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MIT Looks to Make Money Online, but Not With an OpenCourseWare Paywall

MIT is exploring ways to make money off online learning. But the institute says it has no plans to raise cash by sticking its pioneering MIT OpenCourseWare project behind a paywall, a possibility raised in a news report today.

“That’s news to me,” Stephen E. Carson, external-relations director for MIT OpenCourseWare, said when Wired Campus called him up to learn about the supposed paywall. He added, “The content that’s available on MIT OpenCourseWare will continue to be free and available as it always has been.”

Charging for access to basic content would be a radical shift for MIT OpenCourseWare, which has attracted millions of users to free academic materials like lecture notes, syllabi, and videos.

But some less radical possibilities have been discussed, Mr. Carson says. These include the idea of layering premium services on top of the free content, such as opportunities for user feedback and grading.

So could we see MIT undertake a serious push into for-credit distance learning?

The answer is unclear.

Back when the institute planned its OpenCourseWare project, a committee concluded that “a revenue-generating distance-education model was not viable for MIT.”

But as MIT grapples with dwindling resources, generating revenue from distance education is clearly an idea under consideration by university officials. In December, a panel suggested the following possibilities in a major report:

  • Creating an “extension studies” program for continuing education using a combination of on-campus courses, distance learning, and an enhanced OpenCourseWare Web site. Estimated revenue potential: $10-million.
  • Creating select master’s-degree programs that would be taken primarily via online education. Estimated revenue potential: $30-million.
  • Offering some undergraduate subjects for credit via e-learning. Estimated revenue potential: $60-million. 
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