This from the New England Journal of Higher Education:
The prototype version of MITx is scheduled for launch in spring 2012. MITx is an outgrowth of MIT OpenCourseWare (OCW), which began in 2002. Building upon the inventory of nearly 2,100 MIT courses, MITx will offer the online teaching of MIT courses worldwide and the opportunity for able learners to gain certification of mastery of MIT material.
The launch of MITx represents a milestone both in terms of access to higher education and higher education credentialing. The significance of this event is that this shift is coming from MIT, more often thought of as a premier global university than a radical institution.
Beginning with a portfolio of selected courses, MITx is expected to grow over time. It will offer a compendium of courses needed for demonstrated competence in a given subject, including lectures, syllabi, online tests, feedback, group discussions, labs and interaction with MIT faculty.
If this isn’t a wake-up call for public higher education, it sure should be. In the not too distant future for roughly the same cost, students will have a choice of getting credentialed from a prestigious institution like MIT, or getting a degree from a public college without the same cachet. There’s also the possibility that new “course aggregators” will emerge to offer students a lower-cost opportunity to get a degree by choosing the best courses available on line, bypassing traditional colleges altogether.
Here’s the challenge: public institutions cannot compete by delivering courses in the traditional manner. MITx and others of that ilk will be able to provide the equivalent learning experience at a competitive price.
From a strategic standpoint, the mid-level publics have to re-engineer what they are doing so that they can provide an educational experience that is much more compelling than the standard lecture or the standard on-line course. In the current competition for students, many schools have focused on upgrading noninstructional facilities like health centers and student service to enhance quality of life for students. This may just drive up costs and provide no long-term benefit either educationally or in terms of career chances. (Indeed, a recent study suggests that parents and prospective students understand this.) Nonetheless, there are some interesting efforts underway to keep traditional public higher education relevant (see here and here). And these are just the beginning of what will be profound changes.