No need for an elaborate introduction here about what exactly MIT is doing by opening up their digital content online. Best to start by simply quoting Dick K.P. Yue, Professor at MIT School of Enginnering: “The idea is simple: to publish all of our course materials online and make them widely available to everyone.”
If you haven’t heard about MIT OpenCourseWare (OCW), here is the scoop. It’s intended not just to help educators at MIT improve curricula and make learning more effective for those enrolled at MIT, but to invite independent learners anywhere in the world to use the school’s course materials in their own educational pursuits and at their own pace. In other words, they are free to ‘take’ the course in the privacy of their own home by following full notes and having full access to materials every step of the way.
This is admirable. Truly admirable. And this is what the leaders among us who recognize the true value of digital content do: they open it up to the world. They eliminate all frictions and find ways to bypass man-made rules and institutions and simply make knowledge available to all. They have outgrown all unnecessary discussions of print and digital competing, and about complicated models that serve the select few, they recognize that unread/unused content has little to no value, and, most of all, they are pushing their own ‘institutional’ status quo by embracing the idea that learning never stops and that it is our collective responsibility to educate the world beyond the confines of university walls at a time when, despite all of the technological advances the world has seen, more than 90 percent of its population is not college-educated.
In a way, one can even argue that the same way the print book (the physical ‘paper’ object) is the container we buy, while consuming the content inside for free online (well, not really, but we hope to get there one day, don’t we?), the brick-and-mortar institution becomes the ‘experience’ we now buy (to directly engage with others, including professors and fellow students), while consuming the content (from course materials) online for free. So if we can’t afford to ‘be there’ in person, we can still afford to do it on our own terms.
Everything related to one’s ‘physical experience,’ then must come at a price, for obvious reasons: books must be printed (and before that, they must be written and produced); professors’ time must be paid, and the school’s expenses must be covered. In the same way, we are now able to listen to music for free online, while we must pay to attend a concert or by a CD or an LP (those of us who still collect them).
If we are able to recognize that digital content helps us open up knowledge to the world virtually while doing no harm to the ‘physical experience,’ we are able to create a circle in which everyone benefits. In fact, digital content and its widespread availability enhances the value of the ‘physical’ experience. All other creative mediums have caught on to this but books and textbooks. Initiatives like the one at MIT are a step in that direction.
Materials from 2340 courses are available, and the site is visited by millions. Each course includes lecture notes, slides, videos, instructor insights, Further Study listings, and much more. Here is a list of the most visited courses. MIT accepts donations to keep the operation running. For more info, go here.
Unlocking knowledge means empowering people not only beyond the university but beyond the borders of the United States of America. MIT is setting a powerful example.