Last updated: 17.10.12

University of Texas to provide free online learning

Regents at the University of Texas (UT) have approved plans for the institution to offer distance learning courses to students worldwide through an advanced online platform.

Alongside Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the University of California-Berkeley, UT will utilise the services of non-profit learning initiative edX.

The scheme - which was founded by directors at Harvard and MIT - provides massively open online courses (MOOCs) through interactive laboratories, virtual reality environments and access to digital tutors and tutorials.

Educational researchers collect data from students enrolled in the edX courses and analyse how they learn in order to improve the quality of the online programmes, said edX president Anant Agarwal.

In a recent interview with Smartplanet, Mr Agarwal claimed online training could transform the face of academia and increase its efficiency, scale and quality, adding that students became more engaged in virtual environments.

Francisco Cigarroa, chancellor of the UT, stated the university eventually hopes to develop the courses so that they count towards graduation.

"The University of Texas System aspires to be an active and a national leader in this important movement, but we will always be focused on excellence … and student success," he continued.

Although the courses will be free, the system plans to charge tuition in future for the chance to earn college credits.

MIT and Harvard invested $60 million (£37.2 million) developing edX before it launched in May this year, while UT will spend $10 million on the platform.

According to Mr Cigarroa, the UT will offer four MOOCs through the edX programme within the next year and it also expects to develop online versions of the general education courses currently taught to students in auditoriums.

Governor Rick Perry praised the move from UT, declaring it as "great news for Texas and exactly the type of effort I hope more schools will consider as we aggressively pursue the goals of improving graduation rates".