‘Linux of online learning’ gets stronger: edX and Stanford team up to build open source platform

edx

In its mission to become the “Linux of online learning,” edX just got a powerful new partner. On Wednesday, the Harvard and MIT-backed non-profit is set to announce that it’s teaming up with Stanford to collaboratively develop the open-source edX platform.

Last fall, Stanford launched its own open-source online learning platform Class2Go, which it released to the public in January. Developed by a team of Stanford engineers, the platform was designed to support the university’s online classes and research. In addition to being open, the platform was intended to be inter-operable with other services and portable (meaning that the course content isn’t tied to one platform). But as part of the new collaboration, Stanford will cease development on that platform and focus its efforts on edX.

“[We’ll] fold in the key features of the Class2Go platform in the open-source edX and, together, we’ll be working on a single platform going ahead,” Anant Agarwal, president of edX, said on a call with reporters. “By putting all the wood behind one arrow, so to speak, we thought we could have a bigger impact.”

Since its launch, other schools around the world have started using Class2Go. While the platform will continue to be available to other users, John Mitchell, Stanford’s vice provost for online learning, said they’ll work with those schools to migrate to edX while it transitions its own courses.

The two organizations gave few details on how the collaboration would actually work. But they said that Class2Go’s analytics tools, which can track how long students watch a given video, which sections they repeat and other kinds of student activity on the site, are an example of the kinds of features that will be integrated with edX.

Despite Stanford’s collaboration on the edX platform, Mitchell said the university was not joining the “X University Consortium” of institutions that offer courses on the edX site — which is not entirely surprising given its affiliation with for-profit rival Coursera. The startup was launched by two Stanford professors and the university was one of its launch partners.

But even as Stanford and other top universities partner with for-profit online course providers, like Coursera and Udacity, the growing support for an open source platform shows that schools want to experiment with multiple approaches and be able to control and customize online educational courses and learning tools. The open-source approach means developers anywhere can add new tools to the platform, that professors can create online experiences that best suit their needs and that schools can learn from the innovation of others.

In addition to the Stanford partnership, edX also announced that on June 1, it will release the entire source code for the online learning platform. That development follows its announcement last month that it would release its XBlock SDK, the underlying architecture supporting edX course content.

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