The Massachusetts Institute of Technology will this fall package some of its online courses into more cohesive sequences, just as edX prepares to roll out certificates of completion using identity verification. Seen together, the two announcements may provide a glimpse at what the future holds for the massive open online course provider.
The “XSeries” sequences  add a new layer of structure to MITx, the institution’s section of the edX platform. The first of seven courses in the Foundations of Computer Science XSeries will be offered this fall, with one or more new courses being rolled out each semester until the fall of 2015. The Supply Chain Management XSeries, consisting of three courses, will begin in the fall of 2014. The two sequences will target undergraduates and working professionals, respectively.
MIT officials deny that the XSeries sequences are a first step toward students one day being able to combine a set of sequences into something that may resemble a degree. A spokesman described Tuesday’s announcement as an early experiment on new ways to offer programs. Faculty members, while skeptical of how well upper-level courses would translate to MITx, say they are finding the platform useful for teaching basic concepts and competencies.
“Personally, I think it’s pretty obvious we’re headed into a new era of education,” said Christopher J. Terman, a senior lecturer in the department of electrical engineering and computer science. Terman will help create three modules on computation structures for the computer science sequence. “I would be surprised if in 10 years the lay of the land wasn’t really a lot different.”
Each XSeries sequence will cover the topics found in two to four face-to-face courses, which in one way qualifies them as the minors of the MOOC world. For example, Terman’s three modules on computation structures equal one traditional course. Terman said that he expects the modules to be staggered to better facilitate online discussions, and that the current schedule (showing one new model being introduced every semester beginning next fall) represents the time it takes to develop and roll out the courses.
“It’s taking that long for the airplanes to come off the assembly line,” Terman said. “My guess is the flights will take off more frequently than scheduled.”
Independent from MIT’s decision to package its courses into series, edX is adding features to boost the significance of completing the courses available on its platform.
EdX allows students either to audit courses or complete assignments to earn a certificate of completion. Right now, the gateway to earning a certificate is guarded only by an honor code. Beginning next spring, instructors can choose to implement an identity verification process that prompts students to present government-issued identification at specific milestones, like a midterm or final exam. Their identities are then verified by Software Secure, which offers online proctoring services.
Apart from the security benefits, edX officials said the verified certificates  are intended for students who enroll in online courses to further their careers.
“Students have been asking for certificates that have more verification, more meaning behind them that they can add to their resumes,” the edX spokesman Dan O’Connell said.
Students will pay a fee for the verification service that varies depending on the length of the course. A course lasting only a few weeks that uses the service could cost $25, while a longer course could cost more than $100. Multiplied by however many students -- thousands, tens of thousands -- who enroll in a massive online course, the revenue generated from the verification service could be one piece of the puzzle toward a sustainable business model for MOOCs.
Said Matt Malloy, edX's vice president of marketing, “This is one of the ways to be a self-sustaining organization.”
Terman said he believes there will always be students who want to experience a residential academic career at MIT, but that the institution’s online ventures might help faculty members rethink their face-to-face courses. “I don’t think our intent is to put ourselves out of business, but I think our business will change a lot,” he said.