Mark McDowell believes that “the whole field of education, for the first time in a thousand years, is going to undergo a huge change over the next two decades.” Education, he says, “is finally going digital,” and MIT is helping to pave the way.

To that end, Mark ’88, SM ’89 and his wife, Jill, have made a major gift in support of MITx, the Institute’s approach to massive open online courses. McDowell, who was raised by teachers so “education was a top priority,” notes the courage it took for MIT to create MITx in December 2011. At the time, he says, no one knew “where it would lead or whether people would use it. MITx was kind of an experiment in progress.”

Today, more than 1 million students from 195 countries have registered for courses through MITx. The initiative has also “illuminated some new methods of teaching that are highly effective and can actually be moved into the classroom,” says McDowell. These include shorter teaching modules followed by questions that reinforce what the students just learned.

McDowell also notes the importance of MIT’s Office of Digital Learning (ODL),the home to MITx and related initiatives. “It’s phenomenal,” says the longtime entrepreneur and current partner in Real Ventures, a venture capital fund based in Montreal that invests in education technology. Earlier this year “the ODL announced a major collaboration with the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation to radically change how teachers and principals are taught.” That will become ever more important as the field of education continues to evolve, he says.

Mark and Jill, an attorney who received a BS from the University of Florida and a law degree from the Catholic University of America, have two children, ages 10 and 12. They helped to inspire the McDowells’ gift. “We want the best for our kids, and the best for other kids, too,” Mark says.

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