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MIT Intros MOOC 'Micro-Master's'

There's the master's degree. And then there's the "micro-master's." That's what MIT is calling its new "modular credential," which will have no admissions requirements. Earning it can shave a full semester off of a regular master's. The topic is supply chain management (SCM), a full-time degree program that's normally earned over 10 months on campus and costs $65,446 plus assorted fees and living expenses. Now students can take MOOCs for the first half, and then come on campus for the second half.

The first MOOC offering in the series, MicroMaster's Credential in Supply Chain Management, delivered on the edX platform, will last for 14 weeks and require eight to 10 hours of work each week. Although the course is free, receiving a "verified certificate" will cost $150 and require students to pass a proctored exam. The class starts on February 10, 2016.

The latest approach comes two years after the institution began experimenting with a certificate program called "XSeries" sequences. An XSeries version of "Supply Chain and Logistics Management" has three courses, intended to be taken in sequential order. The passing grade for the MicroMaster's certificate will be higher than that for the XSeries certificate, the institute explained on an FAQ page. A third course in the XSeries is expected to run in the summer of 2016. Once that's over, MIT will replace the XSeries with the MicroMaster's.

The newest pilot is being led by Sanjay Sarma, MIT's dean of digital learning, and Professors Yossi Sheffi and Chris Caplice, who run the supply chain management program.

"The new combination of online courses and one residential semester will open the SCM program to many more learners," said Sheffi, in a prepared statement. "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."

Those who do the best in the MOOCs stand a better chance of being accepted into the full master's program. MIT is referring to this approach as an "inverted admissions."

"Inverted admission has the potential to disrupt traditional modes of access to higher education," explained Sarma. "We're democratizing access to a master's program for learners worldwide."

As Sheffi explained to Campus Technology, MicroMaster's students "will need to take MOOCs which will be the equivalent of about five MIT courses. On campus they will take another four courses but also do other assignments."

His description of the program sounds vaguely competency-based. "In this system, we are not thinking in terms of classes, one/one-and-a-half lectures, etc. Instead, we are thinking more in terms of unit of knowledge. They may be organized into classes — especially the residential part. But we aim to cover what we think an advanced professional in the field [will] need to know, including the tools to keep improving along technical, managerial and leadership dimensions."

The organizers said they anticipate a global profile. The traditional on-campus version of the master's degree typically has 36 to 40 students who come from all over the world. They tend to be "early career" professionals with between three and eight years of experience and an average age of 30.

MIT said it hoped to partner with companies and other organizations to deliver financial support to students admitted to the program through the MicroMaster's path for those who need it.

"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," said 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 costs, and a way to leverage technology to blend online and on-campus learning pathways."

MIT expects the earliest students of the dual MicroMaster's/on-campus program to graduate in June 2018.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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