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Online courses + time on campus = a new path to an MIT master’s

By Steve Bradt, MIT News Office
October 9th, 2015

Pilot program reimagines admissions process, introduces “MicroMaster’s”

online-mastersMIT announced on Oct. 7 a pilot program allowing learners worldwide to take a semester’s worth of courses in its one-year Supply Chain Management (SCM) master’s program completely online, then complete an MIT master’s degree by spending a single semester on campus.

MIT also announced a new academic credential for the digital age: the “MicroMaster’s,” which can be earned through MITx by students who pass a comprehensive examination upon the successful completion of the same semester’s worth of SCM courses online.

The announcement was made day by MIT President L. Rafael Reif in an email to the MIT community. The pilot will be led by Sanjay Sarma, MIT’s dean of digital learning, and by Professor Yossi Sheffi and Chris Caplice, who run the SCM program and its online offerings.

“The new combination of online courses and one residential semester will open the SCM program to many more learners,” says Sheffi, who is the Elisha Gray II Professor of Engineering. “The 50-some corporate members of the MIT Center for Transportation and Logistics, who are deeply involved with SCM students, enthusiastically embraced this effort, owing to the worldwide talent shortage in this field.”

Inverted admissions

The pilot will feature a new way of structuring admissions to a professional master’s program at MIT.

Learners worldwide with access to edX can take any of the first semester’s worth of courses online. Those who do well in each course, and then score well on a subsequent comprehensive proctored examination, can earn an MITx MicroMaster’s, and their performance will significantly enhance their chances of being accepted to the full master’s program, which they can then complete in a single semester on campus.

“Inverted admission has the potential to disrupt traditional modes of access to higher education,” says Sarma, who is the Fred Fort Flowers and Daniel Fort Flowers Professor in Mechanical Engineering at MIT. “We’re democratizing access to a master’s program for learners worldwide.”

The MicroMaster’s will have no admissions requirements, and will be open to anyone. The coursework will be available for free. Learners can qualify for the MicroMaster’s by paying a modest fee for verified certificates and by passing a proctored exam.

For students who apply to the full master’s program and are admitted to spend a semester on campus, the MicroMaster’s will count toward a semester’s worth of MIT credit. MIT will seek to partner with companies and other organizations to offer financial support to students in need who are admitted to the SCM master’s program via the MicroMaster’s path.

“Decades ago,” Sarma says, “MIT reached students worldwide through faculty-authored textbooks. More recently, the availability of MIT course materials and lectures through OpenCourseWare and interactive courses from MITx broadened access to the Institute. Inverted admissions is the natural next step in MIT’s engagement with learners worldwide.”

Building on a strong program

MIT’s master’s program in Supply Chain Management is already global in its outlook: Its 36 to 40 students each year generally come to Cambridge from more than a dozen nations on five continents. In reputational rankings, SCM is generally regarded as the No. 1 offering in supply-chain management and logistics in the U.S.

MIT’s Center for Transportation and Logistics, which Sheffi also leads, has already developed and launched international programs in Colombia, Spain, and Malaysia, each offering local master’s degrees but working in concert with SCM.

SCM is a 10-month master’s degree program designed for early-career professionals who want to return to school for advanced training in supply-chain management. It draws applicants with careers in finance, information technology, management, marketing, and sales, among other fields. Students in the program generally have three to eight years of professional experience, with an average age of 30.

Latest step in the evolution of learning

The pilot program with inverted admissions is the latest step in MIT’s expansion of online learning. In December 2011, MIT announced the launch of MITx, which offers a portfolio of MIT courses through an online, interactive learning platform.

“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 prices, and a way to leverage technology to blend online and on-campus learning pathways.”

The pilot program also builds upon the 16 recommendations made last year by the Institute-Wide Task Force on the Future of MIT Education, which Reif convened in 2013 to envision the MIT of 2020 and beyond. When Reif released that panel’s final report, on Aug. 4, 2014, he wrote to the MIT community that the occasion “marks the beginning of an exciting new period of educational experimentation at MIT.” The report, he added, presented a framework for the Institute to reinvent education for learners at MIT and beyond.

“The rising cost of education, combined with the transformative potential of online teaching and learning technologies, presents a long-term challenge that no university can afford to ignore,” Reif wrote. “At MIT, we are choosing to meet this challenge directly by assessing the educational model that has served the Institute so well for so long. We are experimenting boldly with ideas to enhance the education we offer our own students and to lower the barriers to access for learners around the world.”

Reprinted with permission of MIT News


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