We don’t yet know what a 2U owned edX will mean for edX partner colleges and universities. We can make (hopefully informed) hypotheses about the pros and cons for schools (and learners) of this acquisition, but the truth is that that future is unwritten.
What we can do with confidence is look backward.
The transition of edX from an independent nonprofit to part of a for-profit seems like the right time to consider what edX has meant to us up until now.
We want to acknowledge that for the two of us, the story of edX is highly personal. The two of us first met and started collaborating at an edX meeting. The nucleus of the HAIL Storm academic innovation group was formed (in part) from members of the edX consortium.
We have grown close over the years with colleagues from other edX institutions, such as Brown, BU, Caltech, Chicago, Cornell, Davidson, Georgia Tech, Harvard, Maryland, Michigan, MIT, Penn, Stanford, Texas, and others.
The edX consortium also helped foster a series of close international relationships and collaborations with colleagues from Australia, Canada, China, France, Great Britain, Hong Kong, Japan, India, Netherlands, and other schools from across the globe.
The cross-institutional networks first formed in the context of the edX consortium have remained durable. The collegial connections first nurtured in the context of a movement towards open online learning are still strong, even as the original purposes underlying those collaborations have evolved.
There was something about the composition, size, and specificity of the edX consortium that was highly generative for cross-institutional relationship building. The trust that developed between edX consortium members may have been, in part, a function of constraints. Each school had a shared and common purpose of creating open online courses.
This narrowness of objectives contrasts with how academic staff typically collaborate with peers at other institutions. Those meetings, customarily hosted by professional associations, cover broad ranges of topics and goals.
As is often the case, constraints breed creativity. Sharing a common starting place — creating and running open online courses with thousands of learners — served to enable broader conversations.
Perhaps unintentionally, edX created something that was in many respects more impactful than its platform or catalog of courses.
Members of the edX consortium became a trusted group to discuss the challenges facing higher education. We spent as much time talking about residential, face-to-face learning as we did on open online courses. MOOCs, and the networks formed through the edX Consortium, were a lever for institutional change.
In recent years, the centrality of the edX consortium as a network for institutional change-makers has receded a bit. Other networks, such as HAIL Storm and those formed by Coursera partners, have expanded the network of academic innovators. As the networks have expanded beyond the original edX member institutions, they have become more inclusive and representative of the broader postsecondary ecosystem. (Although there is still a long way to go on this front).
Professional associations, such as ACE, EDUCAUSE, NAICU, OLC, POD, UPCEA, WCET, and others, have invested in developing networks to support academic innovation. New groups, such as the University Innovation Alliance and ShapingEDU, have created spaces where educators can collaborate on learning-centric institutional change initiatives.
The edX consortium was only one node in a larger constellation of groups and organizations collaborating across colleges and universities to advance teaching and learning through an institutional change lens.
We don’t know what will happen to the edX consortium. The new nonprofit formed from the revenue from the sale of edX to 2U may begin to play the role of connector and convener. Or perhaps a new 2U-powered edX consortial network will emerge.
These are early days in the post-nonprofit edX era.
What is undoubtedly true, and deserves to be marked, is the essential role that the edX consortium has played over the past decade in developing and nurturing the community of learning innovators.