The biggest difference between MLA 8 and the previous versions is in the methods used to create the Works Cited page. You’ll be glad to know this has become a great deal less pedantic.
The reason they’ve changed so dramatically is to bring themselves inline with modern research techniques and technology. MLA accepted (and we’re hoping APA and Chicago follow suit) that references have become increasing complex and that citing sources in a modern, internet driven world is far too complex for a traditional prescriptivist system.
Before, you had to find the exact format to match the thing you were referencing. That worked fine when there was only a handful of things you could reference, but it couldn’t keep up with the evolution in research. If you’re referencing a GIF you found in a listicle your friend found on BuzzFeed and linked to your Facebook page, there was no way to even begin to reference that properly. So, MLA started over.
Here’s what it looks like now:
They’ve built their system around what they’re calling Core Elements.
Core Elements are basic pieces of information. You can think of them as piece of metadata. Every source you come across can be added to a Works Cited using these Core Elements.
See the Core Elements Page for more info.
MLA 1 through 7 were designed for this:
MLA 8 is designed for this:
MLA 9 will be designed for this:
Two important things the Purdue Owl has to say about all this (emphasis mine):
From the Purdue Owl's page (all emphasis mine):
If you are already familiar with traditional MLA citation methods, continue to use them in a more simplified form. Since the eighth edition emphasizes the writer’s freedom to create references based on the expectations of the audience, consider what your readers need to know if they want to find your source.