edX Acquired For $800 Million
Written by Sue Gee   
Wednesday, 30 June 2021

News that the non-profit MOOC provider edX  has been sold to 2U, a for-profit online course provider, for $800 million seems to signal the end of a remarkable era. What does it mean for existing edX courses and students  and what can we expect from the next iteration of an educational non-profit from MIT and Harvard?


From a joint announcement made today by edX and 2U comes the news that 2U is acquiring substantially all of edX's assets, including its brand and website. The merged educational platform is anticipated to reach over 50 million learners globally, serve more than 230 partners, and offer over 3,500 digital programs, making it the biggest player in the online education marketplace. Proceeds of the transaction, $800M in cash, are destined to enable edX founders, Harvard and MIT, operating as a non-profit to have another go at:

reimagining the future of learning for people at all stages of life, addressing educational inequalities, and continuing to advance next generation learning experiences and platforms.   

edX needs no introduction to us at IProgrammer. We covered news of its launch in May 2012, reporting:

MIT and Harvard have committed $30 million each in institutional support, grants and philanthropy to launch  edX, an east-west coast collaboration that will deliver "near-term course offerings" from both institutions.


While benefitting students around the world by providing free access to undergraduate and graduate level courses, edX is also intended to contribute to the experience of campus-based students of the two institutions. 

Since then we've covered many of its courses and on the introduction of distinctive offerings including XSeries and MicroMasters Programs.

On the other hand, until today we'd never reported on 2U, which predates both edX and IProgrammer. Why is this the first time that it had had any coverage on I Programmer? One reason is that none of its content is free. The other is that prior to acquiring edX it didn't cover core programming topics.

Originally called 2tor, 2U was founded in 2008 as an Online Program Management Company for university-level courses with the aim of expanding access to higher education by bringing content from "great nonprofit universities" online, establishing partnerships with many of the same Universities as edX. Over time it has expanded its portfolio and currently offers not only graduate and undergraduate degrees, but also hundreds of professional certificates, short courses, and boot camps. Its 2019 TransparencyReport revealed it had 70 partners and more than 400 educational offerings from which over 150K students had graduated.


Commenting on its relationship to edX, 2U's co-founder and CEO, Chip Paucek, said:  

"Although 2U and edX have each charted distinct paths over the past decade in defining and shaping online education, we have shared two core beliefs from inception. First, that great nonprofit universities are the most powerful engines of social and economic mobility. And second, that online learning has the potential to change lives and, in doing so, change the world."




edX will go forward as a "public benefit entity", a term defined as:

a class of purpose-driven organizations that balances the interests of shareholders with other stakeholders.

Among the conditions that 2U has agreed, the one that is important to edX learners is:

  • guaranteeing affordability through the continuation of a free track to audit courses

Offering students the option of free access not only to course content but also to assignments was what kept edX close to the MOOC philosophy that burst upon us a decade ago. Although the term MOOC - Massive Open Online Course - had been coined even earlier, it was new to me when I first used it in 2012 and didn't even apply it at the time to what we now look back on as the catalyst to establishing Coursera, Udacity and edX - namely Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig's Introduction to Artificial Intelligence. 

This free MOOC marked the start of a golden age for learning about computer science and related disciplines from people with a passion for sharing their knowledge  and in the virtual company of eager and enthusiastic learners. The MOOC phenomenon was such that the Oxford Online Dictionary added an entry referring to it in 2013:

MOOC (‘massive open online course’: a course of study made available over the Internet without charge to a very large number of people)

Note the "free of charge" in this definition.

While merging with 2U seems to mark a discontinuous change, in his Letter to the MIT Community, MIT President, L. Rafael Reif, puts a positive spin on the future prospects both for edX and its non-profit successor, writing: 

"The overall agreement actively sustains the mission of edX through a series of provisions that protect learner data, ensure free and low-cost access to courses, preserve choice for partner universities and faculty, and continue the open-source platform Open edX

The proceeds of the transaction – $800 million – will flow into a nonprofit entity with a refreshed educational mission and a new name. Governed by MIT and Harvard, this nonprofit will steward and enhance the Open edX platform and explore promising new ideas for making online learning more effective, engaging and personalized.."

He goes on to suggest that the funds could be used to  invest in the potential of AI and other tools to make online learning more responsive and answer the criticisms made in MOOCs Fail Students With Dark Age Methods.

We will have to wait and see how it all turns out in practice but one thing is clear the heady, pioneering days of the MOOC are well and truly over.



More Information 

2U and edX to Join Together in Industry-Redefining Combination

A new future for edX

MIT and Harvard agree to transfer edX to ed-tech firm 2U

Related Articles

Harvard and MIT Join Forces in edX

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MOOCs - A Critique

Peter Norvig On The 100,000-Student Classroom

Harvard and MIT Join Forces in edX

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Last Updated ( Wednesday, 30 June 2021 )