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2U and edX, two major players in the online learning ecosystem, announced Tuesday that they would combine to create an entity that would reach 50 million learners and serve most of the best universities in the United States and the world.

2U, the publicly traded company that is by far the largest of the online program management providers, said it would pay $800 million to buy the assets of edX, the nonprofit online course provider that Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology teamed up to create nearly a decade ago.

The assets of the transaction will flow to a new nonprofit organization managed by Harvard and MIT that will focus on "inclusive learning and education," the new partners said in a news release. The new entity will operate as a public benefit entity.

"Guided by the efforts and insights from Harvard and MIT research on the dynamics of learning, the nonprofit will collaborate with educational institutions, governments and other organizations to develop and evaluate new approaches to learning and pedagogy; invest in new learning models that combine the best of online and in-person; promote the adoption of best practices across the education continuum; support innovation in lifelong learning; and advance next generation learning experience platforms, including Open edX. This work will seek to improve educational outcomes and reduce inequities in education by expanding reach to historically underserved communities and preparing all learners for success."

2U, in turn, will tap into the 39 million learners that take courses from edX, providing a ready flow of potential students for the degree programs, boot camps and short courses offered by 2U's university partners.

2U and Coursera, the major for-profit massive open online course provider founded at roughly the same time as the nonprofit edX, have been on a collision course of increasing competition in recent years, and 2U's partnership with edX puts them in even more direct competition.

“2U and edX were founded on a shared vision that online education has the power to expand access, create opportunity, and transform lives,” Christopher (Chip) Paucek, 2U's co-founder and CEO, said in the news release. “By combining 2U and edX’s global reach and offerings from free to degree, together we believe we can fully realize our shared vision, meet the growing worldwide demand for online education, and deliver growth and long-term value to shareholders and other stakeholders.”

This is a developing story.

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