FILE - In this Aug. 30, 2012, file photo, people are led on a tour on the campus of Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. (Elise Amendola/AP)

The free online learning initiative overseen by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on Tuesday added a technology giant as a partner: Google.

EdX, a nonprofit Harvard-MIT venture that provides online college courses for the masses, said Google has agreed to help develop its open-source software platform. That year-old platform, based at, offers dozens of courses from elite higher education institutions around the world. One of the partners is Georgetown University.

“We have long admired Google’s commitment to open access to information, and we believe they will be a perfect partner to work with as we shape the next generation of open education and learning,” Anant Agarwal, president of edX, said in a statement. “Google shares our mission to improve learning both on-campus and online.”

In addition, Google and edX plan to team on another Web site called to host free courses from universities, businesses, governments and others. MOOC, standing for “massive open online courses,” is an acronym that has gained currency in the past two years. Other major MOOC providers include the for-profit companies Coursera and Udacity.

There is much speculation about how MOOCs could change the economics of higher ed and teaching on campus.

But there is also pushback from some in academia who say colleges and universities should not rush to ditch a model of teaching and learning — face-to-face campus instruction, in small classes — that has proven its worth over generations.

Agarwal said could spur teaching experiments.

“Faculty, for example, new to online learning could get their feet wet, and learners who may not want to take a full course could also just get a taste,” he said.