MIT follows Stanford: Certificates for external students

Now MIT will follow Stanford in offering certificates to external students who complete online courses based around free materials. Like Stanford the exact financial details are yet to be revealed – but students wanting certificates will be paying. More at the Chronicle, here. Off hand, this seems different to the AI-Class model which implies (but may change) that the class will be offered to institutions who then enroll their students and allow the credits to be used towards local degree awards.

Meanwhile, a quieter way that Stanford appear to be commercializing their free offering… by inviting top performers to submit CVs, which Stanford then forward to companies looking for talented employees. Recruitment agencies generally make their money when they provide CVs of people who end up being hired – and here Stanford might make a small, but no doubt useful, pot of cash based on their free offering.

I think few UK universities seem to be institutionally aware of what is going on here – most are still focussing primarily on the campus based student (where the campus may not actually be in the UK…) and trying to get the maximum in fees for students attending courses. Meanwhile the US based private universities are looking at the margins available on extending offerings to massive numbers home based students at low individual costs, exploiting systems that remove much of the costs associated with teaching and supporting those students. Automate the testing and evaluation and support self-organising study groups, removing the burden on the tutor altogether.

I think universities are going to have to face this head on, acknowledge what is going on and work out exactly what their strategy is to survive the next few decades: When education is free, and certification costs are marginal, what are people getting for their money when they attend university? But I don’t currently see this happening – at least not in the UK, where everyone is too distracted over current issues surrounding fees.

But perhaps the most interesting point about the MIT offering is at the very end of the Chronicle’s article:

The core idea of OpenCourseWare—free online content—spread far beyond MIT. The institute hopes this project will also catch on elsewhere. To help make that happen, it will release the MITx open-learning software at no charge, so other educational institutions can adopt it.

Depending on what the software does, and how adaptable it is, other universities will be able to follow suit – but few have the MIT brand to attract students.

Leave a Reply