M.I.T., the hub of education and technology where innovations seem to happen on an hourly basis… has just unveiled the future of online education. Basically, you can now earn official credits toward an M.I.T. certificate by taking their free and online courses. The school is calling the program “MITx” reminiscent of TEDx.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the trend-setting M.I.T. pushes brick-and-mortar schools to also grant official certifications to those that can demonstrate a mastery of the subjects being taught online. A story in this morning’s New York Times has all the details (embedded below) and is worth examining. It’s truly an exciting time for online education.
While students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology pay thousands of dollars for courses, the university will announce a new program on Monday allowing anyone anywhere to take M.I.T. courses online free of charge — and for the first time earn official certificates for demonstrating mastery of the subjects taught.
“There are many people who would love to augment their education by having access to M.I.T. content, people who are very capable to earn a certificate from M.I.T.,” said L. Rafael Reif, the provost, in a conference call with reporters Friday.
M.I.T. led the way to an era of online learning 10 years ago by posting course materials from almost all its classes. Its free OpenCourseWare now includes nearly 2,100 courses and has been used by more than 100 million people.
But the new “M.I.T.x” interactive online learning platform will go further, giving students access to online laboratories, self-assessments and student-to-student discussions.
Mr. Reif and Anant Agarwal, director of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab, said M.I.T.x would start this spring — perhaps with just one course — but would expand to include many more courses, as OpenCourseWare has done.
“The technologies available are much more advanced than when we started OpenCourseWare,” Mr. Agarwal said. “We can provide pedagogical tools to self-assess, self-pace or create an online learning community.”
The M.I.T.x classes, he said, will have online discussions and forums where students can ask questions and, often, have them answered by others in the class.
While access to the software will be free, there will most likely be an “affordable” charge, not yet determined, for a credential.
“I think for someone to feel they’re earning something, they ought to pay something, but the point is to make it extremely affordable,” Mr. Reif said. “The most important thing is that it’ll be a certificate that will clearly state that a body sanctioned by M.I.T. says you have gained mastery.”
The certificate will not be a regular M.I.T. degree, but rather a credential bearing the name of a new not-for-profit body to be created within M.I.T; revenues from the credentialing, officials said, would go to support the M.I.T.x platform and to further M.I.T’s mission.
Educators at other universities applauded the M.I.T. move.
“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.
MIT has also taken the time to create a frequently asked questions page dedicated to MITx. It’s extremely helpful and insightful to get the school’s perspective on the program:
Why is MIT doing this?
MIT seeks through the development of MITx to improve education both on the MIT campus and around the world.
On campus, MITx will be coupled with an Institute-wide research initiative on online teaching and learning. The online learning tools that MITx develops will benefit the educational experience of residential students by supplementing and reinforcing the classroom and laboratory experiences.
Beyond the MIT campus, MITx will endeavor to break down barriers to education in two ways. First, it will offer the online teaching of MIT courses to people around the world and the opportunity for able learners to gain certification of mastery of MIT material. Second, it will make freely available to educational institutions everywhere the open-source software infrastructure on which MITx is based.
Since it launched OpenCourseWare (OCW) 10 years ago, MIT has been committed to using technology to improve and greatly widen access to education. The launch of MITx represents a next step forward in that effort.
Who is leading the development of MITx?
The initiative is led by MIT Provost L. Rafael Reif.
When will MITx go live?
MIT plans to launch an experimental prototype version of MITx in the spring 2012 timeframe. Once the open learning infrastructure is in stable form, MIT will also release the open-source software infrastructure and will establish ways for other universities, as well as interested individuals, to join MIT in improving and adding features to the technology.
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 MIT students and online-only non-MIT learners use MITx in the same way?
No. MIT faculty and students will determine what use to make of the new platform for their on-campus classes: The platform may serve as a way for students to reinforce and explore what they are learning in the classroom and lab. We have observed that the same is true of OCW: MIT’s residential learners use OCW materials to augment their residential experience.
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.
Who can take courses on MITx? Will there be an admission process?
As with OCW, the teaching materials on MITx will be available to anyone in the world for free, and in general, there will not be an admission process. However, credentials will be granted only to students who earn them by demonstrating mastery of the material of a subject.
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.
What will it cost to get a credential for a given course?
MIT is in the process of determining a fee structure for individual courses and groups of courses. The aim is to make credentialing highly affordable.
Will MIT remain committed to OpenCourseWare?
Yes. OCW will continue as before: It will make course materials from across the MIT curriculum available to the world for free. There will be no reduction in the level of what OCW offers.
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.
What resources will MIT make available to the faculty in support of MITx?
MIT will actively support faculty members in creating online courses.