MIT Receives First Leadership Gift from Alumnus to Expand Online Learning Initiative

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Friday, July 20, 2012 - 2:45pm

MIT alumnus Philippe Laffont has made the first individual leadership gift in support of MITx, MIT’s new online learning initiative. The Philippe & Ana Luisa Laffont Family Foundation contributed $1 million to honor Stephen A. Ward (SB ’66 and SM ’69 in electrical engineering; PhD ’74 in computer science from MIT), Professor of Computer Science and Engineering, who was Laffont’s thesis advisor at MIT. The gift will enable MITx to offer new courses, and will support its efforts to bring courses to an even wider audience.

MITx provides online courses to edX, the joint MIT/Harvard online education project announced in May. Both MIT and Harvard have committed $30 million to edX.

“Philippe is passionate about education, whether it was as a student or as a teaching assistant at MIT,” said Anant Agarwal, president of edX and Laffont’s former professor. “Philippe is an incredibly innovative thinker and a personal friend. Professor Ward and I are appreciative and proud to have his support.”

MITx was announced last December, and launched its first pilot course, 6.002x Circuits and Electronics, in March. More than 154,000 people from more than 160 countries registered for the course, which concluded in June. The majority of the traffic on the MITx site came from the United States, India, and the United Kingdom, followed by Colombia. Rounding out the top 10 were Spain, Pakistan, Canada, Brazil, Greece, and Mexico. The Laffont gift will be used to expand and update this course offering, based on user feedback gathered during the pilot phase. Collaborations are planned with the National University of Mongolia and San Jose State University, where students will participate in a “flipped classroom” environment, watching 6.002x course videos at home and coming to class for hands-on instruction.

MITx is a free online learning initiative that makes MIT courses available to anyone, anywhere in the world. Its portfolio of interactive courses includes video lesson segments, embedded quizzes, online labs and discussion groups, student-ranked questions and answers, and mechanisms for immediate feedback. The MITx open source platform can be used by other universities for their own online education offerings at no cost.

 “We are proud to support this new initiative headed by Professor Anant Agarwal,” said Philippe Laffont. “It is our hope that online education is the next major opportunity in education. It can reach a wide audience at a low cost, create a large new market, and improve on campus teaching.”

Laffont earned an SB in computer science and electrical engineering, an SB in economics, and an SM in computer science and electrical engineering from MIT, all awarded in 1991. He is the founder and chief investment officer of Coatue Management, LLC, a privately owned investment management firm with assets under management of $6 billion and offices in New York City and Menlo Park, CA. Founded in 1999, Coatue invests in global equities primarily in the technology, media, and telecommunication industries. Coatue was selected by Absolute Return magazine as the Sector Fund of the Year in 2007 and Specialist Fund of the Year in 2011.

As computation and Internet technologies enable higher education to migrate online, MIT’s goal is to democratize education with unprecedented efficiency and scalability. Through MITx, MIT educational content can reach, augment, and enrich education and livelihood of many learners who cannot attend MIT.

About the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology—a coeducational, privately endowed research university founded in 1861—is dedicated to advancing knowledge and educating students in science, technology, and other areas of scholarship that will best serve the national and the world in the 21st century. The institute has close to 1,000 faculty and 10,000 undergraduate and graduate students. It is organized into five Schools: Architecture and Urban Planning’ Engineering’ Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences; Sloan School of Management; and Science.

MIT’s commitment to innovation has led to a host of scientific breakthroughs and technological advances. Achievements of the Institute’s faculty and graduates have included the first chemical synthesis of penicillin and vitamin A, the development of inertial guidance systems, modern technologies for artificial limbs, and the magnetic core memory that made possible the development of digital computers. Seventy-eight alumni, faculty, researchers, and staff have won Nobel Prizes.