Rate this response: 

Average: 5 (1 vote)

Right now, the idea of MOOCs and distance learning is the new hotness. I've seen many people (here and in the media at large) blithely assert that MOOCs, in an edX / Khan / Coursera style, can replace traditional pedagogy. That claim is dubious enough - while some people learn well in such an environment, others do much better in a face-to-face situation. But aside from questions of how people learn best, people seem to be overlooking the fact that a large swath of MIT study programs involve hands-on lab work. Sure, in theory, some majors might be accomplished in a purely distance learning environment (CS, math, business, finance, and so on), but one should be careful not to fall into the recent too-popular fallacy of assuming that "technology" = "software".

The single most formative course I took during my undergrad career at MIT was 6.152J, which includes sessions in the building 39 cleanroom fabricating and analyzing semiconductor microdevices. No remote student is going to have access to a facility like MTL, and remote viewing/simulation "virtual labs" cannot get the student the hands-on experience necessary to get a toe-hold in that field. Similarly, is a prospective mechanical engineering student going to have access to a fully stocked machine shop? Will a bio student just happen to have a convenient -80 C freezer in her garage? Design courses like 2.007, 6.270, and 6.111 would be turned on their heads if they didn't allow students to get together to physically put their design together into a working product.

Even within the scope of specific subjects in the degree program, there is more to an MIT education than "chalk talk", and some of it cannot be readily virtualized. Trying to do so would at best result in a watered-down, "Engineering Lite" degree program which wouldn't have anywhere near the value that one can get with access to MIT's real facilities.

Tools like edX are just that - tools, with specific advantages and disadvantages. They will almost certainly be able to enhance the educational experience if used properly, but should never be considered to be a blanket panacea.

Education & Facilities, Educational experiences, Physical spaces, Global Implications of EdX, Global implications of edX, Beyond the residential campus