MIT announced this morning an online learning initiative called MITx, which it describes as “a portfolio of MIT courses through an online interactive learning platform.” MITx is being combined with an MIT-wide research initiative on online learning and teaching.
Online learning is nothing new to MIT; if you’re aware of online education at all you probably know about OpenCourseWare from MIT, which makes notes, lectures, etc from 2000 courses available for free at http://ocw.mit.edu/index.htm (along with updates via an RSS feed; love you MIT.) From the announcement it seems like the MITx initiative is different from OCW in that it offers courseware and community and credentials.
The fact that MITx will “feature interactivity, online laboratories and student-to-student communication,” (from the announcement) and “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” (also from the announcement) makes it sound like this is the next step between the raw content of OpenCourseWare (lecture notes, video lectures, transcripts, etc) and the complete package of an on-site, MIT education. (In one way it’s a tiny step, but in another way the idea of credentials being available through free courses like this is a huge leap.)
Not that I’m going to be able to investigate any time soon; a FAQ on MITx indicates that this new initiative will not launch until Spring 2012, and that will be in an experimental, prototype form. The same FAQ notes that OpenCourseWare is not going away (“OCW will continue as before: It will make course materials from across the MIT curriculum available to the world for free. There will be no reduction in the level of what OCW offers.”) and that, while credentials will be available through the MITx platform (“Those who have the ability and motivation to demonstrate mastery of content can receive a credential for a modest fee”) an MIT degree assuredly will not (“MIT awards MIT degrees only to those admitted to MIT through a highly selective admissions process.”)