MIT has pioneered many online learning solutions, and the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has taken note. MIT and the DoD have teamed up to launch a new edX learning platform, manufacturingworkforce.org.
In the past decade, the DoD has launched nine public-private manufacturing institutes to spur U.S. advanced manufacturing industry forward in areas such as additive manufacturing, robotics, photonics, functional fabrics, and bio-fabrication. An important part of the institutes’ mission is workforce development, which includes online learning. To that end, the DoD has tasked MIT’s Initiative for Knowledge and Innovation in Manufacturing (IKIM) to stand up an Open edX platform for the DoD’s nine institutes and the larger advanced technologies community.
IKIM leads the education and workforce effort of the manufacturing institute AIM Photonics, and just launched the first two courses on the new platform, on photonic integrated circuit (PIC) sensors and on integrated photonics passive device testing. Principal Research Scientist Anu Agarwal and Professor Juejun Hu’s courses are what you might expect from MIT; they cover technical cutting-edge material. MIT IKIM will release five more courses this summer on the new platform, all tied to integrated photonics, and all courses that would fit into MIT’s course catalog.
The DoD’s mission for the new learning platform, however, is to reach far beyond hosting MIT-like classes. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts, in partnership with MIT and others, is building an advanced manufacturing awareness course for high school students exploring potential careers that will go on the platform, tied to at least five of the manufacturing institute technologies. That project is part of a $3.2 million grant announced last October. MIT IKIM also plans to create technician and technologist edX training programs for students seeking careers in advanced technologies, but not necessarily interested in pursuing bachelor’s degrees. Many institutes are planning their online offerings, targeting students at all levels, even starting in elementary school.
Although some people might not associate the DoD with STEM education, it invests heavily in innovative STEM initiatives. MIT IKIM received DoD funding from the Manufacturing Engineering Education Program to build technician programs in robotics and photonics, and to launch a Virtual Manufacturing Lab — a suite of virtual reality simulations in photonics and other advanced manufacturing technologies. The DoD’s investment in the Open edX platform is consistent with its goal of making top-notch education more accessible for students at all levels.
“The Department of Defense is eager to help build a robust domestic manufacturing industry. To do this, we need cutting-edge advanced manufacturing education and training available to more Americans,” says Michael Britt-Crane, education and workforce lead for the DoD’s Manufacturing Technology Program Office. “This platform is an important way to do this, and to bring these resources to the DoD workforce.”
The Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing (ARM) institute recently received funding to create a virtual manufacturing environment on the Open edX platform, where students can train on virtual equipment. The environment could become a place to demonstrate competency and receive credentials. ARM recognizes the vast potential of virtual and augmented realities to quickly scale its manufacturing workforce in the use of robotics and automation.