MIT Launches Online-Only Course

Dennis Faas's picture

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), one of the most respected universities in the world, is planning to launch a course that can be taken entirely over the Internet.

It's not enough for a degree in itself, but those who pass will earn a certificate.

The course will be a prototype for online learning at the university. This is the first time such a high-profile institution has offered a course that yields a passing or failing grade, rather than one where students simply access the information and receive a virtual "attendance" certificate.

Existing Course Makes Electronic Leap

Rather than being an entirely new course, this one is based on an existing introductory course taught to students in-person. The course is named "6.002x: Circuits and Electronics," and is designed to help students move from general physics to more specialized electrical engineering and computer science. (Source:

Students will access an electronic textbook and watch lectures and demos via online video. They'll receive assignments and use interactive tools designed to replicate practical exercises.

Students can also access an online discussion with other students. (Source:

The prototype course will run from March through June, 2012, and students will pay nothing to take it. In future, accessing the course will be free, but students who pass will need to pay a "modest fee" to receive formal accreditation.

Virtual Course First Step in Expansion Plan

MIT's long term plan is to expand the project to offer a much wider range of courses, creating a virtual educational institution. It's hoped that any problems encountered in this first run will help design better courses down the road.

Officials warn that they don't want to cause any confusion by labeling the certificates awarded from this or future courses as MIT certifications or degrees.

To avoid this, they will be setting up a separate, non-profit organization that comes under the MIT umbrella but has a distinct name and issues accreditation in its own right.

At the moment, there will be no formal entry requirements to take the online course. However, MIT is warning prospective participants that online courses will have the same difficulty as their traditional in-person counterparts, and thus students are strongly advised to take their online studies seriously.

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