MIT latest to expand online learning facilities

MIT is the latest institution to offer a wider range of free online learning resources. Will their open source software promote this idea to other institutions?

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has unveiled plans to launch an open platform for free online classes.

"MITx" will offer a range of interactive MIT courses that extends on distance learning philosophy. In order to supplement both campus learning and increase global subscribers to its free courses, MIT is planning to expand the community element and interactivity levels of its current online resources.

(Source: Flickr)

The proposed features of MITx include:

  • An expanded range of traditional MIT course materials -- lecture notes, problem solving materials, and recordings.
  • Course structures that will allow students to learn at their own pace and without the need for classroom attendance.
  • Online laboratories and student-to-student communication facilities.
  • Student self-assessment with those that demonstrate mastery of a subject able to acquire certification (for a fee).

The software will be available for others to utilize, so this may in turn promote online learning to other academic institutions. By allowing the software to become open source, MIT hopes others will pitch in and improve the features of the prototype technology, as well as keep their online learner community alive.

MIT wants the platform to "supplement and enrich their classroom and laboratory experiences". By automating certain tasks, like student grading, the institute hopes it will promote an improved balance of time spent with students currently studying on campus -- and free up time for lecturers to improve their own traditional courses.

There is also the hope that this latest virtual learning platform will eventually earn MIT millions of subscribers.

MIT already host a large digital library, available free of charge. OpenCourseWare contains nearly all of the institution's undergraduate and graduate course materials.

A decade old, OpenCourseWare hosts approximately 2,100 courses and has been accessed by more than 100 million people. Anyone can use these resources to view lecture notes, galleries, assignments and the occasional recorded lecture.

The leader of this initiative, MIT's Provost L. Rafael Reif, said: "This new initiative is extremely important to the future of high-quality, affordable, accessible education."

By further breaking down barriers to education, this initiative is one of many that may be able to both increase accessibility to education and also provide an additional financial outlet for struggling universities.

"MITx" will not only become a supplement for those studying traditionally on campus. Although you can't gain an MIT degree from the platform, you will be able to gain certification "for a modest fee".

Keep in mind; however, this won't be an MIT certificate you can hang proudly on the wall without forcing your way through their notoriously tight admission criteria.

Instead, the institute plan to create a 'not for profit' separate identity than can award these certificates. The fees have not been released yet -- the only hint available is that MIT plans to keep it 'highly affordable'.

The debate concerning traditional learning method versus distance-based courses is continual -- however, any method in which to expand accessibility to free courses and potentially provide additional revenue to academic institutions has to be worth consideration.

The prototype is due for release in spring 2012.


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