Free online education for everyone


For the occupiers of Wall Street or other critics of the “social injustice” of tuition fees, here’s a curve ball meant to blur your view of the world: a completely free college education, regardless of your grades or your background. . The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) will announce plans on Monday to launch an online learning initiative called MITx, which will offer online teaching of MIT courses. free to anyone in the world.

The program will not allow students to earn an MIT degree. Instead, those who are able to demonstrate proficiency in the subjects taught on the platform will receive an official certificate of completion. The certificate obviously won’t carry the weight of a traditional MIT degree, but it will provide an incentive to complete the material online. According to New York Timesto avoid confusion, the certificate will be a credential bearing the distinct name of a new nonprofit that will be created within MIT

The new online platform will seek to build on 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 materials for approximately 2,100 classes. The new MITx online program will not compete with OCW in the number of courses it offers. However, the program will provide students with a greater interactive experience.

Students using the program will be able to communicate with their peers through student chats, allowing them to ask questions or simply brainstorm with others, while being able to access online labs and self-assessments. In the future, students and teachers will be able to control which courses will be available on the system based on their interests, creating a personalized teaching environment.

MITx represents the next logical evolution in the burgeoning business of free online education by providing students with an interactive experience as opposed to just a video-recorded lecture. academic land (chosen by Time Magazine as one of the Top 50 Websites of 2009) has cornered the free online education market by creating a wide range of online course content – from prestigious universities such as Stanford and Princeton – accessible and free for everyone in the world. Academic Earth users can watch lectures from some of the brightest minds our universities have to offer from the comfort of their own computer screen. However, that’s 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 is limited to K-12 education. In contrast, MITx will combine the interactivity of Khan Academy with the collegial focus of Academic Earth, while drawing primarily from MIT’s advanced course material.

“MIT has long believed that anyone in the world with the motivation and ability to engage in MIT courses should have the opportunity to gain the best MIT-based educational experience that Internet technology allows,” said said MIT President Susan Hockfield in the university’s press release.

According to the university, MIT residential students can expect to use MITx in a different way than online-only students. For example, the program will be used to augment coursework on campus by expanding on what students learn in the classroom (faculty and students will determine how to integrate the program into their courses). The university intends to run both 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 as-yet-undetermined “affordable” fee for a title. The program will also save individuals from the rigors of MIT’s relentless admissions process, as online-only students will not have to be enrolled in the prestigious, but expensive, university to access its online educational resources.

Those eager to dive into MITx will have to wait, as the university does not plan to launch a prototype of the platform until spring 2012. According to MIT Provost L. Rafael Reif and Anant Agarwal, director of the Computer Science Laboratory and of artificial intelligence, the prototype might consist of just one course, but it would quickly expand to include many more courses.

Once launched, MIT officials expect the MITx platform to be a huge hit among other universities looking to create or expand their course materials online. “Creating an open learning infrastructure will allow other developer communities to contribute to it, making it self-sustaining,” Agarwal said in the MIT press release.

Whether MITx will directly threaten the margins of for-profit online universities, such as the University of Phoenix, APUS or DeVry, remains to be seen. But as MITx begins to provide many of the key virtues of for-profit online colleges, such as robust learning management systems and real-time virtual interaction, these publicly traded education companies may have to cut their fees in order to compete with MITx’s compelling free. the price. Additionally, the success of MITx, OCW, and Academic Earth can push dramatic technological innovation to for-profit companies, so they can maintain a unique selling proposition relative to their free-to-air competitors. Additionally, as growing numbers of so-called “self-educators” choose free college education, a cottage industry of social media support services could evolve to bring them together for study sessions and free help in person.

Which is to say, in the face of the massive need for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) graduates in this country, MITx is nothing short of groundbreaking. This is especially true if you’re not a credential freak and, like me, just want to improve your skills in a marketable field.

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