On May 2, 2012, the presidents of MIT and Harvard University stood side by side to introduce edX, a jointly owned, not-for-profit venture to deliver open online learning opportunities to anyone around the world with an internet connection. The goals of the enterprise include increased access to educational opportunities worldwide, enhancement of on-campus education, and research about effective technology-mediated education. The respective university efforts to achieve these goals are known as HarvardX and MITx.

The potential of new technologies is presenting all of us in higher education with a historic opportunity: the opportunity to better serve society by reinventing what we do and how we do it. It is an opportunity we must seize." 

— MIT President Rafael Reif

MITx Working Papers

A series of live research documents known as "MITx Working Papers," prepared under the auspices of the MIT Office of Digital Learning, in collaboration with the HarvardX Research Committee.

Year 1

The first three MITx courses launched in the Fall of 2012, seven more courses launched in the Spring of 2013, and one in the Summer of 2013. This first year of MITx courses on edX were described in initial reports available to the public (in tandem with the reports on the respective HarvardX courses). They address simple questions across multiple courses: Who registered?  What did they do?  Where are they from?

HarvardX and MITx: The First Year of Open Online Courses (MITx Working Paper #1)

Cover of the MITx Working Paper #1

The first three MITx open online courses launched on the edX platform in September, 2012; seven more courses launched in Spring 2013. This report and its companion course reports examine these initial six course offerings — alongside the initial 7 HarvardX courses — in order to inform ongoing course design and research. Data from these initial offerings are analyzed in order to inform ongoing course design and research.

Results from this paper were presented at the Harvard Graduate School of Education on January 21, 2013.

Working papers 2 through 12 are individual course reports.  We strongly encourage reading these reports (and the companion HarvardX course reports) as a package to understand the full story of the HarvardX and MITx initiative in its first year:

Working paper 13: Participants in massive open online courses (MOOCs) come from an incredibly diverse set of backgrounds and act with a wide range of intentions. Interestingly, our own recent surveys of 11 MITx courses on edX in the spring of 2014 show that teachers (versus traditional college students) are a significant fraction of MITx MOOC participants. This suggests many ways to improve and harness MOOCs, including the potential arising from the collective professional experience of participants, opportunities for facilitating educator networks, MOOCs as a venue for expert-novice interactions, and possible added value from enhancing teacher experience through accreditation models and enabling individual teacher re- use of MOOC content. Here, we present data in detail from these teacher enrollment surveys, illuminate teacher participation in discussion forums, and draw lessons for improving the utility of MOOCs for teachers.

Working paper 14: Open data has tremendous potential for science, but, in human subjects research, there is a tension between privacy and releasing high-quality open data. Federal law governing student privacy and the release of student records suggests that anonymizing student data protects student privacy. Guided by this standard, we de-identified and released a dataset from 16 massive open online courses (MOOCs) from MITx and HarvardX on the edX platform. We show that these and other de-identification procedures necessitate changes to datasets that threaten replication and extension of baseline analyses. In order to balance student privacy and the benefits of open data, we suggest focusing on protecting privacy without anonymizing data by instead expanding policies that compel researchers to uphold the privacy of the subjects in open datasets. If we want to have high-quality social science research and also protect the privacy of human subjects, we must eventually have trust in researchers. Otherwise, we will always have the strict trade-off between anonymity and science illustrated here.

Year 2

What happens when well-known universities offer online courses, assessments, and certificates of completion for free? Early descriptions of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have emphasized large enrollments, low certification rates, and highly educated registrants. We use data from two years and 68 open online courses offered by Harvard University (via HarvardX) and MIT (via MITx) to broaden the scope of answers to this question. We describe trends over this two-year span, depict participant intent using comprehensive survey instruments, and chart course participation pathways using network analysis. We find that overall participation in our MOOCs remains substantial and that the average growth has been steady. We explore how diverse audiences—including explorers, teachers-as-learners, and residential students—provide opportunities to advance the principles on which HarvardX and MITx were founded: access, research, and residential education.

Cover of the MITx Year 2 Report

This "Year 2" report is one of the largest surveys of massive open online courses (MOOCs) to date, covering 68 courses, 1.7 million participants, 10 million participant-hours, and 1.1 billion logged events.