Tue, Dec 20, 2011 - Page 10 News List

MIT set to expand free online courses

NY Times News Service, NEW YORK

While students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) pay thousands of US dollars for courses, the university was scheduled to announce a new program yesterday allowing anyone anywhere to take MIT courses online free — and for the first time earn official certificates for demonstrating mastery of the subjects taught.

“There are many people who would love to augment their education by having access to MIT content, people who are very capable to earn a certificate from MIT,” L. Rafael Reif, the provost, said in a conference call with reporters on Friday.

MIT led the way to an era of online learning 10 years ago by posting course materials from almost all its classes. Its free OpenCourseWare now includes nearly 2,100 courses and has been used by more than 100 million people.

However, the new “MITx” interactive online learning platform will go further, giving students access to online laboratories, self-assessments and student-to-student discussions.

Reif and Anant Agarwal, director of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab, said MITx would start this spring — perhaps with just one course — but would expand to include many more courses, as OpenCourseWare has done.

The MITx classes, he said, would have online discussions and forums where students can ask questions and, often, have them answered by others in the class.

While access to the software will be free, there will most likely be an “affordable” charge, not yet determined, for a credential.

“I think for someone to feel they’re earning something, they ought to pay something, but the point is to make it extremely affordable,” Reif said. “The most important thing is that it’ll be a certificate that will clearly state that a body sanctioned by MIT says you have gained mastery.”

The certificate will not be a regular MIT degree, but rather a credential bearing the name of a new not-for-profit body to be created within MIT; revenues from the credentialing, officials said, would go to support the MITx platform and to further MIT’s mission.

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