Millions of learners have enjoyed the free lecture videos and other course materials published online through the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s OpenCourseWare project. Now MIT plans to release a fresh batch of open online courses—and, for the first time, to offer certificates to outside students who complete them.
“MIT Will Offer Certificates” Marc Parry
We’ve become so sentimental about universities– if not delusional— that we forget that the entire point of the higher education system was to control knowledge, or, better, to carefully regulate the cultural capital of the middle class. It was a classic Goldilocks problem: if higher education was too restricted, you can’t run your high-tech economy, if it’s too open, you risk what H. Bruce Franklin once called an educated proletariat.
After WWII million of people got access to a higher education– my father among them– who would normally have been locked out via the G.I. Bill. At some point, though, arguably in the late 1960s or early 1970s, the porridge got a little too cool, and so the pendulum began to swing back, shutting down access or restricting what the educated could do by forcing them into debts that border on indentured servitude.
MIT’s certificates are a rare moment of long-term thinking in the ruling classes. The first step to change in higher education is to break the university’s monopoly on knowledge. That why open courses and open source is so important. The second, and perhaps more important step, is to institutionalize the time and energy invested in this form of learning so it can circulate as cultural capital. That’s what MIT has begun.