MITx Digital Learning Lab

The Digital Learning Lab has a mission to learn, collaborate, and innovate with digital learning on campus and beyond.

Office of Digital Learning, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Established: 2013

Profile submitted by Darcy Gordon.

Vision and Goals

Center/Program Structure

The Digital Learning Lab (DLL) is a joint program between the Office of Digital Learning (ODL) and individual academic departments. ODL is the branch of MIT Open Learning that houses digital products and services used on campus and worldwide. DLL members are comprised of Learning Scientists and Fellows, who work closely within their academic departments with faculty, students, and staff, as well as across ODL with members in other academic departments. All DLL members are subject matter experts, holding advanced degrees in their respective disciplines, with expertise in teaching and project management. Situated in an academic department operating as extensions of ODL, Learning Scientists and Fellows are able to bridge these two units and apply best practices of digital learning to each participating academic department's needs. As of 2018, more than 10 academic departments are represented in the DLL by 4 Learning Scientists, 11 Fellows, and 2 graduate researchers. These DLL members work closely with the Dean of Digital Learning, as well as on-campus (Residential Education) and online (MITx) business units of ODL. As a digital learning program, a substantial portion of DLL operations is leveraged by the edX platform, allowing blended learning on campus and Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) development.

Are there advantages of being structured this way?
Communication between ODL and faculty collaborators is greatly facilitated and strengthened by having DLL members positioned within academic departments. Because DLL members are subject matter experts and experienced instructors, they have command over the languages of their discipline and the learning sciences. This ultimately encourages participation from faculty by promoting confidence in the scientific and pedagogical rigor of their collaborations with the DLL.

Are there particular challenges that result from this structure?


How has this funding structure influenced the undergraduate STEM education programming the center offers?

What are the specific advantages of having a center funded in this way?

What are the challenges?

Has this funding structure has changed over time?

Description of Programming

The DLL leverages technology in innovative ways to enhance learning for MIT undergraduate and graduate students, as well as learners around the world, through close collaboration with MIT faculty. DLL members apply research from the learning sciences and evidence-based practices to design and execute curricula emphasizing active learning on campus within their academic departments. During that process, course materials are developed for use in class and online, such as computer-based assessments and tools, discussion activities, and tailored visual and multimedia resources. These course assets relate discipline-specific concepts and methods using contemporary research, and are aligned explicitly with defined learning objectives and assessments that target core competencies. The resulting enhanced courses on campus often serve as a foundation for creating MOOCs, which provide additional opportunities to reach learners on a global scale, and further educational research that can be implemented in future iterations of both on-campus and online versions of a course.

In addition to impacting educational experiences of MIT students and MOOC learners, DLL members curate a strong community of practice for those interested in furthering education through technology. Regular DLL meetings bring in external parties for inspiration, collaboration, and professional development, and more importantly, allow DLL members to share lessons learned and workshop challenges with each other. This improves efficiency within the group and establishes best practices for this growing profession.

Successes and Impacts

Broadly, the role of the DLL on campus is to enhance learning outcomes for students, and to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of course instruction through innovative application of technology. Across the institute virtually all 4500 undergraduate students use the MITx learning management platform, often administered by DLL members, which is compelling evidence of how digital learning is embedded in the experiences of MIT students and instructors. On a global scale, as of 2018 the DLL has developed 49 MOOCs, which run on regular cycles throughout the year on edX, with 16 more DLL-led MOOCs in development. This translates to hundreds of thousands of learners across the world engaging in MOOCs created by DLL members. The scholarly efforts of the DLL have resulted in numerous presentations and publications describing lessons learned about engagement, visual resources, assessment tools, competency exams, and hybrid learning. Ongoing projects look to test hypotheses generated from these insights using learners on campus and online to further discipline-based education research.

Evaluation and Assessment

How does your center demonstrate its value, both in terms of assessing its own programming and responding to external evaluation?

Elements Contributing to Success

The extended community of practice that has emerged from the DLL has been a significant element in determining its success. The unique structure of the DLL brings together discipline-specific, technical, and pedagogical experts united by an interest in digital learning. DLL members meet regularly together, and with others that are invested in educational innovation using technology, to grow a network supporting this work. This network has grown in large part due to the activity of DLL members participating in conferences and workshops, generating scholarly works, and acting as ambassadors that embody the values of MIT Open Learning.

Supplemental Materials