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MIT Launches Online Learning Initiative

MITx will offer free online courses and learning tools
February 21, 2012

After almost 10 years of giving teachers and learners around the world free online access to nearly all MIT’s undergraduate and graduate course materials through OpenCourseWare, MIT is upping the ante.

In December the Institute announced an initiative that will offer a portfolio of MIT courses through an online interactive learning platform. Code-named MITx, the effort will organize and present course material to enable students to learn interactively at their own pace, take part in online laboratories, receive individual assessments, and communicate with one another. MITx will operate on an infrastructure of open-source, scalable software. An experimental prototype is slated for launch this spring.

MIT expects this learning platform to enhance the educational experience of its on-campus students, offering them online tools that supplement and enrich their classroom and laboratory experiences. The eventual plan is to host a virtual community of millions of learners around the world.

Provost L. Rafael Reif will lead the development of MITx as well as an MIT-wide research initiative on online teaching and learning. “Students worldwide are increasingly supplementing their classroom education with a variety of online tools,” Reif says. “Many members of the MIT faculty have been experimenting with integrating online tools into the campus education. We will facilitate those efforts, many of which will lead to novel learning technologies that offer the best possible online educational experience to nonresidential learners.”

OpenCourseWare, which includes nearly 2,100 MIT courses and has been used by more than 100 million people, will continue to share course materials from across the MIT curriculum free of charge. All teaching materials on MITx will also be free. Students who demonstrate mastery of MITx content will, for a small fee, be able to receive a credential issued from a not-for-profit body within the Institute that will carry a name distinct from MIT.

MIT will also make the MITx open learning software available free, so that other universities and learning institutions, such as K–12 school systems, can use the software for their online education offerings.

“Creating an open learning infrastructure will enable other communities of developers to contribute to it, thereby making it self-sustaining,” says Anant Agarwal, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science and director of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL). “An open infrastructure will facilitate research on learning technologies and also enable learning content to be easily portable to other educational platforms that will develop. In this way the infrastructure will improve continuously as it is used and adapted.” Agarwal is leading the development of the open platform.

President Hockfield calls this “a transformative initiative for MIT and for online learning worldwide.”

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