GAZETTE: How will this change in ownership enable access to more diverse learners?
GARBER: Currently, a very large fraction of edX’s course completers — and this is also true for other EdTech providers such as Coursera — are individuals who have college degrees. Our data have shown that these platforms have provided an effective way for those who are already well-educated to continue their learning. Now, we are aiming to expand access beyond this group through two main avenues.
First is through the ongoing curation of edX by 2U. edX has done well for nearly a decade, and it’s something that we’re very proud of. It became evident, though, that as for-profit players in this space invested ever-increasing resources into their offerings and their technological platforms, edX risked falling behind. 2U has the resources to invest in new platforms and in marketing in ways that edX hasn’t been able to do as a nonprofit. This means 2U also has the ability to grow the platform into an entity that reaches even more learners and in new and innovative ways.
Of course, we conducted an extensive diligence process before deciding to move forward with an acquisition of edX by 2U, which has widespread experience collaborating with institutions of higher education. They have committed to continuing the mission of edX — in fact, this is spelled out in our agreements with them — and we’re confident it is the right company to take edX to the next level.
The second way in which we will tackle inequities in education is through our collaboration on the nonprofit with MIT. The nonprofit will address this critical issue through research and through partnerships with universities and community colleges and other educational organizations that work directly with learners, many of whom may be disadvantaged.
GAZETTE: What more can you tell us about the mission of the nonprofit?
BHARAT ANAND: The nonprofit will pursue three broad objectives: maximize the impact of online learning experiences for learners everywhere, with particular focus on under-resourced and historically disadvantaged communities; partner with a range of organizations to help prepare the workforce for the future; and develop next-generation learning experience platforms.
Through these activities, the nonprofit will expand the emphasis that Harvard and MIT have placed on edX to date, from high-quality content production and providing broad access (which 2U will continue to focus on through edX) toward high-quality learning experiences and targeted impact.
Of course, we don’t claim to have all the answers. The task of transforming the landscape of education is a massive, multigenerational one that will require close collaboration with those organizations working most closely with the learners we want to reach. Harvard and MIT have an obligation to share our considerable resources with the rest of the world and we intend to do so through the nonprofit.