Harvard University and MIT have recently launched a new online course platform called 'edX.' It has been designed with many purposes, from simply giving access to the universities caliber of instruction to the Internet community, to furthering education research for the betterment of all universities. The students of edX are not just students but may be subjects too (and there is nothing wrong with that).
Online classes are not exactly new, as universities across the country have been using them to either supplement their residential course or completely replace the classroom environment. From the point of view of these two universities though, the edX courses will only supplement their own, and will not give students course credit. However, it will be possible for an edX student to apply for certification. This certification will not be from MIT or Harvard, but will still prove a level of mastery has been achieved.
With the potential of thousands of students in a single class, the potential to study how people learn will not be wasted. Information will be gathered on how the courses are used and how the students interact, to potentially develop better teaching methods. These methods, after careful scrutiny, can then be tested on the students to see if they really do help the learning process.
MIT and Harvard invite other universities to join edX and to facilitate this are making the edX platform open source. This will allow anyone and everyone to modify the code to edX to either benefit the edX platform or to create something new. Regardless of what software changes the platform sees, and what partners join the program, this will undoubtedly be a major learning tool for thousands of people across Earth.