Workers prepared Faneuil Hall Monday for Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s State of the City address Tuesday. Menino was expected to announce an initiative with Harvard and MIT to offer free onlinc courses at the city’s community centers.
Workers prepared Faneuil Hall Monday for Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s State of the City address Tuesday. Menino was expected to announce an initiative with Harvard and MIT to offer free onlinc courses at the city’s community centers.
Dina Rudick/Globe Staff

Two world-renowned universities have been tethered to Boston for almost a century by trains on the Red Line. Soon, the city may be able to boast a more reliable connection to the main campuses of Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The City of Boston plans to launch a partnership with the two institutions through the experimental online initiative edX, which offers free courses to anyone with Internet access. In his State of the City address Tuesday night, Mayor Thomas M. Menino will announce an effort to bring edX to Boston’s community centers, according to his staff.

“Online learning has made the whole world a classroom, and we should give our residents front-row seats,” Menino is expected to say, according to a draft of his speech. “They would get more than access to knowledge and skills. They would get time with faculty and job trainers.”

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Founded by Harvard and MIT, edX provides online courses and other learning opportunities to roughly 600,000 people globally. Instructors have determined that students learn better in small groups, so the goal in Boston will be to nurture clusters of people taking the courses together. The new initiative, dubbed BostonX, remains nascent, but officials on both sides of the Charles River have high hopes.

“The sky is the limit as far as the possibilities here,” said Anant Agarwal, president of edX and a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT. “My hope is that this idea pioneered in Boston may spread to other cities. One could imagine it all around the world. New DelhiX. San FranciscoX. I guess LAX is already the airport.”

In Boston, it will begin as a pilot program focused on adults at a handful of community centers already equipped with computers. The hope is that it will spread to libraries, high schools, and even coffee shops. The city has not dedicated money to the initiative, but it is exploring grants and other funding sources, according to Menino’s aides.

A similar partnership was launched in November between edX and two community colleges: Bunker Hill and MassBay. That program, financed by a $1 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, includes online instruction supplemented with on-campus classes.

In his speech, Menino will outline his vision for edX in Boston.

“Imagine a day when our community centers are little campuses in their own neighborhoods full of vibrant groups of neighbors exchanging ideas and making progress together,” Menino will say, according to the draft of his remarks.