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EdX Begins Testing a Paywall

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MOOC provider edX will be moving away from its current model of offering almost everything free. The nonprofit announced last month that the decision was intended to help it and its partners "achieve sustainability." The first charge to be introduced is a "modest" support fee, according to a blog post on the change. The massive open online course operation will continue its practice of charging for a "verified certificate," made available to students who successfully complete their course within the deadline. Though, as CEO Anant Agarwal added in his post, financial assistance will continue to be "abundant and easily accessible for learners who need it."

EdX has been struggling to figure out how to support its work ever since Harvard University and MIT first opened it for learning in 2012. Both institutions kickstarted the initiative with initial investments of $30 million each. That was supplemented shortly afterward by fees paid by other universities, either for edX-supported MOOCs or for courses self-hosted on edX's open source version of the platform.

In 2016, edX announced its "MicroMasters" programs, consisting of sets of credit-worthy, graduate-level courses that students can take for fees far lower than what they'd be charged by the school producing the classes. Then they can apply those credits toward earning a full master degree in the institution. Or they can use their MicroMasters as job traction with sponsoring industry partners, including Microsoft, IBM and Boeing. For example, GE will guarantee an interview in its Boston office for an internship or full-time role to anybody who passes all of the courses in any one of four MicroMasters programs: supply chain management, cloud computing, artificial intelligence or cybersecurity. Microsoft is offering a free edX certificate to any Massachusetts community college student who finishes the "Introduction to Computer Science" certificate program on edX.

The support fee probably won't be the last one, according to Agarwal. "Moving forward, we will continue to test ways that we can provide affordable access in order to ensure that edX and our partners have the necessary resources to continue to offer high-quality content, further develop features that improve the learning experience, continue to improve and offer our Open edX software platform for free to anyone in the world that wants to use it, and continue to collaborate with our partners to invest in research that positively impacts the future of online learning."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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