The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, launched OpenCourseWare in 2002, as a freely accessible depository of course materials. In 2018, it contains virtually all MIT course content, with resources from 2,400 courses available to learners and educators around the world at no cost.
In 2012, MIT was one of the founding partners, with Harvard University, of edX, the massive open online course (MOOC) provider and continues to offer MOOCs, with free content, supplemented by paid access to assessments and credentials. As the number of MOOC providers expands, it is increasingly difficult for learners and employers to differentiate, make choices, and assess quality and effectiveness. MIT saw their next step as creating high quality, master-level content that they stood behind by designing a program to award credit for online learning that is accepted in their master’s degree programs.
In 2016, the first MITx MicroMasters launched, as part of MIT’s mission to improve education worldwide by providing pathways for learners to accelerate their access to graduate studies globally. Essential to the MITx MicroMasters are the pathways institutions – universities around the world which accept an MITx MicroMasters as equivalent to an institutionally-determined portion of their comparable master’s degree programs. MicroMasters credentials are offered on edX by 26 institutions around the world: MIT currently has four MicroMasters programs.
An MITx MicroMasters program consists of a set of MIT graduate level courses, with full equivalency to MIT traditional courses, which are taken online, with learners rigorously assessed before receiving a MicroMaster credential. With this credential, learners can apply for entry to a blended MIT master’s program and, if accepted, complete a shorter program at lower cost than a fully on-campus master’s to earn an equivalent degree.
Four programs are offered as MITx MicroMasters:
Data, Economics and Development Policy, with 5 courses Principles of Manufacturing, with 8 short courses Statistics and Data Science, with 4 courses
In each program, all content resembles the rigor of the MIT master’s level courses. Each online course is 11-13 weeks long, offering short videos, readings, lectures, quizzes and mid-term and final assessments, with one or more online proctored exams.
After registering and paying of fees (generally between $1,200 to $1,500 per program), students work through each course offered on edX and complete the ongoing assessments. It is recommended students follow one online course at a time, with each course offered two or three times a year. They are instructor-led courses, so students must adhere to course timelines. At the rate of one course at a time, program completion takes about 18 months.
Depending on the program, one final proctored exam covers all courses in each program or each course has its own proctored final. The proctored exams are timed and closely monitored through software. Students verify their identity prior to the exam, using a webcam and photo ID, and then use the webcam to scan their desks and exam rooms. The proctoring software monitors student computers and any software operating, as well as recording video and audio. The proctoring team views the exam taking and flags any potential violations to the course team who view the recording.
In addition, the course team attempts to circumvent opportunities for cheating by offering student unique questions, with different numbers and variables. Very few violations were found.
The MicroMasters credential can be a student’s final goal; others may choose to move on to the associated full master’s degree.
Each MITx MicroMasters corresponds to about one semester of the credit requirement for a corresponding master’s program at MIT. MicroMasters graduates can apply to the relevant blended master’s program on campus. They go through the same admissions as all applicants, but some of the criteria are modified. For example, in the Supply Chain Management program, they do not have to submit Graduate Records Examination (GRE) results; in Data, Economics and Development Policy, many standard criteria will be waived.
As an example of the on-campus portion of the master’s degree program, the blended Master’s in Supply Chain Management, available only to MITx MicroMasters graduates, is a five-month on-campus program, accepting 40 students a year, and charging $45,000 in tuition. In comparison, the equivalent fully on-campus Supply Chain Management Master’s is a 10-month program which accepts 40 students a year and charges about $90,000 tuition.
Not all MITx MicroMasters credential holders wishing to pursue a full degree program can attend the on-campus MIT program. To facilitate access to related programs at other institutions, MIT sets up Global Pathways Agreements with other universities. With these agreements, MicroMasters credential holders apply to pathway universities to complete a master’s in one of the relevant programs and go through their regular admissions process. Some universities modify their admissions criteria for applicants. Successful applicants are given advanced standing based on the pathway university’s assessment of the MITx MicroMasters content’s compatibility with the curriculum in their degree program. MITx MicroMasters credential holders receive credit for 20% to 50% of relevant degree programs at pathways institutions.
To date, in summer 2018, there are 56 established pathways involving 17 universities in 11 countries. For example, Global Pathways for the MITx MicroMasters in Supply Chain Management includes 16 universities in 10 countries, involving 20 different master’s degree programs. The Master’s degrees earned by the MITx MicroMasters credential holders are awarded solely by the pathway institutions, although mention of the MITx MicroMasters may be part of the students’ transcripts. There are no financial arrangements between MIT and pathway institutions.
Benefits and Outcomes
The students can achieve a master’s degree at MIT at much lower cost than the equivalent fully on-campus program and with shorter full-time attendance.
The MITx MicroMasters designation is recognized by many employers as adding value and credential holders have a sense of self-achievement at completing master’s level courses.
For MIT, the MicroMasters offers the opportunity to serve new groups of learners and bring some of that talent to MIT.
For pathway institutions, aligning with the MITx MicroMasters can bring new students to their institutions, and offers brand exposure through their affiliation with the program.
Challenges and Enhancements
Conveying the value of MicroMasters to the marketplace presents a challenge, as it is often essential to change the perception of online learning. Tracy Tan, Director of the MicroMasters Program at MIT Open Learning, provides a concise description of the program as offering, “rigorous content, with strict assessment and a valuable credential.” Students, industry and others need to be convinced of how successful the learners can be.
Fifty-two (52) MicroMasters programs are available on edX from 26 institutions. The providers need to work together to promote a strong and clear brand, sharing best practices and responses to challenges.
A new unique feature for MicroMasters is the recent launch of the learners’ records. All the learners’ performance information stored in the edX platform can now be requested by the learners to be shared with pathway institutions. It resembles the traditional transcripts but with a fresh design. Courses, letter grades, percentage and verify attempts are included.
The number of pathway institutions continues to grow, offering institutions and students possibilities for new learning and credentials.
Extended research on learners can offer better understanding of their characteristics contributing to success and motivations, whether for the MicroMasters or access to a full master’s program. Follow-up with the MicroMasters credential holders can assess impact.
For Further Information
Director, MicroMasters Program
MIT Open Learning
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States