On Campus

MIT announces free, open source courses

Certificates for a "modest fee"

Photo by liquene on Flickr

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) plans a spring launch of its ambitious new program, MITx, which includes a freely accessible suite of online courses that’s expected to attract millions of learners from around the world. MITx will allow students to learn at their own pace, participate in online labs and interact with fellow students online.

But most exciting is that MITx courses will come with a certificate of completion for students who have proven they’ve mastered the subject materials and paid “a modest fee.”

Open learning courses that come with credentials have proven enormously popular. When Stanford University professors offered an online course in Artificial Intelligence this fall with a “statement of accomplishment” and the possibility of interaction with professors through crowd-sourcing, 58,000 signed up by August. A similar Stanford course in machine learning drew nearly 100,000.

Naturally, MIT doesn’t want anyone to think these certificates are equivalent to MIT degrees. To avoid confusion, they will create a not-for-profit that will offer certificates under “a distinct name.”

MIT already offers nearly all of its course materials free through OpenCourseWare. Those materials have been accessed by more than 100 million people. They will continue to be available.

MITx will be open source, which means developers will be able to take what they like and modify it for their own needs. That could have major implications for university systems that are coping with tight budgets. In the past, internet delivery hasn’t saved much money, primarily because of high development costs. But with courses materials and software from a trusted source like MIT, development costs could drop and internet technology may finally start to reduce tuition bills.

Glen Murray, Ontario’s Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, recently told Maclean’s On Campus that he anticipates a major build up of internet delivery in Canada’s universities and envisions life-long-learning delivered creatively, perhaps even on commuter trains.

Imagine earning your next certificate during the morning commute by paying a modest fee to one of the world’s premiere institutions, all while interacting with students from around the world.

MITx may be the next step toward making that reality.

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