University Rankings watch made an interesting observation earlier this week following an announcement by Massachusetts Institute of Technology that they are putting course content for a a suite of programmes online, with open access to anyone.
MIT today announced the launch of an online learning initiative internally called “MITx.” MITxwill offer a portfolio of MIT courses through an online interactive learning platform that will:
- 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.
MIT expects that this learning platform will enhance the educational experience of its on-campus students, offering them online tools that supplement and enrich their classroom and laboratory experiences. MIT also expects that MITx will eventually host a virtual community of millions of learners around the world.
The part in bold is my highlighting.
This is quite a significant commitment and in my view is along the right lines. Universities with a global reputation such as MIT are going to be facing stiff competition from competitors in other countries that are snapping at their heels and actively recruiting ever more mobile students and academics.
It also sheds a light on the level of debate in the UK about online learning and open access to learning resources. Too often, the debate focusses on whether current students might abuse the system by not turning up for lectures if course materials are all posted online (despite plenty of evidence that this is not the case!), we don’t seem to be ready to acknowledge the ease with which information can be shared online and how this is a serious challenge to the role of Universities as the guardians of knowledge and exploration and to communicate new discoveries, ideas and theories to the wider population.
The URW posts’s author has some good practical questions at the end:
Will students be assessed according to the same standards as conventional MIT students? If someone accumulates sufficient certificates of completion will they be entitled to an MITx degree? What will happen if employers and graduate school start accepting MITx certificates as equivalent to standard academic credentials? If so, will MIT be able to resist the temptation to start charging hefty fees for a certificate.
But he doesn’t ask what I think is the most important one. Are witnessing the beginning of the end of mass participation physical universities? Are virtual Universities due to move from the sidelines to the mainstream?