Harvard and MIT Team Up to Educate a Billion People Online

The new online learning platform edX will bring a Harvard and MIT education to the planet.

Last December MIT took its decade-old Open Course Ware initiative to the next level when it announced the launch of MITx, a nonprofit online platform that would allow students anywhere in the world to take MIT classes for free. Now MIT has joined forces with its neighbor, Harvard, to launch a new online learning platform, edX, that aims to share knowledge with an even greater number of learners.

Harvard provost Alan Garber says MITx was such a game changer—over 120,000 students from around the globe signed up for the first class, slightly fewer than the total number of living MIT alumni—Harvard knew they wanted to be a part of it. As a result, the schools are investing $30 million each to jumpstart edX as an umbrella organization that will oversee MITx and the just-announced HarvardX.

Representatives from both schools say edX is a work in progress but it will retain the core components of MITx: Anyone in the world with an internet connection will be able to sign up for a class. The classes won't be MIT or Harvard-lite—they'll have the same academic quality as classes taught on campus. And, if a student if completes all assignments and exams and is able to demonstrate mastery of the material, for a fee they’ll receive a certificate of completion. While MIT provost Rafael Reif says the driving force behind edX isn’t to make money, it can't "become a drain on the budgets of Harvard and MIT." The schools have yet to announce the cost for each certificate, although they say it will be "modest."

Along with developing edX into a robust online learning platform that MIT and Harvard hope will eventually educate a billion people, the schools plan to use the initiative to research personalized learning and collaboration technologies. Anant Agarwalr, an MIT professor of electrical engineering and computer science who is the first president of edX, says they're eager to "understand how people are learning." Indeed, the amount of data that edX will generate will help educators get a clearer picture of how students learn in the 21st century.

EdX hopes other colleges and universities will partner with them under the "X" banner—NorthwesternX, or BerkeleyX, for example—in order to expand the depth and breadth of available courses on the platform. But will edX eventually replace traditional university degree programs? MIT president Susan Hockfield says she doesn’t believe online education is an enemy of residential learning. Instead of seeing developments like edX as threatening, Hockfield wants people to see the possibilities and benefits to the global community of learners.

The first edX classes will be announced this summer, and will kick off in the fall. Given that Open Course Ware has educated over a hundred million people over the past decade, edX's goal of educating a billion might just be attainable.

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The problem with American Sign Language (ASL) is that over 500,000 people in the U.S. use it, but the country has over 330 million people.

So for those with hearing loss, the chances of coming into contact with someone who uses the language are rare. Especially outside of the deaf community.

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Looking back, the year 1995 seems like such an innocent time. America was in the midst of its longest streak of peace and prosperity. September 11, 2001 was six years away, and the internet didn't seem like much more than a passing fad.

Twenty-four years ago, 18 million U.S. homes had modem-equipped computers, 7 million more than the year before. Most logged in through America Online where they got their email or communicated with random strangers in chat rooms.

According to a Pew Research study that year, only 32% of those who go online say they would miss it "a lot" if no longer available.

Imagine what those poll numbers would look like if the question was asked today.

RELATED: Bill and Melinda Gates had a surprising answer when asked about a 70 percent tax on the wealthiest Americans

"Few see online activities as essential to them, and no single online feature, with the exception of E-Mail, is used with any regularity," the Pew article said. "Consumers have yet to begin purchasing goods and services online, and there is little indication that online news features are changing traditional news consumption patterns."

"Late Night" host David Letterman had Microsoft founder and, at that time the richest man in the world, on his show for an interview in '95 to discuss the "the big new thing."

During the interview Letterman chided Gates about the usefulness of the new technology, comparing it to radio and tape recorders.

Gates seems excited by the internet because it will soon allow people to listen to a baseball game on their computer. To which Letterman smugly replies, "Does radio ring a bell?" to laughter from the crowd.

But Gates presses Letterman saying that the new technology allows you to listen to the game "whenever you want," to which Letterman responds, "Do tape recorders ring a bell?"

Gates then tells Letterman he can keep up with the latest in his favorite hobbies such as cigar smoking or race cars through the internet. Letterman shuts him down saying that he reads about his interests in magazines.

RELATED: Bill Gates has five books he thinks you should read this summer.

The discussion ends with the two laughing over meeting like-minded people in "troubled loner chat room on the internet."

The clip brings to mind a 1994 segment on "The Today Show" where host Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric have a similar discussion.

"What is internet anyway?" an exasperated Gumball asks. "What do you write to it like mail?"

"It's a computer billboard but it's nationwide and it's several universities all joined together and it's getting bigger and bigger all the time," a producer explains from off-stage.

Photo by Li-An Lim on Unsplash

The future generations will have to live on this Earth for years to come, and, not surprisingly, they're very concerned about the fate of our planet. We've seen a rise in youth activists, such as Greta Thunberg, who are raising awareness for climate change. A recent survey indicates that those efforts are working, as more and more Americans (especially young Americans) feel concerned about climate change.

A new CBS News poll found that 70% of Americans between 18 and 29 feel climate change is a crisis or a serious problem, while 58% of Americans over the age of 65 share those beliefs. Additionally, younger generations are more likely to feel like it's their personal responsibility to address climate change, as well as think that transitioning to 100% renewable energy is viable. Overall, 25% of Americans feel that climate change is a "crisis," and 35% feel it is a "serious problem." 10% of Americans said they think climate change is a minor problem, and 16% of Americans feel it is not a problem that worries them.

The poll found that concern for the environment isn't a partisan issue – or at least when it comes to younger generations. Two-thirds of Republicans under the age of 45 feel that addressing climate change is their duty, sentiments shared by only 38% of Republicans over the age of 45.

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