November/December 2022Vol. XXXV No. 2

MITx Update for MIT Faculty: Fall 2022

Christopher Capozzola

November 16, 2022 marked one year since the sale of edX, the nonprofit organization launched by MIT and Harvard in 2012 to provide an open online platform for university courses, to 2U, a publicly traded education technology company. Open Learning leadership want to update you on what’s happened since.

Two streams of work came out of the initial announcement of the sale: help in establishing a new nonprofit from the proceeds, and strategy and implementation for MITx, including creating an alternative platform for online courses separate from edX.

Continued progress and new platform at MITx

In June 2021, with the announcement of the intended purchase, MIT leadership committed to establish a new platform for massive online open courses (MOOCs), as an MIT-specific, nonprofit alternative to edX. Currently called MITx Online, it launched in beta in early fall 2021 with J-PAL’s Data, Economics, and Development Policy courses. One year later, MITx Online is hosting roughly 10% of all active MITx courses. 

Following the announcement of the MITx Online platform and in the context of recommendations from Task Force 2021 and Beyond, in September 2021 then-Provost Martin Schmidt commissioned an Ad Hoc Committee on MITx and MITx Online. The committee was charged with “making recommendations for how the online education opportunities offered by MITx and MITx Online should contribute to MIT’s mission and for how the new portal for online education and educational resources at MIT should be structured to enable these contributions.” The committee delivered its report in February, and members of the committee have continued to work with the MITx team and the MITx Faculty Advisory Committee (FAC) on exploring their recommendations. Some of those in progress include:

  • Taking a learner-focused approach to presenting courses and topics
  • A portal with a robust search
  • Organizing courses by field of study with guided pathways for learners
  • Potential new program formats
  • Investigation of credential options at MIT and peer institutions 

Development of MITx Online continues; e-commerce functionality launched this fall, with the ability to issue learner certificates and process payments. Current work focuses on adding features and functionality.

Irrespective of platform, all MITx courses are produced the same way: MIT faculty and instructors design them in dialogue with their home departments, and the MITx FAC approves them based on faculty proposals submitted in response to the annual grant cycle. Likewise, all MITx courses can be found in a single stream on the Open Learning website and remain free for learners around the world and here on our campus. MITx continues to have remarkable global reach, respect, and impact. Since its launch in 2012 MITx, has developed over 250 courses, with 12 million enrollments and six million unique learners, and has awarded more than 300,000 certificates. 

Work on the new nonprofit

The net proceeds from the $800 million transaction with 2U funded a nonprofit organization, also run by MIT and Harvard. Currently operating under the working name of the Center for Re-imagining Learning (tCRIL), the nonprofit focuses on addressing long-standing inequities in education by making learning effective, accessible, and relevant to a diverse array of learners and institutions. This work will include support for innovation in and expansion of digital technologies (including Open edX, the open source learning software technology on which MITx has been built), as well as support for the communities that help create transformative learning outcomes. In September 2021, then-Provost Schmidt commissioned a Non-Profit Entity Working Group, led by then-Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart and Chair of the Faculty Lily Tsai.

Jointly overseen by MIT and Harvard, tCRIL has begun developing a governance structure. The eight-person board is chaired by MIT Provost Cynthia Barnhart and Harvard Provost Alan Garber. Other MIT appointees include Vice President for Open Learning Eric Grimson, Executive Vice President and Treasurer Glen Shor, and Alan Spoon, a member of the MIT Corporation. The board has established a Technical Oversight Committee for the Open edX project; membership and additional information can be found on the Open edX website. The governance board is also leading the search for tCRIL’s CEO, which is in the final stages.

One year later, the mission of MIT Open Learning remains the same: to transform teaching and learning at MIT and around the globe through the innovative use of digital technologies. We encourage faculty participation in MITx by developing courses, teaching with them in your residential MIT classes, and sharing your views through the MITx Faculty Advisory Committee, which includes members from all five Schools of MIT.