Project Details

A group of students at a seminar


Bringing the best of higher education to students around the world.

By Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Project URL:
Project Twitter: @edXOnline

Organisation URL:
Organisation Twitter: @MIT

  • Education
  • Audiovisual
  • Internet

Circuits and Electronics 6.002, a basic course, taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is an unlikely starting point for an educational revolution. Yet in March 2012, 6.002, the first Massively Open Online Course (MOOC) provided by edX, a consortium led by MIT and Harvard University, attracted almost 160,000 students. They watched short video lectures, solved interactive problems, conducted experiments in online laboratories and joined discussion forums. If MOOCs change the education industry, making it possible for students to join a rich array of classes provided by a variety of institutions at low cost, then 6.002 may prove to be the Model T Ford of the digital learning revolution.

That’s because edX is not just a platform to provide content to students. It is itself a collaborative laboratory so researchers can come together to understand what does and does not work. The technology and content is available open source and so the plan is that edX will spawn multiple experiments from which lessons can be drawn.

In its first year edX attracted 675,000 students for 62 courses and partnered with 28 universities in 12 countries. MOOCs, like edX, will make higher education affordable for a generation troubled by the prospect of leaving college with high debts and uncertain job prospects. The cost of higher education in the USA has risen by 1,120% since 1978. MOOCs offer a low-cost, shared solution, and more besides.

As the original 6.002 course showed, well-designed online learning can allow students to pace their own education more effectively, and to engage in more continual, interactive self-assessments of their understanding. The lectures are broken into short chunks with tests after each segment. Students get instant feedback from online tests, which means they are less prone to persevere with misconceptions. The teachers also managed to mock up a virtual, online laboratory, allowing for collaborative work and discussion.

Still MOOCs are in their early days. One of the biggest challenges they face is high drop-out rates. Of the 159,000 students who registered for the first course, about 25,750 were classified as potentially serious (because they made an attempt at the first problem set on the course) and 7,157 (28%) actually completed the course. Evidence is emerging, however, that some learners are deliberately picking and choosing only those parts of courses which are relevant for them, in a way that 'completing the course' is not. 

It took Henry Ford at least 10 years to work out how to make his system of mass manufacturing work properly. It may take MOOCs just as long to work out a model which translates initial interest into completed courses. Ford solved his problems at the River Rouge plant in Detroit; edX is like River Rouge, it will be one of the places where the future system of digital learning is created.

Image 'ScienceWednesday, 13. November 2013, 10/13' courtesy of Steven Wolf

Last updated: 09th of May, 2014

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