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Learning technology company edX is extending its reach with the launch of a series of online executive short courses for which participants will pay upfront to enrol. The move could pitch the provider in direct competition with traditional business schools.

The launch is a departure for edX, an initiative of MIT and Harvard, which has made its name as one of the two pioneers of Moocs - massive open online courses - which are free of charge. The Moocs on the edX platform are largely intended for university students.

The executive and professional courses will be shorter and more focused than the traditional Mooc, says Anant Agarwal, chief executive of edX, who acknowledges that there have been concerns about how Mooc platforms such as edX would make money.

“Sustainability has been an issue,” he says. “We don’t believe there is a single answer.”

As well as charging upfront for short professional courses, edX also licences courses to institutions. A third revenue source is that students who complete Moocs can be given the option of purchasing a verified certificate at the end of their programme.

Of the five executive programmes now available, one is business related. Authored by MIT Sloan, the programme is titled Engaging with Innovation Ecosystems: The Corporate Perspective and costs $1,249. Topics of other executive courses include medicine, sustainability and cybersecurity.

Prof Agarwal believes the programmes will find a ready market. “More and more people prefer the flexibility of doing courses on their own.”

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