MITEI launches online energy classes to meet global needs


The MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI) is developing a new series of online energy classes designed to support MITEI’s educational mission of finding and training people to solve the triple challenge of energy: producing more energy for more people, with fewer greenhouse gas emissions, within the short time frame available to avoid disastrous consequences for the planet.

Based on interdisciplinary MIT graduate classes in energy currently taught on campus, the first four classes—all MITx massive open online courses (MOOCs) slated to run on the edX platform—will hone in on the skills needed to be professionally successful in the area of electric power systems design and management.

This new pathway to energy education for a global audience will supplement MIT’s OpenCourseWare (OCW), a free and open online collection of MIT class materials that does not include active instruction or individual feedback.

“Transitioning global energy systems to low-carbon energy solutions requires a global network of professionals trained to model, plan, and deploy relevant technologies within various geopolitical contexts,” says Antje Danielson, MITEI’s director of education. “To develop this future energy workforce, MITEI is building online courses that offer learners both an understanding of the future energy landscape and the skills necessary to actualize it.”

The MITx courses will engage four critical aspects of future electricity systems: load and demand-side management; economics and regulation; production; and distribution and transmission. The first two classes, Professor Christoph Reinhart’s 4.464 Environmental Technologies in Buildings and Professor Christopher Knittel’s 15.038 Energy Economics and Policy, are projected to launch in late summer 2019 and spring 2020, respectively.

The new offerings join more than 35 energy-related courses currently covered by OCW. Fifteen of those courses were developed for the MIT Energy Studies Minor thanks to a course development grant received in 2009 from the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation. The materials for these classes have been used by millions of people.

Recently, MITEI received permission from the foundation to allocate the remainder of the initial course development grant to creating classes for MITx, MIT’s vehicle for providing courses to edX, a platform that features MOOCs from many leading universities. This new content will enable thousands of students around the world to practice and apply their skills and actively pursue careers in the energy transition.

MITEI’s dual-track approach to online education is intentional. “The learner experience is different in each one,” says Curt Newton, director of OCW.

OCW is particularly suited to self-directed learning and to use by instructors in their classrooms. But OCW doesn’t offer graded assignments, feedback from instructors or peers, or a credential. In contrast, learners get this feedback and interaction on edX, along with the option to earn a credential.

“If you’re ready to devote a lot of time to the course, there’s a lot to be gained by the support of instructors, colleagues, and other students,” Newton says. But for a lot of other students, he says, a more “here’s the stuff, do with it what you will” approach is appropriate. Self-directed students who want to study either more or less intensively, have less predictable schedules, or don’t have the need for a credential benefit from the OCW model.

In the future, MITEI plans to develop additional MITx courses in clusters related to carbon capture, utilization, and storage, and other areas related to MITEI’s Low-Carbon Energy Centers.

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This article appears in the issue of Energy Futures.

Electric powerPolicy EducationEnergy Studies Minor

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