Early Thoughts on MITx


MIT - Licensed CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 by Yarian Gomez

MIT today announced MITx which appears to be an open learning initiative. They describe it as “an online interactive learning platform” that will offer a portfolio of MIT courses.

  • organize and present course material to enable students to learn at their own pace
  • feature interactivity, online laboratories and student-to-student communication
  • allow for the individual assessment of any student’s work and allow students who demonstrate their mastery of subjects to earn a certificate of completion awarded by MITx
  • operate on an open-source, scalable software infrastructure in order to make it continuously improving and readily available to other educational institutions.

You can find the complete description of the MITx initiative on their web page. What’s also interesting is what’s on their FAQ page which you can read here.

Rather than just repeat what is very eloquently described on their web site I’ll cut to the chase and say that I think this initiative may be a possible game changer in higher education. This is particularly true when viewed in the context of Stanford’s recent highly popular online CS courses and other developments in running open online courses elsewhere. What we are seeing is MIT and Stanford starting to offer open online courses that anyone may enrol in, anywhere in the world. In the case of MIT this is a university initiative whilst in the case of Stanford it is Stanford Professors Peter Norvig and Sebastian Thrun. Interestingly, the mistake Stanford are making by not institutionalising the work of their academics has already been noted by Tony Bates in a recent blog post.

For me MITx is a game changer for several reasons the most notable of which is their plan to offer credentialling in the form of a certificate of completion awarded by a new body within the university and to carry a unique name to distinguish it from a traditional MIT credential.

This raises the question as to how quickly that certificate of completion will become a valuable credential in it’s own right? I would suggest that it would happen immediately but that it would be viewed as being less valuable than a traditionally branded MIT award.

And this is where it gets even more interesting because it appears from the FAQ page that it will be possible to undertake the open course and then pay a “modest” fee to demonstrate mastery of the subject matter and be credentialled with an MIT award.

And here we have something that I predicted quite some time ago and that is the separation of the credentialling from the course. And how do provide credentials? How do we demonstrate mastery? Through assessment. So this means assessment will now be done outside of the course itself. The old pedagogue in me would be worried about such a move but now I welcome it as being pragmatic, sensible and motivating (particularly for autodidacts everywhere for whom the current system of higher education is almost entirely unsuited).

The courses at Stanford also provide a certificate of completion although it is unbranded and unrecognised by the university. However Tony Bates reports in his blog that “other universities (such as the University of Freiburg in Germany) will recognise successful completion for credit”. There appear to be no plans at present to allow students get formal Stanford credentials.

In the case of MITx one would presume some (many?) other universities will also recognise the MITx certificate of completion for credit and an MIT branded credential for even more credit.

And then the question arises; do students need to complete courses at all? Why can’t individuals just ask a university to assess my mastery of a subject and provide them with the appropriate credentials. Who is to say how much of an MITx course a student  “completes”. Maybe none at all. Maybe the student gained their mastery in the informally in the workplace or from friends and colleagues or through personal study of a subject. The student would just like to demonstrate their mastery of the subject and have that mastery approved by a very prestigious university thank you very much.

Other students may well want to complete the whole course and carry out all of the activities and more. It’s about choice and flexibility.

I firmly believe that what we are seeing is revolutionary and will, eventually, be highly disruptive to the higher education sector globally. Senior managers of HEIs have good reason to be worried. It will be very interesting to see how other universities react as we watch disruptive innovation on a grand scale.

13 Comments On “Early Thoughts on MITx”

  1. Right on the ball. How can universities not recognise MIT certificate of completions. But then again why would you need universities to recognise them if you have enough of them to make up a coherent whole.

    What’s interesting for me is how MITx will democratise HE at a time when the cost of attending universities is increasing massively around the world? What will is mean in terms of provision to third world countries?


    • Thanks for the comment. I think it has huge potential impact all over the world and not just in developing countries. It will lead to much greater specialisation in the types of courses that universities offer allowing universities in developing nations and elsewhere to focus their resources more efficiently.


      • I think the future potential of this is fantastic, but it should be pushed toward giving the same credential for completed course work. If you did all the same course work, labs, homework, etc. and you were tested in the same manner as in class students(maybe at a testing center so you could verify your identity), and prove mastery of the material, then how “ethically” can you not give equal credential. It’s a problem that concerns me greatly. I think they feel it will damage their “brand” if too many people are allowed to get MIT degrees. This is a sentiment that must be fought, ultimately where does your allegiance lie, with making money(which you probably could even with the online structure, maybe even more.) or with teaching as many people as much as possible. What stronger…ethics…. or your wallet. Age old question.


  2. hi there,

    I’m happy that this is happening. It should have happened 5 years ago . Better late than never 🙂

    Otherwise, I’m looking forward to the I.I.Ts in India offering something similar to the millions who can’t get into I.I.Ts. It will be nice if those who want to learn something can learn and get a certificate. Many professionals in their jobs would love to have a MITx certificate to their resume.



  3. I am under impresion, that author had nor read the faq he referenced.

    > 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.

    Yet, you state, that “… pay a “modest” fee to demonstrate mastery of the subject matter and be credentialled with an MIT award”, which is not true.


    • According to the FAQ, you will be able to pay and get a credential from a non-profit – the credit won’t be from MIT though.

      The FAQ: “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.

      Those who have the ability and motivation to demonstrate mastery of content can receive a credential for a modest fee. MIT is in the process of determining a fee structure for individual courses and groups of courses. The aim is to make credentialing highly affordable.”


    • No, I read the FAQ very carefully. As Yule Tide observes, the FAQ says that you can get a certificate of completion from a non profit. It also says that there are plans to offer credentials for a modest fee.


      • As long as MIT stands behind the credential and it articulates to other universities as course credit. If it’s not transferable then it is pointless. Other than in just an auditing sense which is fine….. if you want to audit, but I think most want to do more than audit. Just my 2 cents. I do have to give them credit for doing anything at all! I just hope they don’t stop there and take it all the way.


  4. A good summary. Elsewhere I’ve offered some of my thoughts on why this makes sense for MIT to do but why non-elite institutions should proceed with caution in this space.


    Another alternative to traditional credentialing…skipping it altogether, which I just saw to day. Get paid to learn to program at LivingSocial: http://hungryacademy.com/


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  8. i’m more interested in the software they use for their online courses. they say it will be open source and open for community developers. whre is the source code of the MITx platform?


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