August 4, 2014

To the members of the MIT community:

I write to share the final report of the Institute-wide Task Force on the Future of MIT Education. It is the product of 18 months of campus-wide discussion, analysis and introspection, and it marks the beginning of an exciting new period of educational experimentation at MIT.  You may read more on MIT News.

The past few years have brought mounting evidence that higher education stands at a crossroads.  As with any disruptive technology, MOOCs have been viewed with enthusiasm in many quarters and skepticism in some.  However, the underlying facts are inarguable: that 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.

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.

Last November, the Task Force released its preliminary report, which imagined new possibilities and identified a broad range of opportunities in need of deeper investigation.  Since then, the three Task Force working groups – on MIT education and facilities, on global opportunities around edX, and on new financial models for higher education – have considered the feasibility and value of those ideas, and articulated practical options.

A menu of possibilities

Building on the concepts from its preliminary report, the Task Force has developed concrete recommendations, from increasing the flexibility and modularity of the curriculum, to imagining new kinds of physical spaces to support learning, to defining new opportunities for service.  To provide a framework and sustained funding for further educational experimentation, research, and learning going forward, the Task Force has also proposed that MIT create an Initiative for Educational Innovation.  Led by MIT faculty, this new entity would promote rigorous, data-driven analysis of the pedagogical and curricular innovations that the report describes.

MIT is already building on the work the Task Force has begun.  This summer, MIT offered five subjects that have explored new pedagogies in a blended or online setting.  The data collected from those classes, which enrolled 129 MIT students, will help us assess some of the report’s recommendations.  And we have recently received generous support from Carnegie Corporation of New York to launch a study that will assess the impact of online learning on higher education and present policy recommendations aimed at making America’s system of higher education stronger, more effective and more accessible.

Choosing the best path together

While the release of this report represents an important milestone, our work has just begun. The next challenge: to identify which of the report’s recommendations to implement, how and in what order.  To help define the path forward, over the next two months the Task Force will actively solicit community comment, questions and suggestions through various mechanisms, including a faculty and a student forum in September.  The co-chairs also invite your input any time at

The Task Force has produced outstanding results through a process marked by collaboration, inclusiveness and candor: MIT at its best.  By reaching out for ideas in many ways – through department meetings, student forums, Institute Faculty Meetings, a Corporation Advisory Group, an Alumni Advisory Group, an idea bank, and surveys sent to all students, instructors and faculty – the 52 members of the Task Force made sure that their report reflected not only their own insights but wisdom and experience drawn from all across MIT.

I am grateful to all the members of the Task Force, who devoted to this vital effort a great deal of time, care and creativity.  In particular, I extend my deep appreciation to the co-chairs – Sanjay Sarma, Fred Fort Flowers and Daniel Fort Flowers Professor of Mechanical Engineering and MIT’s director of Digital Learning; Karen Willcox, Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics; and Executive Vice President and Treasurer Israel Ruiz – for their resolve, commitment and leadership.

I look forward to working with you to invent the future of MIT education.


L. Rafael Reif 

Themes From Community Engagement Discussions

In the best tradition of MIT, the Task Force on the Future of MIT Education was a collaborative and inclusive process where input from all parts of the community was sought, welcomed and valued. With the guidance of the Advisory Groups and input from the broader MIT community through the Idea Bank and group discussions, the Task Force recommendations reflect the experiences and knowledge of the faculty, students, staff, members of the Corporation and alumni who contributed their expertise to these conversations. In releasing the final report on August 4, 2014 President Reif described a comment period, during which we actively sought feedback and reactions to the Task Force recommendations from across the MIT community.  A group of overarching themes emerged from these discussion forums, as summarized below.

Community Engagement Sessions

  • Academic Council, September 2, 2014
  • Executive Committee, September 5, 2014
  • Student Forum, September 10, 2014  
  • Faculty Policy Committee, September 11, 2014
  • Institute Faculty Meeting, September 17, 2014
  • Alumni Leadership Conference, September 19, 2014
  • Department Heads Luncheon, September 22, 2014
  • Faculty Forum, September 24, 2014
  • Staff Forum, October 1, 2014
  • Corporation Meeting, October 10, 2014

Overarching Themes

Theme 1 The importance of investing in the MIT residential experience

While much of the Task Force work focused on new pedagogies enabled by online platforms for learning, the commitment to evolving residential education for future generations of learners has never wavered. During discussions, we heard the need to make it easier to work across school boundaries to develop interdisciplinary classes, to explore modular approaches to class material, and to experiment with flexible approaches. We heard support for adopting best practices around assessment, so that MIT can evaluate learning experiments. We were urged to remember the developmental aspects of the freshman year and the importance of the non-academic components of a residential education. And we heard strong support for recommendations around communications and excitement about game-based learning. Some commented that many of the recommendations were geared more to the “how” or methods of education rather than to “what” or class content, and urged us to now devote attentions to the “what”.

Theme 2 The impact on faculty time

Faculty need help, and concerns about impact on faculty time are of paramount importance. We have heard concern over the fixed number of faculty and about limited faculty bandwidth for taking on new initiatives. Some have suggested that we need to make choices about what to eliminate. It has also been suggested that we find more ways to recognize excellence in education.

Theme 3 The implications for future spaces for student life & learning

We have been reminded of MIT’s unwavering commitment to hands-on learning, the need for maker spaces, the importance of undergraduate residences, and the vision for spaces to enable the future of education. We have heard that our living communities play an important role in contributing to the Magic of MIT’s residential experience.

Theme 4 The possibility to tell the story of MIT’s magic and the enormous opportunities for global impact

We have heard tremendous enthusiasm for doing all we can to share the magic of MIT with the world. Discussions reinforced MIT’s commitment to service, and faculty, students and staff are anxious to contribute, inspire and make a difference in the world. We have heard great support for strengthening service opportunities, and we have realized that we need to do a better job of telling MIT’s story of affordability.

Theme 5 The widespread desire from the broad MIT community to engage in the future of MIT education

What we have been the most surprised and encouraged by is the overwhelming desire of faculty, students, staff, alumni and members of the Corporation to engage in discussion and contribute to the ongoing conversation about the future of MIT education. We know that these discussions will continue as MIT acts on the Task Force final recommendations.

We are grateful to all that have devoted their time to participating in these discussion forums.

Sanjay Sarma, Director of Digital Learning
Karen Willcox, Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics
Israel Ruiz, Executive Vice President and Treasure