A SWOT Analysis of the MIT Online Learning Report

An influential document in an emerging discipline?

April 5, 2016

MIT report - Online Education: A Catalyst for Higher Education Reforms

I’ve had a few days to think about the MIT Online Education report.  While I’m (respectfully) critical of some of the content, I do feel that this is a potentially important document in our emerging learning science / organizational change discipline.

I say “potentially” - because the impact of the report will be direct proportional to the degree that it is discussed.

Are you discussing the MIT Online Education report on your campus?

What would you add (or dispute) about my SWOT analysis?


  • Makes a strong and compelling case that learning is strategic for postsecondary institutions.
  • Synthesizes different approaches to learning science in a method that should we widely accessible.
  • Connects the theoretical frameworks of learning science with postsecondary organizational change.
  • Celebrates the role of non-faculty educators as key players in pushing an learner-centric change agenda.
  • Offers specific advice for investing in learning environments, both online and residential, to facilitate student learning.


  • Contextual challenges, such as state level disinvestment in postsecondary institution, are not addressed in relation to opportunities in learning science and online learning.
  • Educator labor market issues, such as the adjunctifaction and de-skilling of faculty, are not critically analyzed in relationship to the push for scaled online courses and programs.
  • Traditional online education (small courses where faculty know students as individuals) is confounded in the discussion with open online (scaled) courses.
  • Does not address demographic, economic, or political issues (such as state level postsecondary disinvestment) when discussing higher ed innovation.


  • Provides rich materials, ideas, and suggestions to catalyze discussions on your campus.
  • Faculty and non-faculty educators working together for non-incremental learning advances will see their work reflected in the report.
  • Potentially provides a common baseline language for campus conversations about learning science.
  • Creates an opportunity to conceptualize postsecondary learning improvements and organizational change as interdependent tasks.


  • The “learning engineer” description for non-faculty educators (instructional and learning designers) may turn off part of the community.
  • Fails to recognize that learning science has been deeply embedded in the history of the online learning profession.
  • Discussion of the ideas in the report will be limited by a lack of open, public, and accessible venues to debate the ideas contained in the document.
  • Unclear if the report will resonate with institutions outside of MIT’s peer group.


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