How MIT OpenCourseWare Plans to Reach a Billion Minds
February 10, 2014 | 2415 views
The following series has been produced by the Skoll World Forum with the participation of today’s leading thinkers and innovators in education. All of the contributors represent projects that have won WISE Awards, which recognize innovative solutions in overcoming barriers to education. This series aims to shed light on those projects that have helped provide access to quality education around the world. WISE brings together the world’s education innovators through an annual Summit, and several ongoing initiatives including the six annual WISE Awards --for innovative projects-- and the WISE Prize for Education, the only global distinction recognizing a world-class contribution to education by an individual or a team. The Prize, presented at the WISE Summit, includes a gold medal and a $500,000 (US) award.
What was the one moment or experience that ultimately gave rise to MIT OpenCourseWare?
The idea for OpenCourseWare came out of a faculty committee discussion back in 2000, led by then-president Charles Vest, who asked two questions:
“How is the internet going to change education?”; and “What is MIT going to do about it?”
Initially, it was widely expected within the MIT community that a for-profit model would be proposed – for example, a type of “MIT.com”. However, after looking at several options it was decided that MIT wasn’t well suited to make money from this type of project.
It was decided that the MIT mission should be to: ‘advance knowledge in ways that will best serve the nation and the world’. To achieve this, the committee decided that MIT should use the internet to give away the materials that were already being created such as lecture notes, assignment and exams.
OpenCourseWare quickly secured support from the Mellon and Hewlett Foundations to get the program off the ground.
What would the world look like if you achieved your vision?
Our vision is that universities around the world share their content through the internet in a similar way.
We envision a world in which the desire to learn is fully met by the opportunity to do so anywhere, anytime. A world where anyone, anywhere could access affordable, educational and cultural opportunities to gain the knowledge or training they need to make a better life.
How is your organization reaching towards that goal, and what has been the impact of your efforts thus far?
MIT OpenCourseWare (OCW) has grown from that bold idea to an unparalleled educational resource that has benefitted millions around the world and has inspired a global movement. As it stands, it includes the core teaching materials—from syllabi, lecture notes, assignments to exams. These come from 2,180 of MIT’s undergraduate and graduate courses.
The MIT faculty provide educational materials to OCW voluntarily; these gifts often represent a lifetime of scholarship and teaching. The website contains more than 80,000 resources, including documents, simulations, animations, sample code and thousands of hours of classroom instruction on video. The courses have also been translated into several languages including Chinese Spanish, Portugese and Thai. MIT OCW has inspired a consortium of leading universities from around the world to share materials from thousands of their own courses.
To date, over 170 million individuals have accessed the content.
Through OCW, educators improve courses and curricula, making their schools more effective; students find additional resources to help them succeed; and independent learners enrich their lives and use the content to tackle some of our world’s most difficult challenges, including sustainable development, climate change, and cancer eradication.
What were some of the barriers you’ve had to overcome–either personally or professionally–to be successful?
For OpenCourseWare, like many other not for profit organisations, funding has been the biggest challenge. To overcome it we have worked hard to develop a portfolio of funding sources to support the program. These include corporate sponsorship, foundation support, major gifts and annual gift funds. Awards and recognition has also helped to overcome these barriers.
One additional barrier was connecting with the right people who could help our project grow and evolve. Winning a WISE Award in 2010, a globally recognized education initiative helped open the door to meeting new and diverse experts from around the world. . The connections we were able to develop thanks to the WISE Community have helped us diversify and expand our reach.
What kind of impact are you looking to have 5 or 10 years from now, and how do you plan to get there?
MIT OpenCourseWare’s goal for the next decade is to increase our reach to a billion minds. By 2021 we want to be the resource to bridge the global gap between human potential and opportunity, so that motivated people everywhere can improve their lives and change the world.
Additionally, we have identified four focus areas with the potential to help us reach our goal: