Dec 222011
 
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Image by MrFederico via Flickr

Will offer the online teaching of M.I.T. courses free of charge to anyone in the world

 
For Wall Street Occupiers or other decriers of the “social injustice” of college tuition, here’s a curveball bound to scramble your worldview: a totally free college education regardless of your academic performance or background.  The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) will announce on Monday that they intend to launch an online learning initiative called M.I.T.x,which will offer the online teaching of M.I.T. courses free of charge to anyone in the world.

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.

The new online platform will look to build upon the decade-long success of the university’s original free online platform, OpenCourseWare (OCW), which has been used by over 100 million students and contains course material for roughly 2,100 classes. The new M.I.T.x online program will not compete with OCW in the number of courses that it offers. However, the program will offer students a greater interactive experience.

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. Academic Earth (picked by Time Magazine as one of the 50 best websites of 2009) has cornered the market on free online education by making a smorgasbord of online course content – from prestigious universities such as Stanford and Princeton – accessible and free to anyone in the world. Users on Academic Earth can watch lectures from some of the brightest minds our universities have to offer from the comfort of their own computer screen. However, that is all they can do: watch. Khan Academy, another notable online education site, offers a largely free interactive experience to its users through assessments and exercises, but it limits itself to K-12 education. By contrast, M.I.T.x will combine the interactivity of the Khan Academy with the collegiate focus of Academic Earth, while drawing primarily from M.I.T.’s advanced course material.

“M.I.T. has long believed that anyone in the world with the motivation and ability to engage M.I.T. coursework should have the opportunity to attain the best M.I.T.-based educational experience that Internet technology enables,” said M.I.T. President Susan Hockfield in the university’s press release.

According to the university, residential M.I.T. students can expect to use M.I.T.x in a different way than online-only students. For instance, the program will be used to augment on-campus course work by expanding upon what students learn in class (faculty and students will determine how to incorporate the program into their courses). The university intends to run the two programs simultaneously with no reduction in OCW offerings.

According to the New York Times, access to the software will be free. However, there will most likely be an “affordable” charge, not yet determined, for a credential. The program will also save individuals from the rigors of the cutthroat M.I.T. admissions process, as online-only students will not have to be enrolled in the prestigious, yet expensive, university to access its online teaching resources.

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