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Ben Hamilton09/11/15 17:592 min read

Free iPads? Forget It - Think Free Online Courses!

Free iPads? Forget it - think free elite courses!

In a world where disruption rules, it looks like the education industry is about to have its Uber moment.  

It seems the world has spoken, and prestigious universities are responding by accelerating the democratisation of learning.

Here's the question: is MIT, one of the most prestigious universities in the USA, really willing to sacrifice millions in student fees by offering courses for free? Is this a race to the bottom, or the dawn of something new?

About MIT's "MicroMasters" Program

MIT is the latest elite institute offering free online classes in its supply chain management Master's program.

Students who complete the online courses can elect to pass an exam for a fee of $1,500 and credit their online study towards the degree. Students stand to save up to half the fees of the on-campus course.

Rafael Reif, MIT President, says that this is a way for the University to tackle the heightening costs of education, a "long-term challenge that no university can afford to ignore."

Classes full of fee-paying, highly-engaged students...

Free courses are nothing new with MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), such as Edx and Coursera. Many courses are intended for the casual learner with an interest. MIT's "MicroMasters" is quite unlike those. What's interesting about MIT's "MicroMasters" is that it's not only conducted by an elite school; it's also an elite program of study. 

Launch your first e-learning system in 30 days, tops!

A Race To The Bottom, Or A Climb To The Top?

So what is MIT thinking? Are they seriously willing to halve the fees they could potentially collect?

The answer may be that MIT is experimenting with a new paradigm of education marketing. By offering a teaser of the course for free, the net is cast wide for potential students because anyone in the world can take the course, without enrolling into the university.

With zero cash outlay, students can determine if the course is in line with their genuine interests and value. That's definitely appealing news for any adult learner with a tight budget looking to up skill.

Compare this with other online course offered by MIT where students must already be a fee paying student.

There's a low cost of delivery, and MIT earns new revenue from the exam fee which acts as a filter to determine fully engaged students. Those who pass the exam and become full fee-paying students are more likely to have a successful course completion.  And that is what really counts.

Sounds like everybody wins. Maybe MIT is on to something here. 

Related: What VET Fee-Help Providers Can Learn From The Volkswagen Scandal

Perhaps those registered training organisations engaging in questionable marketing tactics involving free iPads could give prospective students free courses instead. Now that would make a good news story that the sector desperately needs!

I expect that we will see many more free courses online which, once an exam is taken, can be used as credit towards diplomas and degrees, valuable to the industry and the learners themselves.

The risk of free online courses eroding campus-based courses can be mitigated by new revenue streams via "certified exam centres", with savvy providers getting ahead of the curve by creating compelling online courses today.  

Is there a role for MOOCs in registered training organisations?  Share your thoughts below!

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Ben Hamilton

Ben is the CEO & Co-Founder of Wisenet. The self-professed Troubleshooter is passionate about human rights, education, and science and technology. Besides whipping up delicious meals that create food envy, Ben enjoys extracting real business value from new and disruptive technology, and his current work at Wisenet revolves around creating products and services that remove operational complexities. He is currently based in Singapore.