A Report on the Future of MIT Education

Last week, a specially-constituted task force released its final report on the future of MIT Education. Only the 4th such report in its 153-year history, the report comes at a crucial juncture, when “higher education is at an inflection point”.

The taskforce does not suggest any radical overhaul.  The tone of the report is to suggest and encourage ‘bold’ experimentation within the existing framework. And as reports and recommendations go, it predictably leaves out nothing – blended learning, gamification, flipped classrooms etc – all the buzzwords are here.

Still the report is worth a read, if at all to get a sense of how a top-notch institution, renowned throughout the world, is finetuning its strategy for the post-MOOC world.  Wish one would see something similar at the IITs who more than ever need to reinvent themselves.

Here is what I found interesting from the report

1) The Course is Dead! – The traditional 3-or-4 credit course is clearly on the decline thanks to increasing digitization in education. Just as digitization / itunes unbundled songs from the CD, we are seeing a parallel trend in education where courses are getting modularized – broken down into “learning units or modules which can be studied in sequence or separately”. Modules are faster to create, and could be “reused as a foundation across a variety of disciplines” and across institutions. To enable this, the report advises establishment of a module repository, “enabling students and educators to identify and utilize the modules that best meet their needs.”

Just as the course is getting impacted from one end by modularization, at the other end, it is getting impacted by rise of certification pathways. The task force urges each MIT department to think in terms of certification pathways, similar to the popular XSeries courses launched on edX, when developing content for online delivery. An XSeries course such as Foundations of Computer Science has seven modules (each roughly half of a regular MIT Course) that provides learning in areas ranging from Programming to Java to Digital Circuits, providing a solid basis for understanding computer science. Pinned between the XSeries certification pathways and the module, the course is suddenly persona non grata.

2) MITx Community as a Strategic Resource – Scattered throughout the report are ideas on engaging deeper with the MITx community. This refers to those who sign up for MIT’s MOOC classes on edX. Some of the ideas include

– students in programs such as MISTI which matches MIT students with global internships and research opportunities, to meet with MITx students in the local countries that they intern in and to act as MITx ambassadors, providing a visible connection to MIT.
– expand problem-based competitions such as $100K Entrepreneurship Competition and Clean Energy Prize to MITx learners all over the world
– invite MITx students at a certain point in their online studies to come to MIT to participate in on-campus interactive learning opportunities with MITx students from all over the world. This is further to MIT’s interest in the MITx community as a potential pool for recruitment as we saw with Mongolian student Battushig Myanganbayar, who came to MIT’s attention after he aced the Circuits & Electronics MOOC on edX.

The report clearly lists out certification revenue from students (XSeries) and licensing revenue from other colleges who wish to use MITx courses (“MITx inside”) as part of their curriculum as  important opportunities for revenue generation. However I also potential in opportunities such as affiliate fees – what if MIT charged $10 a year for access to its alumni network or created some sort of alumni-lite program for its MITx students? 

3) Developing a K12 Strategy –The report says MIT offers over 80 K12 educational programs! These programs are distinct from its MOOCs, which too cater to K12 students, though not exclusively. These 80+ programs have evolved from the ground up without any overarching strategic imperative. Now MIT wants to put in place a formal K12 strategy to reach younger students. How would MIT benefit from such a strategy – clearly by helping it right brighter and more diverse students, giving it an edge over its peers including Harvard, Stanford etc.

In this regard, I would hazard that MIT could roll out a series of MOOCs aimed at high-school students, or restrict a couple of MOOCs only to K12 students. Performance on these MOOCs could bring performers to the notice of MIT’s recruiting office. Thus these K12 MOOCs could become the equivalent of a long-drawn out admissions test, especially for students outside the US.

MIT’s interest in targeting K12 students (or at least putting in place a K12 strategy), its plans for “MITx Inside” all point to larger well-known universities becoming megabrands, expanding vertically (K12) and horizontally (providing education content to other universities, certification services) thus trampling on the turf of smaller universities, for-profit certification providers etc. As an example of the latter, consider MIT launching a XSeries in Programming competing with DevBootcamp, HackReactor. In such a case, would’nt employers naturally gravitate towards the MIT brand (all other things being equal)?


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A look at an intriguing higher ed startup – Minerva Project – that aims to redefine the university model.


Innova Schools, a fast-growing Peruvian school-chain, designed from the ground up by IDEO.


Gringo is the latest acronym in higher ed – it comes from UK and it stands for Graduates in Non Graduate Occupations


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The lecture method hasn’t changed for 2,000 years. Now, software tools such as LectureTools and ECoach are hoping to create an improved Lecture 2.0.


Obama wants the US Education Department to bring out a scorecard for US Universities measuring them on “graduation rates, student debt and other outcomes”.  How will this differ from other rankings. Well for one, it wont be rankings but ratings. But a better answer comes from Jamie Studley, Deputy Undersecretary, US Education Department “U.S. News measures primarily wealth, rejection and reputation; The Department is looking at access, affordability and outcomes.”


The story of Lexicon – the world’s most expensive font.