When spending time considering this question I found myself contemplating a number of questions regarding whether the concept was enhancing or threatening formal education. I think what surprised me the most was I wasn't convinced either way.
I started by browsing through the MIT Open course page, my first thought was WOW this is amazing, MIT is actually putting their courses online FOR FREE (I did however note the Donate Now tab on every page!), as it says that the courses cover MIT's entire curriculum! I then delved a bit further, thinking I should have a look at OCW (open course ware), to see that they clearly state in this page OCW is not an MIT education.
OCW does not grant degrees or certificates.
OCW does not provide access to MIT faculty.
Materials may not reflect entire content of the course.
I also looked at - CyberOne. Again here is a pretty well known school (Harvard Law School) putting classes on line for the wider population to participate in. In fact no registration is necessary if you want to do the courses for free. However if you choose this route then assignments wont be marked and credits wont be given for the course.
I think that overall open and networked education should enhance formal education. Not only for the potential student but also for the tutors.
For the potential students this gives them a way into study without having the pressures of formal assessments. They can "see before they buy" so to speak. Students can enrol as "interest only" in postgraduate courses at OT school, however they still are required to pay the full fees but don't complete the assignments.
The OCW (as outlined on their web page), courses are often used by educators to enhance their own teaching. I think one of the interesting questions is that of Intellectual Property. Who owns the material? and if educators are to then cut and paste materials into their own teaching resources should they ensure it is referenced? And how do you ensure the courses aren't then picked up by people who aren't as knowledgeable or have the expertise who will then reproduce these courses? I think one way MIT has addressed this issue is by ensuring their full curriculum isn't online and they are fairly obvious on the web pages that this doesn't equate to a MIT qualification.
Another interesting thought I have had is on the differences between "assessment of prior learning" and the "recognition of prior learning". I understand from Leigh Blackall's comment on the "Can OER really impact higher education and human development" Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) is generally known and used in New Zealand (certainly in postgrad at OT school this occurs) and it's the process of recognising the prior educational achievements of the person applying (usually through qualifications) and aligning them with the assessment process being applied. I understand that, when I then listened to the recording of Willie Campbell talk about the practice of assessing for prior learning at Otago Polytechnic I was left with a couple of questions. If a person completes an online course (for free and without completing the assessments) and then applies for an assessment of prior learning at a different institution (and I assume pay for that) could they possibly get a qualification from that institution? If so then potentially people will have the opportunity to complete a wide range of studies and potentially qualifications.
Now I don't actually have a problem with this (because I certainly agreed with the hypocrisy and the frustration that went with it, that occurred with her student regarding the St Johns Certificate) but I do believe institutions (those doing the assessments of prior learning) need to ensure standards are maintained.