image by flickr user Tobias Leeger (cc license)

Is it possible that the ‘class’ model of college is outdated? We already know that campuses across the country are stretching beyond the physical classroom. Whether it’s in online courses or online components, the physical classroom has a different meaning than it used to. Might the actual structure of a semester class will change as well?

This is something that Massachusetts Institute of Technology has been studying and considering for quite a while. Last year, MIT conducted a survey of faculty and students. According to that survey, “25 percent of MIT faculty, and 40 percent of MIT students, indicated that some of the Institute’s course offerings might benefit from being broken up into smaller modules.

Smaller modules–specifically focusing on and learning pieces of traditional semester-length classes–seems to be the future. At least, that’s what MIT thinks and is expending a considerable amount of institutional energy moving toward.

Part of this is job-oriented: allowing students to more clearly show core competencies from their transcript. In addition, students might be able to earn certificates in modular competencies along the way to their degree, which would bolster their claims to their job-ready competencies. However, for MIT, part of this is simply about how students best learn. And modules, some argue, may allow students to better learn in on-demand chunks than in sitting in the classroom throughout a semester.

It’s unlikely that module-based learning will be everywhere in the next few years, but this is a trend to track. Other universitities have broken down classes into smaller chunks (Arizona State University, for example, recently switched from a semester-only course setting to offering a host of quarter and semester courses both online and in-person) in order to better facilitate learning. And, although it may not be ideal for teaching our students how to direct their own learning, module-based learning may be a superior pedagogical method for preparing our students for the workforce.

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