Carnegie Mellon

Carnegie Mellon University’s Online Learning Initiative is transforming higher education through the science of learning. This Learning Engineering approach means courses are designed based on learning science research. But it also means, in turn, they contribute to that research and propel the domain of learning science forward.


The first grant that firmly established OLI resulted from conversations held between Carnegie Mellon representatives and Mike Smith and Cathy Casserly from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation in the fall of 2001. Smith and Casserly were visiting many institutions across the US, after having just funded MIT’s Open Courseware project, looking for the next “big thing” in online open education.

The concept of the Open Learning Initiative came from the idea of integrating Carnegie Mellon’s expertise in cognitive tutoring into whole online courses that would stand on their own and enact instruction. By 2002, a proposal had been written and funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to develop our first four courses: Causal and Statistical Reasoning, Statistics, Logic & Proofs, and Economics.

Open & Free courses are one way OLI is working to democratize education. Through generous grant funding in the past, and our current maintenance fee system, we can make top-quality educational materials available to anyone in the world with an internet connection. Like Independent Paid courses, Open & Free courses have no instructors, no start or end dates, no college credit and no certification of completion; but Open & Free courses also include no tests and self-service support.

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