MIT to Make Its Online Learning Software Open Source

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is one of the most renowned scientific and technological universities in the world, and as such, it has been a pioneer of a great deal of technology used in education. In addition to this, MIT has made many of its undergraduate and graduate courses available online for free, calling these non-credit-bearing, open courses OpenCourseWare. Students from across the globe have free and open access to more than 2,000 courses in a variety of diverse areas, from civil and environmental engineering to brain and cognitive sciences to music and theatre arts. Now, however, the prestigious university has announced its intention to release the software it uses for online learning as open source material as well, according to Computerworld.

This software release is part of a MIT initiative called MITx. Beyond the walls of MIT, the purpose of MITx is twofold: one, to allow people around the world access to MIT’s online teaching, and two, to provide all educational institutions with the same software it uses to offer online courses, according to MIT News. MITx is expected to go live this spring. Other educational institutions that choose to make use of the open online learning software next year will not only get to use the software for themselves, but will also be able to make improvements to the software and create new features, the MIT article indicates. Also, schools that may not have had the funding to make a significant investment in online learning technology will be able to use this adaptable online learning platform to launch their own online learning initiatives, the news article suggests. Both K-12 schools and universities can take advantage of the open software.

As for how MITx could possibly change the learning experience for currently enrolled MIT students, this remains to be seen. MIT has said that it will be researching online learning tools to learn whether virtual or classroom-based learning experiences are more effective in student learning, and that it could implement the most effective online learning tools into the future MIT student experience. The research could also lighten the load for faculty, who could benefit from a more automated mode of grading, freeing them up to be more creative with their instruction and to spend more time with students.

Another interesting tidbit about MITx is that non-MIT students will have the opportunity to earn credentials through these open source materials after demonstrating mastery of the material for "a modest fee," the university notes. While such credentials will not be the same as a degree from MIT and will not carry the MIT name, the university has said that it intends to create a nonprofit body within MIT to issue certifications for online learners of MIT course work. The online teaching offered through MITx, of course, will remain open and free of charge.

Finally, a big benefit for lifelong learners around the world who are interested in taking open courses from MIT is that the courses can be accessed at the student’s own pace. The end goal, MIT notes, is to "host a virtual community of millions of learners around the world."

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