Wellesley, a prestigious women’s college, on Tuesday joined a nonprofit venture known as edX that offers free online higher education to the world.

(Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

Led by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, edX launched in May. The University of California, Berkeley joined in July, and the University of Texas system joined in October.

Wellesley will offer four courses on the MOOC platform starting in fall 2013.

“This is a grand experiment, and what we learn will benefit Wellesley students as well as students all over the world,” said H. Kim Bottomly, president of the Massachusetts liberal arts college.

Other MOOC platforms include Coursera and Udacity. In the Washington region, the universities of Maryland and Virginia and Johns Hopkins University are Coursera participants.

Many higher education leaders wonder how offering free online courses will shake up the market. Demand for the courses from brand-name schools has surged this year worldwide.