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Update on edX

Dear Members of the Harvard Community,

Earlier today, Harvard and MIT announced the next phase of our joint effort to push the frontiers of online learning. 2U, Inc., a respected leader in educational technology, will acquire edX, and our institutions will use the proceeds of the transaction to fund a non-profit dedicated to transforming education for all. You can read more about the agreement in this interview in the Harvard Gazette.

Through the non-profit, Harvard and MIT will again collaborate to lead an extraordinary effort to put our knowledge and resources to work in the world. When we launched edX in 2012, we were committed to giving more people the opportunity to experience the intellectual resources that abound on our campuses and elsewhere. The results were remarkable—more than 39 million participants in some 3,300 courses offered by more than 160 member universities around the globe. We could not be prouder of the creativity, ingenuity, and effort, especially among members of the Harvard community, that made the past nine years of phenomenal growth possible.

So, why seek to start something new? Increasing access and operating at scale certainly brought more people to the table, but those people most in need of opportunities remain underserved, a situation exacerbated and underscored by the pandemic. If we hope to make progress toward addressing longstanding educational inequities, we have to invest our time and resources in those areas where we believe we can have outsized impact. The agreement with 2U ensures the sustainability of the edX mission—including continued access to low-cost and free courses—through capital investments at the level required to reach learners globally with a wide range of courses across multiple disciplines and fields. It extends and improves the freely available open source platform that has become the foundation for innovations in technology-enabled teaching and learning among institutions and individuals, and it promises the advancement of new learning experiences and platforms. The agreement also enables Harvard and MIT to focus in new ways on intractable problems that require concentrated and sustained effort.

Our non-profit will advance inclusion by driving innovations in learning that enrich and support people at all stages of education. It will develop partnerships with organizations that are doing outstanding work to identify, address, and close learning gaps, and it will enable the creation of programs and technologies that support those efforts—and many others. At the same time, it will build upon and extend the approaches that edX, Harvard, MIT, and other institutions have developed to reach learners. It is impossible to predict the kinds of impact that reimagining and reorienting our work will have, but it is inspiring to think about what it will mean to meet individuals where they are and to instill in them not just skills for the future but also a love of learning.

Thanks to the excellent work of many people across Harvard, we were able to enhance teaching and learning through edX and a complementary suite of online learning innovations that continue to accelerate across the University. Now, we have an opportunity to pursue with MIT a new endeavor enabled and emboldened by our success. We look forward to sharing more details about our non-profit in the weeks to come—and to everything that it will do to improve the lives of learners everywhere.

Lawrence S. Bacow

Alan M. Garber