership builds on MITx and Harvard distance learning; aims to benefit campus-based education and beyond.

Harvard University and MIT today announced edX, a transformational new partnership in online education. Through edX, the two institutions will collaborate to enhance campus-based teaching and learning and build a global community of online learners.

EdX will build on both universities' experience in offering online instructional content. The technological platform recently established by MITx, which will serve as the foundation for the new learning system, was designed to offer online versions of MIT courses featuring video lesson segments, embedded quizzes, immediate feedback, student-ranked questions and answers, online laboratories and student-paced learning. Certificates of mastery will be available for those who are motivated and able to demonstrate their knowledge of the course material.

MIT and Harvard expect that over time other universities will join them in offering courses on the edX platform. The gathering of many universities' educational content together on one site will enable learners worldwide to access the course content of any participating university from a single website, and to use a set of online educational tools shared by all participating universities.

EdX will release its learning platform as open-source software so it can be used by other universities and organizations that wish to host the platform themselves. Because the learning technology will be available as open-source software, other universities and individuals will be able to help edX improve and add features to the technology.

MIT and Harvard will use the jointly operated edX platform to research how students learn and how technologies can facilitate effective teaching both on-campus and online. The edX platform will enable the study of which teaching methods and tools are most successful. The findings of this research will be used to inform how faculty use technology in their teaching, which will enhance the experience for students on campus and for the millions expected to take advantage of these new online offerings.

"EdX represents a unique opportunity to improve education on our own campuses through online learning, while simultaneously creating a bold new educational path for millions of learners worldwide," MIT President Susan Hockfield said.

Harvard President Drew Faust said, "edX gives Harvard and MIT an unprecedented opportunity to dramatically extend our collective reach by conducting groundbreaking research into effective education and by extending online access to quality higher education."

"Harvard and MIT will use these new technologies and the research they will make possible to lead the direction of online learning in a way that benefits our students, our peers, and people across the nation and the globe," Faust continued.

Jointly owned not-for-profit structure

The initiative will be overseen by a not-for-profit organization based in Cambridge, Mass., to be owned and governed equally by the two universities. MIT and Harvard have committed to a combined $60 million ($30 million each) in institutional support, grants and philanthropy to launch the collaboration.

Anant Agarwal, director of MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, who has led the development of the MITx platform under the leadership of MIT Provost L. Rafael Reif, will serve as the first president of edX.

At Harvard, Provost Alan Garber will direct the Harvardx effort and Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Michael D. Smith will play a leading role in working with faculty to develop and deliver courses.

It is anticipated that near-term course offerings from a range of Harvard and MIT schools will be included on the edX platform.

Research to enhance residential model

EdX will enhance the traditional residential model of undergraduate education on both campuses by supporting an unlimited number of experimental online approaches to teaching that can be used by Harvard and MIT faculty to benefit their students. It will also provide global access to some of the world-class instruction that already occurs at both institutions, but which is only one aspect of the full Harvard College and MIT experience.

"The campus environment offers opportunities and experiences that cannot be replicated online," Hockfield said. "EdX is designed to improve, not replace, the campus experience."

EdX will be separate from ongoing distance-learning initiatives at both institutions, including MIT OpenCourseWare and courses offered by schools at Harvard such as the Harvard Extension School, Harvard Business School and Harvard Medical School.

First courses by fall 2012

The universities will work to develop further the online learning platform already begun with MITx and to populate the edX website with courses from the MIT and Harvard faculty. During the early stages, the two universities will work cooperatively to offer as broad an initial set of courses as possible. A first set of courses is scheduled to be announced in early summer and to start in fall 2012.