Harvard and MIT have joined forces to launch the not-for-profit online learning venture edX, the two institutions announced today. Soon available at http://www.edxonline.org, the open-source platform will feature free online versions of their classes and those of other universities.

However, edX will be much more than a simple collection of videos. According to its creators, its purpose is to build a global community of online learners – hence the inclusion of wiki-based collaborative education. Additional features include self-paced learning, online discussion groups, assessment of training as a student progresses through a course, and online laboratories.

edx 150x150 Harvard and MIT put $60m in online learning joint venture EdXBesides catering to online learners around the world, this joint venture will also “support the Harvard and MIT faculty in conducting research on teaching and learning,” the FAQ detail. MIT President Susan Hockfield explains:

“EdX represents a unique opportunity to improve education on our own campuses through online learning, while simultaneously creating a bold new educational path for millions of learners worldwide.”

This isn’t the first time MIT has ventured into distance learning. As a matter of fact, its online platform MITx will serve as the foundation of edX, together with Harvard’s own class portfolio Harvardx. Yet, EdX will be separate from ongoing distance-learning initiatives at both institutions, such as MIT OpenCourseWare.

Still, edX represents a sizable investment for both institutions, which committed to a combined $60 million in institutional support, grants and philanthropy to support this project. As for its launch date, it seems we won’t have to wait very long before we see the first classes; an opening set of courses is scheduled to be announced in early summer and to start in fall 2012.

➤ EdX (soon available)