MIT to Expand Online Learning
Written by Sue Gee   
Tuesday, 20 December 2011

MIT has announced an online learning initiative that will offer its courses through a new interactive learning platform that will enable students to participate in simulated labs, interact with professors and other students and earn certificates.

For the past decade MIT has provided access to its course content with OpenCourseWare (OCW) which has shared materials from more than 2000 courses with an estimated 100 million individuals worldwide.

 

ocw10The new scheme, called MITx, adds interactive elements, such as lab exercises and contact with tutors and other students, that are missing in OCW and will give online learners a sense of participation in classes. Like OCW, access to content will be free but it is also planned to offer certification on successful completion of courses for a "modest fee".

The MITx initiative is being led by MIT Provost L. Rafael Reif, and its development will be coupled with an MIT-wide research initiative on online teaching and learning. As well as benefiting external students, it is intended to enhance the educational experience of its on-campus students, offering them online tools that supplement and enrich their classroom and laboratory experiences.

According to Provost Reif:

"Students worldwide are increasingly supplementing their classroom education with a variety of online tools. 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."

Although MITx has been announced it is not yet ready to deliver on this promise. It is envisaged as operating on an open-source, scalable software infrastructure to make it readily available to other educational institutions.

The plan is to launch an experimental prototype version of MITx in the spring 2012 timeframe. Once the open learning infrastructure is in stable form, MIT will 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.

As far as would-be students are concerned, 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.

mitlogoIf you are wondering why MIT is announcing MITx in advance of the programme's availability, the answer is:

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.

There might, however, be an element of traditional rivalry in the timing.The announcement comes just as tens of thousands of online students are discovering their final grades on Stanford's record breaking online AI class, with those on the Advanced Track soon to be emailed a printable certificate. Next semester's Stanford interactive online classes along the same lines have also attracted attention.

So perhaps MIT's just wants to remind us that it too has popular courses that are worth waiting for and that in terms of educational technology it will resume its position as the leading innovator.

More information

MIT launches online learning initiative

What is MITx


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