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Harvard has joined with MIT to deliver courses over the Internet, for free, to anyone in the world. The new joint venture, called edx, builds upon MIT’s existing online learning platform, MITx, which already runs a handful of courses, including Circuits and Electronics, for around 120,000 students worldwide. 

The courses offered through edx will incorporate video lessons, online quizzes, and real-time feedback. Students will receive a certificates of mastery for their efforts. In recent years, there has been a massive groundswell in online learning—enabled by high-speed Internet connections, ubiquitous computers, and back-end technology like cloud computing. Edx is just the latest—and most prestigious—endorsement of that phenomenon.

It’s interesting to see technology being used to make teaching more efficient. But platforms like edx could also help institutions such as MIT and Harvard identify and nurture the smartest students from anywhere in the world. 

Anant Agrawal, director of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and leader of the development of MITx, says edx will also involve researching new ways of automating the learning process—including machine-learning to grade written papers. He adds that such a massive interactive learning platform will offer a chance to run completely new kinds of experiments, and explore how people learn and improve that process. The research will feed into the courses offered on campus at MIT and Harvard as well as those offered through edx.

When asked who the leader of the online interactive learning trend is, Agrawal singled out Salman Khan, the MIT and Harvard grad who started out tutoring his cousins via YouTube, and went on to create the online learning platform Khan Academy.

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