"The driver is to reach everyone out there who can't be here," MIT Provost Rafael Reif said on a conference call with reporters on Monday.
MIT is already known for its OpenCourseWare program, which offers some 2,100 courses online for free.
Until now, students worked through MIT course material on their own and were never tested. Beginning in a few months, however, they will be able to see sought-after professors in videos, engage in student discussion groups, and take examinations.
"It is making MIT available on a grand planet scale," said Anant Agarwal, director of MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. "This is a great way to marry our mission in education and our mission in research."
Students wanting to earn certificates through MIT's online program will have to pay a fee, university officials said, adding that fees had not yet been set. It cost $40,732 to attend MIT for one year on camput in 2011-2012.
University officials stressed that the program would not replace the campus experience and that online courses would be just as rigorous as those conducted outside the virtual world. "This is not MIT-lite," Reif said.
Since the OpenCourseWare program was launched nearly a decade ago, more than 100 million people have studied subjects ranging from Anthropology to Gender Studies. Courses in Linear Algebra and Multivariable Calculus have been among the most popular, MIT said.
Other U.S. schools, including Stanford and Yale, offer similar online learning programs.
MIT, renowned for teaching the sciences, has committed millions of dollars to the program and said it expected to raise additional money from foundations and other sources.
It said it would eventually develop other Internet-based options, including online assessments.
(Reporting By Svea Herbst-Bayliss)
Posted by Jason Lomberg, Technical Editor