MIT open-sources online learning

The storied tech institution launches MITx, an initiative to create an open-source online-learning software platform that can be used by other schools and complement its OpenCourseWare content.

Professor Walter Lewin's physics classes, which are full of demonstrations and experiments, are popular on MIT's OpenCourseWare.
Professor Walter Lewin's physics classes, which are full of demonstrations and experiments, are popular on MIT's OpenCourseWare. Markos Hankin/MIT

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology started giving away the content of its courses over the Web 10 years ago. Now it plans to give away its online learning software, too.

The university today launched MITx, an initiative to provide students with a certification for taking MIT-taught classes online through a software platform MIT plans to make open-source.

Anyone with an Internet connection can take classes through the software system, which is expected to be released in the spring of 2012. Students who are able to "demonstrate mastery of the material" through online tests can get credentials for what MIT called a "modest fee."

The software system will build off OpenCourseWare, a program MIT started 10 years ago that lets people view lectures and course material online. MIT indicated that existing online content will be supplemented with self-paced learning tools, such as online exercises, tutors, laboratories, crowd-sourced grading, and automatic lecture transcription.

The Cambridge, Mass., tech institution is launching MITx because learning is increasingly done online and many universities and schools are interested in making their content available outside the physical classroom. Having been early to online learning with OpenCourseWare, MIT "wants to make available an adaptable, free platform for any school to use for its own online initiatives," it said in an FAQ.

MITx isn't meant to replace actually attending classes at MIT and gaining a degree there, the school said. Better online education tools can enhance the experience for students and automate tasks such as grading for teachers.

Online learning has mushroomed not only at MIT but many other universities which offer videos of professors' lectures online.

Another notable institution is the Khan Academy which has a mission of offering a wide range of classes for free. The venture, led by former hedge fund manager Salman Khan, has raised funding from Google to complement its video classes with online tools such as exercises and self-paced classes.

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