Harvard and MIT Launch Online Venture Promoting Access

Following the success and sale of edX, Harvard and MIT launch a new nonprofit promising to address educational inequality. We just don't know how it will do that.
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  • Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have created Axim Collaborative with funds realized from the 2021 sale of edX.
  • This new nonprofit aims to address educational inequalities and reach underserved student populations.
  • It's unclear exactly how Axim will achieve its goals.

Almost two years after selling edX to 2U, Harvard and MIT have debuted Axim Collaborative, a nonprofit venture promising to broaden access to learning and address gaps in educational attainment.

How it plans to achieve that is anyone's guess.

Axim Collaborative Promises to Level Playing Field

We're working to elevate the playing field for learners everywhere, Axim Collaborative's website boldly states. And we're just getting started.

The nonprofit's rhetoric certainly matches what Harvard and MIT promised in 2021 when they sold edX to the online tech company 2U. With $800 million in proceeds, the universities sought to create a new entity focused on 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.

Since then, that philosophy has been manifest in the Center for Reimagining Learning, which, given the unfortunate acronym tCRIL, thankfully has been a temporary moniker.

The new iteration, Axim Collaborative, derives its name from access and impact. Its pitch gains a measure of specificity, but not much:

Through research, development, and partnerships, we make learning effective, accessible, and relevant to a diverse audience of learners and institutions. In the months ahead, we'll be investing in partnerships and digital technologies to reimagine how communities teach, learn, and excel.

Some observers expected more details at this stage.

Two years ago, they said something vague, Dhawal Shah, founder of the online course portal Class Central, told Inside Higher Ed. Now, two years later, they're also saying something vague.

Axim Collaborative also runs the Open edX project, a massively scalable learning technology platform used by educational institutions and companies such as Microsoft and IBM.

Axim's Plans Mired in Fuzzy Rhetoric

In April, Axim Collaborative announced the appointment of Stephanie Khurana as CEO. Khurana has a background in social venture philanthropy and as a technology entrepreneur and has held several positions at Harvard.

I'm excited to take on this opportunity to help learners realize their educational and career aspirations, Khurana said in a release. We have unique potential using Axim's resources and capabilities to catalyze efforts that will make a difference of a lifetime for so many people.

According to The Harvard Gazette, Axim Collaborative plans to focus on learners who have been historically and systemically underserved by current education and workforce systems. In its initial phase, the nonprofit will emphasize degree and credential completion, along with postgraduate employment.

By building on longstanding relationships with partner universities and other institutions and organizations serving these learners, the Gazette notes, Axim Collaborative hopes to catalyze the research, technology, and organizational capacity to increase learner success.

A Harvard Magazine article offers a few more details about Axim's plans, noting that it will apparently embrace associate as well as four-year programs, along with nondegree credentials and certificates; identify low-income, first-generation, and minority students underserved by traditional colleges; and prioritize U.S.-based students.

Fuzzy rhetoric aside, Axim Collaborative might deserve some benefit of the doubt given edX's success in democratizing access to learning and delivering on its promise to provide opportunities to learners everywhere, as it did for some 42 million people. How Axim builds on that track record should become more evident during its first phase of existence.

But for now, we can only speculate on how these educational platitudes will translate into meaningful engagement with the people Axim aims to serve.