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.