It was inevitable: a MOOC with a tuition fee

New Big Data course offered by MIT will cost $495 to enroll. But that's still an incredible bargain.

Until now, massive online open courses were an extremely good value for higher educational learning delivered from top universities -- they were free. However, a new program introduced by MIT requires a fee to attend.  But it's still an incredible bargain.  

What MIT calls its first "online professional course," Tackling the Challenges of Big Data, is being offered at $495 a head. The four-week course, set to commence to a global audience beginning March 4, 2014, will cover topics in big data ranging from data collection, storage and processing to analytics and visualization, as well as address a range of real world applications. The course is being targeted at executives and professionals, and is being pitched as a program that groups of employees within companies can take.

Participants successfully completing the course will recieve an MIT Professional Education Certificate. The program will be led by 12 instructors from MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) at the School of Engineering, and will be offered through MIT Professional Education, the arm of MIT that provides professional education and training for science, engineering and technology professionals worldwide. It will be the first of a new line of professional programs called Online X Programs, to be delivered globally using the MIT and Harvard founded open-sourced online education platform, edX.

Given the economics of higher education, it's no surprise that a university has begun attaching a price tag to a MOOC offering. But $495 is still a bargain compared to the sky-high costs of tuition for on-site attendance. It is also still a bargain for organizations seeking new paths for employee training and skills refreshment.

Even with the price tag, MOOCs still fulfill a role in extending educational opportunities to the far corners of the globe -- providing exposure and opportunity to students who wouldn't have a chance to get anywhere near Cambridge, Massachusetts.

There has also been concern about the high drop-out rate seen for MOOCs. A big factor may be the fact that the courses are free, and thus participants don't have an investment in them.  Requiring some money up front may raise the commitment level for participation and completion of the work.

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