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Martin Barrett
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Is edX Actually Harvard: Was EdX Founded By Harvard?

There is no shortage of online learning platforms out there, but if you’re looking for one with a bit of pedigree, you can’t go wrong with edX, not just because of the quality and quantity of free online courses available, but because it was founded by some pretty notable institutions.

Was one of the Harvard Business School, the number one ranked higher education institution in the world? Yep, and get this, their partner and co-founder of the edX platform is none other than MIT, another Massachusetts institution, currently ranked as the second best in the nation.

So Is edX Actually Harvard? Let’s talk about that!

That’s some pretty impressive lineage, no? Although enrolling in one or more popular edX courses consists and doesn’t come with the prestige of attending either of the founding institutions, at the very least, you know you’re in good hands, and you’ll receive a top-notch education. 

Why Did Harvard & MIT Found EdX?

Considering both Harvard and MIT pride themselves on exclusivity, a massive online open course provider seems like a rather odd venture, but when you break it down, it actually makes a lot of sense.

Cutting Out The Middle Man

Prior to edX, the largest online course provider affiliated with actual education institutions was Coursera, and when students, colleges, and universities chose to work with this platform and enjoy individual courses, a large fraction of the fees went to the vendor party.

Prices were high, and the mission to educate was seen by many as a flimsy money-making front, and it was out of this dissatisfaction that edX was born.

Democratizing Higher Education

A completely non-profit organization, edX course costs are minimal and even offers some professional education courses for free. This meant that it was opening up quality education to a wider audience, helping a broad array of people change their lives through interactive learning exercises.

Despite the exclusivity of the founding institutions, edX was for just about everyone, which not only benefited individuals but the entire nation and beyond. 

People who perhaps would never have gotten an education now had the opportunity to get qualifications and achieve high levels of successful completion and fulfillment.

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The main reason these two giants of the higher education world decided to join forces and form a MOOC provider is, drum roll, please, research!

Neither Harvard University level courses nor MIT would make any money from edX, as that contradicted its foundational ethos, but they could siphon value from their online venture in other ways.

edX is effectively an advanced and completely transparent data mining project, but unlike Amazon and Google, researchers aren’t using this info to try and sell more products; they use it to try and gain a better understanding of distance education and weekly learning sequences in general.

Examples of the kind of data they utilize to do their research include, learner demographics and learner clicks. As well as general research, this data is used to improve the instructor-paced courses offered on edX, thus creating a mutually beneficial learning environment for students and educators alike.

EdX Partners

edX may have been the brainchild of Harvard and MIT, but over the years, it’s grown into a sprawling network of partnerships with huge corporations and additional educational institutions.

More collaborative than ever before, edX now celebrates associations with Microsoft, Arizona State University, General Electric, Tech Mahindra, Georgia Institute of Technology, The University of California San Diego, and many, many more.

As it stands, there are over 150 educational institutions connected to edX!

Is edX Actually Harvard: Was EdX Founded By Harvard?

Do Harvard & MIT Still Own & Run EdX?

Harvard and MIT recently sold edX to the for-profit educational technology company 2U. The deal was worth an incredible $800 million, involving the full transfer of ownership and operation to 2U.

Needless to say, some weren’t too happy about this move. In fact, Krishna Rajagopal, a dean of digital learning at MIT resigned in protest, remarking that he had “serious continuing reservations” regarding the direction of edX.

Before the sale, edX CEO and co-founder, Anant Agarwal mentioned that they were receiving a lot of “tough questions” about the move, but that the finer points of the deal were placating most detractors.

The majority of the complaints were centered around the “selling out” of the company, but every penny of the $800 million sale price would go towards learning-oriented non-profits and charities.

Neither Harvard, MIT, nor any employees at these institutions would receive any money from the sale, and even though 2U is a for-profit business, a stipulation in the deal was that a new non-profit affiliated with 2U handles maintenance and operations.

This all sounded pretty good, but it did beg the question of why 2U was so interested in purchasing such an expensive asset that wouldn’t generate any direct return.

Why Did 2U Acquire edX If They Can’t Make A Profit?

Throughout the years edX has become synonymous with high-quality, affordable education, so one of the most attractive things about edX in the eyes of 2U was the impeccable brand.

Affiliations with the prestigious founding institutions as well as the noble core ethos have made it a respectable and world-renowned name in education, and that’s primarily where 2U extract value from its acquisition.

While many people have certainly heard of 2U, rarely do they associate the name with education, so by acquiring edX, they can position a celebrated educational entity at the forefront of their identity and thus refine their own brand.

However, despite edX remaining a non-profit, there are ways 2U can use the platform to earn money.

For example, they can execute marketing campaigns aimed at herding edX users into degree programs at partner universities, or sell services to said partner universities for a fee, but therein lies the crux of the matter.

Even though 2U doesn’t profit directly from edX, the idea of turning edX into the engine that drives indirect profit still seems like a departure from the strict moral code at the company’s heart.

That said, 2U wasn’t just going to take, take, take. A large part of the agreement revolved around what 2U could give to the edX platform.

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Their Career Engagement Network, for instance, is a new addition to edX, a completely free tool that connects learners with prospective employers in professions relevant to their field of study.

Only paying edX customers would gain access to the tool, but they wouldn’t be charged an additional fee for using it.

Is EdX Still A Respectable Online Learning Platform?

Despite the questionable move to 2U, edX is still an amazing resource for online learning, as the free courses like computer science and data science are still designed by the big names in education, including the two founding institutions.

What’s more, 2U has kept its promise to maintain lots of self-paced courses. You won’t get access to the job placement tool, and you won’t receive a verified certificate, but you’ll get a lot of value out of the resources without having to pay a penny.

Final Thoughts

Was edX founded by Harvard? Yep, alongside their Massachusetts neighbor MIT, these esteemed educational institutions are no longer at the helm of what is considered the best online course provider.

The decision to sell edX to 2U was controversial, to say the least, but the good news for learners is that prices haven’t skyrocketed, and although those that brokered the deal may have lost respect, the platform itself has not.

This means that an edX certificate still holds a lot of value in the eyes of employers, so don’t let the transition of ownership deter you from enrolling and expanding your knowledge.

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