MITx: 'This is Not MIT Light'

More exciting than MIT’s announcement that it’s taking admissions to the iPad is the announcement of MITx, an open-source learning environment that will offer free courses to anyone around the globe beginning this spring. (Free turns into free-ish for students who want to earn letter grades and a MITx certificate; those students can pay a fee at the end of the course.)

MIT is still short on some details of exactly how MITx will work, including which courses will be offered, how cumulative exams will be conducted, and the procedure for obtaining that almighty piece of paper. But what’s already clear is that online learners will have access to coursework, online labs, student-to-student discussions, and self-assessments in at least one course in spring 2012. That offering will eventually expand into a catalog of many more courses, similar to the evolution of OpenCourseWare.

The project is headed by MIT Provost L. Rafael Reif, who said this to the AP:

“This is not MIT light. This is not an easier version of MIT … An MITx learner, anywhere they are, for them to earn a credential they have to demonstrate mastery of the subject just like an MIT student does.”

In the Globe, he said:

“The goal here is to do something good for the world, to reach large numbers of people who can really learn this stuff. If we want to reach large numbers, the fee has to be modest.”

With the development of MITx, the university again seems poised to move to the front of the line with online education. In a time when we’re questioning the American college education model, the announcement and FAQs reek of “education for education’s sake” — and that’s quite refreshing.