Google said today that it will develop software for edX, a nonprofit created by Harvard and MIT that solicits and distributes online courses for free. Open edX, as the effort is called, is a platform for creating courses that can be taken by anyone with internet access. The move builds on Google's release last year of Course Builder, its own open-source education tool. "This platform is helping to deliver on our goal of making education more accessible through technology, and enabling educators to easily teach at scale on top of cloud platform services," said Dan Clancy, Google's director of research in the announcement.

Google said it will take what it has learned from Course Builder and integrate it with Open edX, although the platforms will remain separate for now. The idea is to spur development of so-called massive online open courses, building what edX's president told Slate could become "a YouTube for MOOCs." Beginning next year, courses will begin to be hosted on mooc.org, which is managed by edX. "Our industry is in the early stages of MOOCs, and lots of experimentation is still needed to find the best way to meet the educational needs of the world," Clancy said. With Open edX, one of those experiments is getting an important new research assistant.