Earlier today, Harvard and MIT announced edX, an open-source technology platform designed to deliver online courses. Now, anyone from around the world with an Internet connection can have access to, what MIT President Susan Hockfield called, “one of the best kept secrets of Cambridge and the entire higher education community” — the “richness of collaborations” between Harvard and MIT.

Last year, I published a piece on the history of MIT OpenCourseWare. In it, I referenced the press conference where then president, Charles Vest, introduced the initiative, calling it innovative, saying:

It expresses our belief in the way that education can be advanced by constantly widening access to knowledge and information, and by inspiring others to participate. Simply put, OpenCourseWare is a natural marriage of American higher education and the capabilities of the World Wide Web.

The same could have been said at today’s press conference. In an introductory video, online education was called “the single biggest change in education since the printing press.” So, what’s happened to traditional education since OpenCourseWare launched in 2001? Nothing. Or at least, not what was expected. Hockfield said it best:

Today, in higher education, generally, you can choose to view this era as one of threatening change and unsettling volatility, or you can see it as a moment charged with the most exciting possibilities presented to educators in our lifetimes. […] Online education is not an enemy of residential education, but rather a profoundly liberating and inspiring ally.

When asked “What will happen to traditional education,” Hockfield can respond, “Look at OpenCourseWare.” Students haven’t stopped attending brick and mortar institutions, but have, instead, supplemented their traditional education with the more non-traditional online courses.

Anant Agarwal, the newly-appointed president of edX, admitted, “OpenCourseWare started a revolution,” and said that many of those who’ve registered for MITx initially did so because they were used to taking OpenCourseWare classes. What the edX platform will offer, however, is increased interactivity, discussion forums, grades and a university-sanctioned certificate upon completion.

Could this mark the end of the OpenCourseWare era? With over 2,000 published courses and only one edX class available, my guess is “no.” OpenCourseWare could, indeed, compliment the edX platform and I agreed with Agarwal when he said, “The more online educators we have, I think the better off the world is.” Agarwal even referenced Khan Academy, acknowledging Salman Khan “as a leader” for his creativity and innovation.

Today’s edX announcement should mark a similar moment in history. One that’s full of just as much promise. By the time the first MITx course launched, 90,000 people had already registered; it’s clear the excitement is there. “edX is, in the very best sense, a work in progress. But, is it also an act of progress,” Hockfield said. And I’m finding it hard to disagree.

For an inside look at the press conference, check out the photos below and video of the conference, itself, courtesy of edX.


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