Forbes reported last month that the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), one of the foremost private universities in the world, plans to offer its curriculum over the Internet - free of charge.
The program will not allow students to earn an M.I.T. degree. Instead, those who are able to exhibit a mastery of the subjects taught on the platform will receive an official certificate of completion. The certificate will obviously not carry the weight of a traditional M.I.T. diploma, but it will provide an incentive to finish the online material. According to the New York Times, in order to prevent confusion, the certificate will be a credential bearing the distinct name of a new not-for-profit body that will be created within M.I.T.
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Students using the program will be able to communicate with their peers through student-to-student discussions, allowing them an opportunity to ask questions or simply brainstorm with others, while also being able to access online laboratories and self-assessments. In the future, students and faculty will be able to control which classes will be available on the system based on their interests, creating a personalized education setting.
M.I.T.x represents the next logical evolution in the mushrooming business of free online education by giving students an interactive experience as opposed to a simple videotaped lecture.
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Whether M.I.T.x will directly threaten the margins at for-profit online universities, such as the University of Phoenix, APUS, or DeVry remains to be seen. But as M.I.T.x starts to provide many of the salient virtues of for-profit online colleges, such as a robust learning management systems and real-time virtual interaction, these publicly traded education companies might have to lower fees in order to compete with M.I.T.x’s compelling free price. In addition, the success of M.I.T.x, OCW, and Academic Earth may push dramatic technological innovation at for-profits, so that they can maintain a unique selling proposition versus their free competitors. Moreover, as the rapidly growing number of what are termed “self educators” choose free college education, a cottage industry of social media support services might evolve to bring them together for free in-person study and help sessions.
Which is all to say that, against this country’s sizable need for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) graduates, M.I.T.x is nothing short of revolutionary. This is especially true if you aren’t a credential freak and ... just want to improve your chops in a marketable subject area.
There's more at the link.
I'm particularly interested in this initiative from two perspectives.
- All four of my university qualifications were obtained through part-time study; two through distance (correspondence) education, and two through evening classes. There are many who, like me, could not or cannot afford to study full-time. If MIT makes its course material available online, and can come to an arrangement with a local community college or university to offer that material to the latter's students, who can then discuss it with local lecturers and professors and sit local examinations in the subject(s) concerned, this might greatly improve the standard of local, low-cost tertiary education. The same might apply to institutions in poorer countries overseas. (In fact, the latter might be even more interesting, in that local lecturers could use the same materials to improve their own mastery of their subjects and upgrade their own qualifications, as well as help their students absorb it.)
- As a former prison chaplain, I've seen the difficulties faced by inmates in trying to improve their educational qualifications. They don't have much (if any) money available to pay for distance education, they can't attend evening classes, and there are few (if any) qualified staff available to help them cope with the challenges of learning in such an artificial (and frequently oppressive) environment. Something like this MIT initiative could revolutionize education behind bars. If arrangements can be made for inmates to access MIT's materials without threatening security, it might open to them a whole new way to earn advanced qualifications and prepare themselves to re-enter society.
I can only applaud MIT for this initiative . . . and wonder whether they've thought of all that it might imply, for themselves as much as for education in general. This might precipitate a real revolution in higher learning. I hope it does! You can rest assured that I'll be one of those taking advantage of it. After all, I never studied many things that are taken for granted at American universities (although, to be fair, I covered several subjects that aren't always offered at US institutions). Now's my chance to fill those gaps!