Digital Typography with MIT

When I look at the concept of Open Courses I am immediately impressed. These schools are offering learners the ability to gain knowledge for free. In some ways it reminds me of projects I do around the house. I am the type of person that would rather learn something new then pay someone to repair it. Over the years, YouTube has been a blessing for my home repair projects. However, after several attempts to locate a course that would fit my needs, I started to become disappointed. Massachusetts Institute of Technology offered the type of course I was looking for with Digital Typography. At a quick glance, it seemed to have everything I needed, syllabus, calendar, assignments, and projects with examples, all downloadable. As I dove further into the curriculum I started to get the feeling of “you get what you pay for”.


After five weeks I am really starting to think as instructional designer. When reading through these courses, theory kept popping in my mind. These open courses have a lot of characteristics of the Theory of Independent Study by Charles Wedemeyer. Simonson et al. (2012) states, “Wedemeyer set forth a system with 10 characteristics emphasizing learner independence and adoption of technology as a way to implement that independence” (p. 43). Since these courses offer the ability for learners to simply gain knowledge, independence becomes critical.


Course – Digital Typography

Instructor – John Maeda

Level – Graduate


The course from MIT does meet some of the guidelines for the “perfect” online course according to Simonson et al. It offers assignments, a textbook, and plenty of student examples based off the ten assignments given. However, I find that it lacks more than it should. Visually, it does not offer any videos or lectures with audio. Also, the syllabus is very weak and only offers limited information about grades, handouts, exams, and late work. Simonson et al. (2012) explains, “the course syllabus is the “glue: that holds the course or the learning experience together” (p. 259). Offering a more detailed explanation of each category will help set the stage for each learner. The course also does not allow any feedback from the instructor. Feedback is critical, especially with younger learners. Morrison, states “Prompt feedback allows students to assess existing knowledge, reflect on what they have learned, what they still need to learn, and receive suggestions for improvement” (as cited in Morrison, D., 2013). This seems to be a common problem found in many free programs. Another issue evolves around the date the class was taught. A course that is 17 years old could have some dated information, especially when it is based around digital typography.

It is honestly hard for me to critique a course that is offering something for free. However, it seems that many of these open courses either offer plenty of visuals but lack assignments and projects or provide the exact opposite. If a learner is looking to gain some knowledge in a particular subject, than open courses could be an option. However, these courses show little, if, the attempt is to create the “perfect” online course.



Maeda, J. (1997). Digital Typography. MIT OpenCourseWare: Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Retrieved from (April, 5th, 2014)

Morrison, D. (2013). Four Good Reasons Why Students Need Instructor Feedback in Online Courses. Retrieved from

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance:Foundations of distance education. Boston, MA: Pearson






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