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With MITx, free education for the masses

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The Massachusetts Institute of Technology's new open-source education platform promises to bring free online education to the masses. The name? MITx.

Online education is hardly new, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is no stranger to it. But the renowned U.S. school's latest effort hopes to bring its style of education to, well, anyone with a computer.

Called "MITx," the initiative intends to bring interactive coursework to willing students, regardless of their location or prior education, through the use of its open-source, scalable software platform called OpenCourseWare -- which the school says allows it to be "continuously improving."

While peer universities explore physical campuses in nations far from home, MIT seeks to construct what appears to be an entirely virtual one -- accessible for free.

"Creating an open learning infrastructure will enable other communities of developers to contribute to it, thereby making it self-sustaining," said MIT professor Anant Agarwal, who leads the school's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and development of the platform. "An open infrastructure will facilitate research on learning technologies and also enable learning content to be easily portable to other educational platforms that will develop."

Successful completion of coursework, plus a "modest fee," entitles the student to a certificate of mastery from MIT. (A full degree from the school retains its "special distinction," MIT notes reassuringly.)

The initiative is expected to launch in Spring 2012, though an introductory website is already live. The first course, "6.002x: Circuits and Electronics," was announced on Monday; enrollment for the course is now open.

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Andrew Nusca

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Andrew Nusca is editor of SmartPlanet and an associate editor for ZDNet. Previously, he worked at Money, Men's Vogue and Popular Mechanics magazines. He holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and New York University. He is based in New York but resides in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure