MIT OpenCourseWare in the New Era of Online Learning

bridges vol. 34, July 2012 / Feature Articles

By Steve Carson


MIT OCWOn April 4, 2001, MIT announced an online learning proposal that flew in the face of conventional wisdom regarding the then-nascent field of online education. Rather than pursuing a for-profit distance learning venture of the kind pursued by many top universities at the time, the Institute proposed using the Internet to share the by-products of its campus teaching – including syllabi, lecture notes, assignments, and exams – free of cost and using open license that encouraged redistribution and modification. MIT saw the effort as a way to improve formal and informal learning worldwide, primarily by providing resources to educators, and also as a way to encourage other universities to share their intellectual riches rather bestowing them only on those who could afford to pay.

This September, MIT OpenCourseWare (OCW) will reach the 10-year anniversary of the initial publication of the proof-of-concept site, which was launched September 30, 2002. That publication of materials from 50 MIT courses was followed a year later by the official launch of the site with materials from more than 500 MIT courses. Today the site contains materials from more than 2,100 of MITs graduate and undergraduate courses, including video recordings of the complete lectures from 60 of the most-visited courses on the site. MIT OpenCourseWare includes hundreds of thousands of resources, including more than 18,000 lecture notes, 10,000 assignments, and 1,000 exams. The site also shares other digital assets such as simulations, animations, and sample code originally developed to serve MIT's enrolled students.

These materials have attracted a tremendous amount of interest in the past 10 years. In 2011 the site received more than 18.5 million visits, and it has received more than 11 million in the first half of 2012. In total, an estimated 125 million individuals have accessed OCW content either on the site directly, through redistributors such as iTunes and YouTube, on one of OCW's translation affiliate sites, or from educators who have brought OCW content into their classrooms. Visitors to OCW come from every nation and territory on the globe, with about 60 percent of traffic originating outside of the United States, and the OCW staff has distributed more than 300 complete copies of the site on hard drives to universities in bandwidth-constrained regions.

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