In The future of MIT undergraduate education: a case study of disruption, I described two reports from MIT that laid out a stunning vision for the future of MIT undergraduate education. Among the suggestions of the reports are that education of the future will be unbundled and disaggregated, with online components enabling flexible time scales and location-independent participation. The second and final of the two reports calls for, among other things, bold experimentation to realize the vision, and a recommendation that MIT move forward to consider the types of certifications that can be supported through MITx and edX.
MIT recently announced a very interesting new program that embodies these two aspects of these reports: a new twist to MIT's one year Master's in Supply Chain Management. This modified degree program is, in effect, modularized and disaggregated. The first semester's courses will be available through edX, enabling students around the world to access them for free. Students who do well in the courses, pass a proctored exam and pay a small certification fee will be awarded a new MITx MicroMaster's certificate. For those students who want to continue with the full Master's program, the MicroMaster's greatly enhances the likelihood of acceptance into the on-campus program. Accepted students could then complete the Master's in one semester on campus. MIT describes this as an example of "inverted" admissions in which students first try the courses, then apply for admission:
Inverted admission has the potential to disrupt traditional modes of access to higher education....We’re democratizing access to a master’s program for learners worldwide.
Students who enter the program in this way will be charged only for their one semester on campus, saving half the price of the traditional program.
One can only imagine that MIT views this as a way to do a great study of the effectiveness of their brand of online learning versus traditional classroom learning: which group of students does the best in the second semester? And what of the student demographics? Does this approach bring increased geographic or gender diversity to the class?
When the reports referred to above were first released, Anant Agarwal, CEO of edX and Professor at MIT, imagined a future MIT where freshmen would spend the first year taking on line courses, then come to campus for (most of) the remainder of their degree. This new program also should be providing useful data for considerations of that future.
Finally, the MITx MicroMaster's itself is an important step. This is a credential that MIT expects will have career value for those who have earned it. That is, employers will value it and reward its holders appropriately. Thus, the program is structured so that it can create value even for those students who decide not to continue to the Master's. In addition, MIT is actively discussing with other universities the possibility of having the MicroMaster's convertable into credits in their own Master's programs. In other words, MIT is hard at work creating a name brand for its MITx MicroMaster's:
"The new MicroMaster’s is an important modular credential for the digital age, and promises to serve as academic currency in a continuous, lifelong-learning world,” says Anant Agarwal, CEO of edX and a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT. “It also affords an evolutionary path for universities in the face of mounting costs, and a way to leverage technology to blend online and on-campus learning pathways.”
Is this the beginning of the creation of a second brand at MIT?