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10 Ways OpenCourseWare Has Freed Education

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This month marks the tenth anniversary of MIT OpenCourseWare, the university's initiative to provide free and open access to its core academic content -- the syllabi, lecture notes, problem sets and solutions, exams, reading lists, and event video lectures from over 2000 MIT course.

The decision by the MIT faculty in 2001 to allow anyone to use their course content was a seminal move,  one that had a profound effect on democratizing education. (You can read the original New York Times story here.) Since then, over 100 million people have accessed MIT's materials.

In honor of ten years of MIT OCW, here are 10 ways in which this important Open CourseWare initiative has changed education.

  1. CREATING THE MOLD. While MIT OpenCourseWare remains the flagship institution and initiative, it has been joined by multiple other colleges and universities that now make their course content available for learners. These include Brigham Young University, Carnegie Mellon University, UC Berkeley, Notre Dame and UC Irvine -- and that's just in the United States.
  2. GOING GLOBAL. In addition to American universities that now make their course content available, universities all over the world follow suit. But just as importantly, learners all over the world have access to this content. Statistics from MIT's program show that less than 1% of those who access the university's content are actually doing so from MIT. And almost 60% of those visitors to the site are outside the U.S.
  3. DEMOCRATIZING HIGH-QUALITY EDUCATION. The idea of making content available online means that the sorts of information that are part of a university education can be accessed by anyone with an Internet connection. Despite the hoops and hurdles necessary for gaining admission to a school like MIT, the course content is actually accessible to anyone.
  4. ALLOWING CUSTOMIZATION. MIT OCW is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike-Non-Commercial License. That means that teachers and learners are able to share and remix the content that's available.
  5. ENCOURAGING SHARING. Do educators have an ethical responsibility to share? Open CourseWare reminds us that a large part of our role as educators is to share knowledge, and we should work to remove the barriers that make that possible.
  6. EMPOWERING EDUCATORS. Even with the best of intentions, sharing content isn't possible without the framework in place to make that happen. Open CourseWare efforts give educators the tools necessary to spread their teaching materials globally.
  7. PROVIDING VALUABLE CONTENT. Want to learn about a particular topic? Want to see what the professors at the premier institutions in the world include in a class on astrophysics, calculus, engineering? Open CourseWare means that learners are able to follow their intellectual pursuits, without having to worry about college applications, tuition, course requirements, and the like.
  8. ENABLING LIFELONG LEARNING. Most of those who take advantage of Open CourseWare aren't enrolled in college. These are independent learners who are not working towards a particular degree, but are committed to lifelong learning.
  9. REINFORCING THE COLLEGE EXPERIENCE. Open CourseWare doesn't negate the college degree necessarily. But it does show that universities can post their content online with the assurance that the college campus experience is, in fact, worth paying for. That you can access MIT course content online has done nothing at all to diminish the value of an MIT degree.
  10. DEMONSTRATING THE NEED FOR MORE. Despite the massive amount of content that's available online, it isn't really enough. In the past ten years, we've seen a number of other efforts grow up alongside open courseware, aiming to establish a community of learners who are all working through these same topics -- whether they're students or independent learners. Examples include OpenStudy, a project that grew out of Georgia Tech and Emory University and now runs a social learning network that supports Open CourseWare and open educational resources. Learning isn't a solitary act.


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