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MITx is touted as a revolutionary opportunity for thousands of students across the globe. But MIT is also committed to using MITx to transform the nature of education on its own campus. In order to do so, MIT — and all other institutions embracing digital learning — must answer the question of how best to structure their online learning platform. If online resources are to have the effect that advocates promise, it is essential that the online learning platform that is tailored to the needs and learning styles of the student body.

In order to better understand the needs of its students, MIT should utilize its students to generate and test ideas for online learning platforms. Almost every student already uses online content at some point in his or her education, whether for a UROP, problem set, or class project, and this idea will allow us to see all the difference ways in which students use digital content and how they can be merged together into a cohesive platform. Furthermore, there are numerous ways in which these experiments could be incorporated into traditional classes.

Project based classes, for example, are one area where students can experiment with the development of an online learning platform. This semester, I am taking 3.042 and have been working with my group on a project about the materials science and acoustics of bells. For our project, my group learned how to sand cast bells, to measure their mechanical properties and characterize their microstructure, and how to measure their acoustic properties. One of the main ways in which we learned all this was through different resources we found on the Internet.

Imagine if as a part of a requirement for the class, at the end our project our group compiled all of our work into a centralized website where someone could find all the information and tools necessary to complete our project. The website could contain videos, presentations, demos, papers, lab modules, and any other work we did on the project. The challenge would be determining how best to organize this information so it serves the needs of the person interested in learning about our work. In other words, our challenge would be to create a platform for digital learning. Imagine the ideas that would emerge if students in project-based classes all across the institute developed their own platforms.

Not only will this result in a wide range of learning platforms, but encouraging students to think about how best to teach the concepts they learn for a project will cement the ideas they have learned and improve their communication skills. Furthermore, by seeing how helpful the different platforms are for students, the best practices can be identified and incorporated into the MITx platform. Experimenting with student created learning platforms will also allow MIT to better understand the ways in which its students use digital content.

For MITx to have its desired impact, it is essential that it be tuned to needs of the student population. The best way to determine both what these needs are and how best to meet them is to engage students with the chance to shape the development of MITx by experimenting with different ways to use online learning in their own educations.