With the announcement of a new educational program called MITx, in which MIT will offer online classes culminating in a certificate of completion, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is breaking new ground in free online education.
MIT, one of the nation’s leading scientific and technological research universities, has historically been a forerunner in offering classes to the masses online. Ten years ago, the university launched OpenCourseWare (OCW), an initiative to make hundreds of lectures and materials ubiquitous online. Since OCW’s inception, more than 100 million people have accessed the online classes, which range from computer programming, to chemical engineering, to physics, to literature. (A full list of course ware is available here.)
MITx takes the initiative a step farther in a few important ways.
First of all, it allows people who take the online classes to earn a certification of mastery. While not a degree from MIT, the certificate gives something worthwhile for people to work for. The university plans to create a non-profit body under the governance of MIT that will offer the certification of completion for online learners. “That body will have a distinct name to avoid confusion.” Nonetheless, a certificate of completion will carry more weight than nothing at all. The coursework, classes and materials are all free. The certificate, however, will cost a “modest fee.”
Second, it will make the open-source software infrastructure freely available to educational institutions worldwide, thereby hoping to encourage other universities to share their materials.
Headed by MIT Provost L. Rafael Reif, a prototype of MITx is slated to go live sometime this Spring. It will include technologies such as: “online tutors, online laboratories, crowd-sourced grading of programs, machine learning and automatic transcription.”
As part of the program, the university will closely monitor and study MITx as part of a research initiative.
“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,” according to an article in MIT News. “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.”
The classes will begin with a limited portfolio of selected courses, and will expand over time, based on interests of MIT faculty and online learners.