MIT announced this week a new interactive online learning program, internally called MITx. I think it's important initiative to examine. I think it is a start towards the university 2.0 of this century. And I think MIT's efforts may be misinterpreted.
They want to build a virtual community of online learners and that sounds fine, and not that innovative. What is getting attention is that they also want to allow students to earn certificates for demonstrating mastery of MITx subjects at modest cost.
It gets confusing because MIT OpenCourseWare (OCW) which offers free access to course materials is part of the new effort. MIT says that OpenCourseWare will continue to be a free and open way to share MIT course materials. They will also create new materials for the MITx initiative and add those to OCW and it will be built using open-source software.
MIT also says that everything on MITx except for the credentialing will be free of charge. MITx will exist as a nonprofit apart from the university.
I have been saying for several years that education from primary to higher education (but especially the traditional university) will look very different in the next few decades. Those changes will include the fading of tenure and the further rise of online courses. But I really think that a major change will be that the value of a college degree will have fallen. This is especially true of liberal arts degrees and programs, undergraduate and graduate, that do not lead to employment and include employment skills.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology offering their prestige courses to another group of non-traditional students and giving them MIT credentials is a good start down that road.
Do I think it's bad? To me, it's not a question of good or bad. It is inevitable.
The issue I wasn't to know more about from MIT is what will be their basis for certifying "mastery” of MIT-grade coursework.
MIT has been important for a decade in fostering open educational resources (OER). It is a movement I believe is important. I have used their materials as a lifelong learner and to help build courses I teach. Other colleges have joined the effort from universities like Stanford and my own NJIT to private efforts like Khan Academy.
Does MIT see an opportunity in the gap between the way we perceive traditional higher education and the tuition-free alternatives?
Would the general population and especially employers feel more comfortable with a student trained by MIT but without a degree than one who had learned independently or used a free form of "higher education?"
The student would receive an "institutional credential" (not from MIT proper but from MITx).
Very few people in or out of academia would claim that this new university is better than the traditional residential education that has been around for a few centuries. MIT is not shutting down its campus in Cambridge.
When I spoke to the faculty at Seton Hall University back in 2009 about redefining universities, I was more focused on how pedagogy would change they ways we teach. I still believe that universities are changing and need to change. But now, more than ever, schools are having change thrust upon them.
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."