MIT, long an innovator in open learning initiatives, recently announced a new, potentially game-changing system that will be available sometime in 2012. It’s called MITx and it is a completely free online education system. Why are they doing it?
“M.I.T. has long believed that anyone in the world with the motivation and ability to engage M.I.T. coursework should have the opportunity to attain the best M.I.T.-based educational experience that Internet technology enables,” said M.I.T. President Susan Hockfield in the university’s press release.
That statement (and its relentless repetition of the institution’s name) seems to me like MIT thinks the reputation-building effects of being the provider are going to make the endeavor worth it. This is the optimistic side of technological progress; as technology gets better it becomes trivially cheap for institutions to simply provide the services that we used to pay for, for free. For now graduates of this online program receive only a certificate, not a degree, but all it will take is a shift in social norms to make those certificates just as valuable as a degree is today.