Stanford University is teaming of with two venerable East Coast institutions to develop a computer system allowing colleges to offer free online courses.

Ry Rivard of Insider Higher Ed has details on the collaboration that school officials said would benefit both educators and students around the globe.

Stanford University, the epicenter of the modern massive open online course movement, said this week that it will develop online learning software with the only one of the three MOOC providers not founded by a Stanford faculty member.

Instead, Stanford is teaming up with edX, the Cambridge, Mass.-based nonprofit founded by Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University. Stanford and edX plan to work together to develop edX’s software platform, which will soon be freely available to developers across the world. (A key part of its software is already freely available.)

In joining with edX’s development effort, Stanford has implicitly distanced itself from Coursera and Udacity, the two for-profit Silicon Valley companies started by Stanford faculty.

The head of edX, the MIT professor Anant Agarwal, said the resulting open source software will allow a “planet-scale democratization of education” – a bold claim amid an ed tech boom full of bold claims.

“This is a great endorsement of the open source, nonprofit approach for MOOCs,” Agarwal said, a remark that invites comparison to for-profit companies in the same industry, though even his nonprofit will have to find a way to make money.

Stanford’s vice provost for online education, John Mitchell, said his university would continue to make courses available through Coursera, which was started by two Stanford faculty members. But Stanford will also be creating its own Stanford-based approach using software jointly developed with edX. Stanford courses will not appear on edX’s site but instead appear on a Stanford-branded, Stanford-hosted site.

Mitchell said the university’s “initial interest” in the edX software is so Stanford can offer material to current students on its campus or to students who take Stanford classes for credit online. (In the ed tech alphabet soup, Stanford would be offering not MOOCs but what Agarwal called “SPOCs,” or Small Private Online Courses.)

Right now, Stanford’s professors are using a variety of software offered by a variety of companies – including Coursera – to distribute content to the general public.

Coursera has agreements with 62 universities that offer their content through Coursera’s website and using Coursera’s proprietary software. EdX has similar agreements with a dozen universities.