Carnegie Mellon University Open Learning Initiative

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The Carnegie Mellon University Open Learning Initiative offers online courses to anyone who wants to learn or teach. The aim is to combine open, high-quality courses, continuous feedback, and research to improve learning and transform higher education.

The Open Learning Initiative (OLI) is a grant-funded group at Carnegie Mellon University, offering innovative online courses to anyone who wants to learn or teach.


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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 the first four courses: Causal and Statistical Reasoning, Statistics, Logic, and Economics.

Herbert Simon, Nobel Laureate and professor at Carnegie Mellon University, stated: "Improvement in post secondary education will require converting teaching from a solo sport to a community based research activity." OLI believes this insight from Simon is critical when thinking about the future of education.

Key Goals

  • Support better learning and instruction with high-quality, scientifically-based, classroom-tested online courses and materials. Our courses are designed based on learning science research and, in turn, contribute to that research.
  • Share our courses and materials openly and freely so that anyone can learn. Our courses are often used by colleges and universities to support classroom instruction, but they are designed to support the individual learner who does not have the benefit of an instructor.
  • Develop a community of use, research, and development to allow for the continuous evaluation, improvement, and growth of courses and course materials. OLI is active in the Open Educational Resources community. We attend and present at related conferences, publish our research findings, and collaborate with many like-minded organizations, in addition to actively working with educators from a variety of institutions to develop new courses.

Who Benefits From Using OLI?

Our courses provide a number of features that benefit students, instructors, and academic institutions.


  • Immediate feedback helps students assess their own learning and study effectively.
  • All courses are free to independent learners and most are free to academic students.
  • Secure log-in allows students to track their progress and scores.


  • Course materials are based on leading-edge research.
  • Educators get timely, targeted feedback about their students’ progress; and automatic grading.
  • Educators may join course evaluation studies, projects, and development teams.

Academic Institutions

  • Our platform can benefit all types and sizes of institutions.
  • Using data on student performance, OLI can improve educational outcomes and completion rates.
  • Institutions that work with OLI build relationships with leading-edge research groups, organizations, and partners.

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