MIT OpenCourseWare Turns 10: What’s Next for Open Education?

April will mark the 10th 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 even a selection of video lectures from over MIT 2,000 courses.

Over the past decade, MIT has shared its course materials with over100 million individuals, and MIT OCW is laying out an ambitious roadmap for the next decade, with the goal of expanding its reach ten-fold: “to reach a billion minds.”

Although it’s becoming commonplace now to talk about online educational opportunities, distance learning, and YouTube lectures. the creation of MIT OpenCourseWare in April 2001 was a bold move. (You can read The New York Times story here.) The MIT faculty agreed to make their course content available online, in the spirit of openness and collaboration. Initially the expectations were that the resources would be utilized by other teachers and scholars. But the creation of the MIT OpenCourseWare program gave a strong boost to the global opencourseware movement.

And clearly, MIT OCW isn’t just a resource for other educators. As its usage figures demonstrate, the program helps provide a great service to meet the educational needs of learners all over the world.

“It’s quite humbling for us to see the impact OpenCourseWare has had,” says Professor Shigeru Miyagawa, Chair of the MIT OpenCourseWare Faculty Advisory Committee and a member of the original faculty panel that first proposed the program. “We set out to create a resource other faculty could draw on to improve their classes, and tapped into a much larger need around the world. Millions of people have come to the site for the chance to learn, even without credit offered or access to faculty.”

The Next Decade for MIT OCW

In its quest to magnify its impact, MIT OpenCourseWare plans to expand some of its recent iniatives and focus on four key areas in the coming years:

1. Sharing OpenCourseWare Everywhere: MIT makes the course packages available for download via its own website, and there are over 250 other sites that mirror the content. The videos are available on YouTube, and MIT OCW recently released an iPhone app. “To reach a billion people,” says MIT, “we’ll make OCW content easy to find, adapt OCW materials to distribution methods such as mobile phones, and develop new approaches to reaching underserved populations.”

2. Serving Key Audiences: MIT has created “High School Highlights,” a program to help U.S. high school students with science and technology. It’s also launched OCW Scholar, open courses specifically tailored to independent learners.

3. Creating Open Learning Communities: In conjunction with OpenStudy, MIT OCW has created an interactive learning environment where those pursuing a particular course can study together, work collaboratively, and answer one another’s questions. MIT OCW plans to focus more on building out these sorts of social learning networks and opportunities.

4. Empowering Educators Worldwide: “Educators are a key multiplier for us,” says MIT. “By bringing OCW materials into their classrooms, they share our content with millions, many of whom may lack internet access. In our next decade, MIT will strive to provide educators everywhere with the tools they need to serve these students.”

In May of this year, MIT will co-host the annual meeting of the OpenCourseWare Consortium on the MIT campus, welcoming 300 representatives of leading OCW programs from around the world. The event will look back at the past decade of MIT OpenCourseWare, but also look to the future of bringing open educational resources to learners worldwide.

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