Rogers building, MIT, 1901

Associated Press (2011) With an extra letter, MIT will offer certificates for coursework in popular online offerings Washington Post, December 18

Parry, M. (2011) MIT Will Offer Certificates to Outside Students Who Take Its Online Courses Chronicle of Higher Education, December 19

MIT has announced its intentions to offer a certificate to students who complete successfully  an online version of their courses. It’s not clear from the announcement whether these will be credit courses designed for online learning, or will depend on successful completion of a challenge exam built around MIT’s Opencourseware material.

Edudemic states:

This is big. M.I.T., the hub of education and technology where innovations seem to happen on an hourly basis… has just unveiled the future of online education. Basically, you can now earn official credits toward an M.I.T. certificate by taking their free and online courses.

But will someone explain to me why is this so special? Most universities now offer open access to continuing education courses online (often also offered as credit courses) and offer a certificate for successful completion (for instance Oxford University has been doing this for several years). UBC’s distance education courses were available to Open Learning Agency students as part of the BC open university degree as long ago as the late 198os. Why does the MIT initiative warrant this attention? Indeed, if it is a challenge exam based on recordings of classroom lectures, the completion rate is likely to be much lower than for courses designed for distance study, if the history of such courses over the last 50 years is anything to go by.

I fear that some of these elite institutions in the USA are making it up as they go and are failing to base their strategies on the substantial body of knowledge, research and experience that already exists about online learning and distance education. They are coming to the party late, making a mess, and bragging about it. Hubris is the word that comes to mind. Welcome to the 20th century, MIT – now how about the 21st?

See also Stephen Downes


  1. Tony,

    Valid concerns all. OCW hasn’t been in the middle of planning this, so I’m not the right person to address much of the above, but I can tell you the MITx certificates will not be for challenge exams based on OCW content, but rather, on new content created by the program (which hopefully will also enrich OCW).


  2. Tony

    I admire you very much.
    I know you almost for 10 years.
    You are such a nice expert in the field .
    You show so much negative attitute toward MIT
    but you do not show one reason . MIT does not deserve that .

    MIT is the first institution in the world helping with its knowledge and knowhow for 10 years to almost 300 million people. There is no record of that in the world . That OCW Project .
    Plus MIT has never after money .
    I offerred them to sell their OCW material even at a nominal cost
    they did not accept it. I fought it for 10 years .

    Tony ; Sure MIT is so special. If you do not know that it is too sad .

    News said :
    1.- MIT will provide online courses free
    There is certificate if you wish at the end that may cost you some fee
    2.- MIT has now automatic essay grader. That is new. It is great much better than tests .
    They provide mentors too. ( Any assignment ??? )
    3.- The name MIT will not be used. MITx .
    Courses are for credits that means there is a certificate at the end .

    I see the results of this project:
    1.- Everybody in the world ( if they are motivated to learn ) can get a certificate from MIT
    To me it is as good as a degree from any college in USA
    I put the name too. TIM Certificate = MIT BA or BS
    We employers do not care if it is called degree or certificate as long as it is from MIT .
    We do not mind the name either we know it is MIT
    2.- Quality is the best in the world .

    These 2 aspects make the project superb in the world. Plus

    3.- If MIT charges $ 10 per course it will collect $ 100 million to $ 1 billion per year within 10 years .
    That is good for MIT. They will spend that money for people again .

    Each year 1,000,000 in the world or more will get certificates from MIT at a fair cost,
    the face of the world will change with educated people .

    ONLINE is for this day.

    ONLINE for millions at nominal cost

    ONLINE at the top quality .

    This will bring great respect to USA as well .
    People of the world and USA will be able to make money and make living .
    They will have skills at nominal cost but top quality .

    My proposals to MIT :

    1. Make a 2 tier program
    TIM AA Certificate for the people who took 20 courses ( equivalent to AA degree 9
    TIM BA Certificate for the people who took 40 courses ( equivalent to BA degree )
    2.- Charge 4 10 per course
    3.- Start with the popular courses such as business, engineering, nursing
    4.- Make a good global advertisement
    5.- Be very strict with quality, if a student does not study kick him out
    6.- Ask every student have a credit card, it is easy to collect $ 10 wityh credit cards automatic payment system .
    7.- Since new courses will be designed design the courses at the level of SAT Score 500-600 level .
    Not millions can go to MIT or Harvard.
    8.- Plan 10 programs each year ending up with 100 programs in 10 years
    9.- Add one online English course for foreigners too .

    • As always, Muvaffak, I very much appreciate your comment.

      I am negative about MIT only in respect of its claims to be an ‘open’ educational organization. It is a highly elite university, with extremely high tuition fees and entry requirements, available only to the rich (unless you are fortunate enough to get a scholarship).

      So it is in no way open, just by making its lectures available online or by offering a certificate for a modest price. In Europe and North America, face-to-face lectures have always been open to the public in most publicly-funded universities. It is great that the Internet now enables people anywhere in the world to access such content, but making content freely available is not an education, any more than you can get a degree by going into a public library, as valuable as they are in their own right.

      Many institutions all over the world have been offering open education, which consists of teaching, assessment and learner support, as well as content, through open universities for many years, with nowhere near the same publicity that MIT makes or gets. Many institutions have been offering high quality, online degree programs at one tenth the cost of an MIT degree. MIT has not so far followed best practice in the design of online learning, mainly because until the MITx program, it has offered no form of qualification or formal program online.

      My final criticism of MIT, as with many American attempts at development, is that it is naive to think that merely making good quality content available will solve the demand for quality education in developing countries. Attempts in the past by US agencies to use first radio, then terrestrial television, then satellite, then laptops, and now the Internet have all failed, and will continue to fail, because they do not pay enough attention to teacher training, the need for intervention by qualified teachers, maintenance of equipment, support for learners and the need for the basics such as a secure room and reliable electricity. Thus MIT’s Opencourseware is a useful resource, but it is not a panacea.

      This is not to deny that MIT is an excellent institution with extremely high standards and that it has provided leadership in making its lectures open and online, but it runs the risk of offering poor quality or rather incomplete education to those who cannot afford its fees, but who think they are getting the real thing.

      • I agree with you completely. I like your analogy of going into a public library: supplying information does not create knowledge, although it may provide the means for people to do so. But information is now the least of the problems for education – it is constructing ways for people to incorporate that knowledge that is key to supporting learning. As I haven’t looked at the MIT offerings I don’t know how useful they would be for this, but I’m not confident that they would be useful in this way as they aren’t contextualised in students’ life experiences, as you point out in your second-to-last paragraph.

      • As a student at MIT, I disagree with your statment “available only to the rich (unless you are fortunate enough to get a scholarship)”!!! MIT gives out scholarship based on need not based on merit. You combined family income can get as high as 200k per year, and MIT will still provide your all the money for undergraduate education.

        As long as you get accepted into MIT, then regardless of your family’s finance, MIT will make sure you can come and even buy plane ticket for you. There’s no such thing called “scholarship” at MIT because once you are accepted into MIT, MIT will cover everything for you. My combined family income is only $60,000 per year, yet my parents did NOT pay a single penny for my MIT education; in fact, I even get weekly allowance from MIT to buy my necessities!

        As a result, very very few rich people are at MIT, but I do know that all MIT students are the hardest working people ever in the world, pursuing their dream to change the world, and to make the world a better place!!!

  3. Hi Tony,

    For me this is a special announcement not so much because of the fact that MIT will be delivering some open courses but because of the implications for credentialing. Firstly, as I read the FAQ, students completing the course will get a certificate of completion from an MIT owned not for profit organisation with a distinct brand. This is important as it will instantly be of value to students in at least demonstrating that they have completed the course (even though it doesn’t demonstrate ‘mastery’ of the subject).

    Secondly, and more importantly, it says that a student can pay a ‘modest fee’ to have their mastery of the subject assessed in order to receive a different form of credential. This is a fundamental shift in the way that courses in higher education have worked. It says to me that, in future, I will be able to go to a university and say look I believe I have enough understanding to be granted a credential to show I have mastery in this subject can I pay the fee now and be assessed please? What a bonus for autodidacts everywhere who are stymied by the current model of higher education.

    Alternatively I could say, I know nothing about a subject and I’d like to study it through a delivered course in structured way that I will enjoy and will lead to me being able to demonstrate mastery in the subject. I’d like to do it that way please. It’s not the end of courses by any means.

    I thing this is a big thing. I’ve written more about it here.



  4. Congratulations to MIT for this bold initiative that will support a greater number of students to access the quality educational offerings of MIT and enhance the overall learning experience.

    MIT is what I would call a “repeat offender” in terms of continually charting a new course in the online learning world. This initiative is a fitting way for MIT to mark the 10th anniversary of the launch of OpenCourseWare in 2001, which itself broke new ground in the online learning community.

    What struck me about the the MIT”s announcement is that:

    1. It is the university itself ( MIT) making the announcement
    2. It directly quotes its two top executives to signal the commitment of the universiy at the highest level
    3. It maintains the principle of “ free”access at least for one component
    4. It introduces what may be a disruptive new platform
    5. It is timed for December perhaps to astutely fill the education media during what is usually a slow period in
    educational news. The first announcement by MIT re OER was in April 2001. April is also a slow period of
    educational news. The busy periods where MIT would have had to compete with other educational news
    would have been the September – November period and the January to March period) I think.

    There is no question that MIT has again created a big buzz around online learning. In my view this buzz helps advance online learning in general in that more people who do not read learned journals or blogs will catch glimpses of this announcement in the more pubic media. It also triggers reflections about online learnng as we are having in this blog and other venues around the world.

    The three questions I have not seen formulated in the dialogue in this blog so far are:

    * What can we all learn from this possibly ground-breaking initiative?
    * How can we leverage/use this initiative to benefit the students that we serve?
    * What can we do in our respective jurisdictions along the same line?

    Why not embrace this iniitative, learn from it, and help extend its benefits!

    Kudos to you, Tony, for having through your blog kickstarted a public dialogue about this important development which caps the 2011 year in online learning.

    My wish for 2012 is another initiative at the same level like this one from one other jurisdiction in the world.

    • It is nice to see these news after 8 years on 12th of November 2019 .
      What happened to MOOCs .
      What degrees online started .
      But still top schools Stanford, UPenn are charging $ 2.000 for an online course .
      Please be aware that Chinese have learned regarding online and MOOCs aşlot . They h ave 40 million onliners this year . 100 million next year . You may close Harvard and Stanford when US students start taking online degrees from Chinese Universities . I do not weant to tell you after 10 years ” I TOLD YOU SO . ”
      Get online degrees by top schools at $ 100 per course soon . Cost is nill .
      TODAY is 12. November. 2019


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