MIT Campus photo by Thomas Hawk via Flickr under CreativeCommons
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology expanded its online learning programs Monday, announcing its new product called MITx. It’s an open learning software that students can use to gain a credential and that other universities and schools can use free of charge. It expects the product to be working in the spring of 2012.
It plans to create a non-profit that can award certificates for coursework, similar perhaps to the model of Alison.com of Ireland.
The school says the MITx will do the following:
- organize and present course material to enable students to learn at their own pace
- feature interactivity, online laboratories and student-to-student communication
- allow for the individual assessment of any student’s work and allow students who demonstrate their mastery of subjects to earn a certificate of completion awarded by MITx
- operate on an open-source, scalable software infrastructure in order to make it continuously improving and readily available to other educational institutions.
The move expands MIT’s OpenCourseWare project, allowing students to earn certificates and show mastery of subjects. OpenCourseWare contained nearly all of MIT’s 2,100 undergraduate and graduate course materials for the past 10 years. The school says nearly 100 million people have used the material.
The move raised eyebrows about the efficacy of on-campus programs at MIT, concerns that MIT addresses and dismisses in its FAQ (links below). MIT said the new offerings will help non-MIT students as well as existing MIT students.
The school said in a press release:
MIT expects that this learning platform will enhance the educational experience of its on-campus students, offering them online tools that supplement and enrich their classroom and laboratory experiences. MIT also expects that MITx will eventually host a virtual community of millions of learners around the world.
The news is a big event in the world of education innovation and online learning. MIT Provost L. Rafael Reif will head up MITx and said it will involve an MIT-wide research effort to study online teaching and learning.
“Students worldwide are increasingly supplementing their classroom education with a variety of online tools,” Reif said. “Many members of the MIT faculty have been experimenting with integrating online tools into the campus education. We will facilitate those efforts, many of which will lead to novel learning technologies that offer the best possible online educational experience to non-residential learners. Both parts of this new initiative are extremely important to the future of high-quality, affordable, accessible education.”
MIT President Susan Hockfield said the move is based in a philosophy that anyone in the world should have the opportunity “to attain the best MIT-based educational experience that Internet technology enables.”
OpenCourseWare’s great success signals high demand for MIT’s course content and propels us to advance beyond making content available. MIT now aspires to develop new approaches to online teaching.”
Here are a few key Q-n-A items from a FAQ about the MITx program:
Why is MIT announcing this now, before MITx has been built?
Many schools and faculty within MIT and other universities are interested in online education and exploring ways in which to offer their content online. MIT wants its community and the communities of other institutions to know that they can continue to look to MIT to bring innovation to online learning and teaching, as it has done with OCW. MIT also wants to make available an adaptable, free platform for any school to use for its own online initiatives. Furthermore, the time is right from a technology perspective, because within MIT we have already gained experience in online technologies through many courses that already include significant online components. These technologies include online tutors, online laboratories, crowd-sourced grading of programs, machine learning and automatic transcription.
How will this affect the MIT on-campus education?
MIT’s residential-based education is the heart of the MIT community, and an MIT degree holds special distinction. MITx will be coupled with an MIT-wide research initiative into online learning that will study ways in which students, whether on campus or part of a virtual community, learn most effectively. To the degree that MITx demonstrates highly effective online learning tools from which campus-based students might benefit, such as self-paced online exercises, those tools will become part of the experience of MIT students. These tools will enable campus faculty to automate some of the more repetitive and less creative tasks, such as grading, thereby liberating more time to devote to innovative ways of teaching the material and to additional contact time with resident students.
Is MIT signaling a lack of support for the traditional, residential model of education?
Not at all. MIT believes firmly in the residential model of education. MIT’s new initiative in online education is meant not only to improve the experience of traditional, residential MIT students by continuing to innovate with the latest pedagogical technologies, but also to lower the existing barriers between residential campuses and millions of learners around the world.
Will this platform offer MIT degrees?
No. MIT awards MIT degrees only to those admitted to MIT through a highly selective admissions process.
If credentials are awarded, will they be awarded by MIT?
As online learning and assessment evolve and improve, online learners who demonstrate mastery of subjects could earn a certificate of completion, but any such credential would not be issued under the name MIT. Rather, MIT plans to create a not-for-profit body within the Institute that will offer certification for online learners of MIT coursework. That body will carry a distinct name to avoid confusion.
In MITx, what will be free and what will cost money?
All of the teaching on the platform will be free of charge. Those who have the ability and motivation to demonstrate mastery of content can receive a credential for a modest fee.
How will MITx be financed?
MIT’s online initiative will be a not-for-profit activity consistent with MIT’s mission, but it is expected to generate positive net income from various revenue sources, including fees for certification from learners who demonstrate mastery of course material. MIT also anticipates substantial interest from foundations, companies and individuals positioned to support the endeavor. MIT will share the expected positive net income with faculty members who develop courses for the platform. Net income from the initiative after revenue sharing will benefit MIT and its mission.
OCW provides course material for nearly all MIT classes. Will MITx offer interactive online courses at that same scale?
No. MITx will begin by offering a portfolio of selected courses, which will grow over time. The selection of courses will depend on the interests of MIT faculty and online learners and will be determined on a course-by-course basis.
Tamar Lewin of The New York Times wrote about the move on Monday.
“It seems like a very big deal because the traditional higher education reaction to online programs was, yeah, but it’s not a credential,” said Richard DeMillo, director of the Center for 21st Century Universities at the Georgia Institute of Technology. “So I think M.I.T. offering a credential will make quite a splash. If I were still in industry and someone came in with an M.I.T.x credential, I’d take it.”
M.I.T. said its new learning platform should eventually host a virtual community of learners around the world — and enhance the education of M.I.T.’s on-campus students, with online tools that enrich their classroom and laboratory experiences.
The development of the new platform will be accompanied by an M.I.T.-wide research initiative on online teaching and learning, including grading by computer. And because the M.I.T.x platform will be available free to people around the world, M.I.T. officials said they expected that other universities would also use it to offer their own free online courses. Mr. Reif said that M.I.T. was investing millions of dollars in the project, and that it expected to raise money from foundations and others.
Via MIT’s OpenCourseware site
Here is a FAQ about the MITx program
Via The New York Times