Online Materials Broadening Global Access to Education

By Jeffrey Thomas
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington - When the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) announced in 2001 that it was planning to offer free online access to educational materials from hundreds of its course offerings, the university in Cambridge said it hoped its OpenCourseWare (OCW) Web site would inspire other educational institutions to help create a “worldwide web of knowledge that will benefit humanity.”

Judging by the enthusiastic worldwide response to MIT’s gesture, the university appears five years later to be leading an international movement that is affecting education on every continent. Twelve U.S. educational institutions currently are participating in what has become an international consortium comprising more than 50 institutions in Africa, Asia, Europe and South America.

"OpenCourseWare expresses in an immediate and far-reaching way MIT's goal of advancing education around the world,” MIT President Susan Hockfield said in a statement featured on the university’s OCW Web site. “Through MIT OCW, educators and students everywhere can benefit from the academic activities of our faculty and join a global learning community in which knowledge and ideas are shared openly and freely for the benefit of all."

MIT remains the leader of the OCW movement, offering anyone in the world free and open access to the educational materials from more than 1,500 courses. These materials include course syllabi, reading lists, PowerPoint presentations, problem sets and solutions, lecture notes, exams and in some cases videotaped lectures. MIT says it plans to include materials from 1,800 courses by the year 2008.

But other U.S. universities have joined the OCW movement as well, usually offering something for which the school is noted rather than repeating offerings already available from MIT.

Yale University in Connecticut recently announced that it would be making available on the Internet videotapes of lectures from seven undergraduate liberal arts courses with transcriptions into several languages. If all goes well, Yale intends to add additional courses each year.

The University of Notre Dame in Indiana announced in September that it was making available eight courses and would eventually offer 30, each of them dealing with understanding “the spiritual and moral aspects of life, the human condition, the search for meaning, and conflict resolution.”

The Johns Hopkins University in Maryland features courses from its Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Tufts University in Massachusetts has made available a selection of courses in medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine, nutrition science and the liberal arts, as well as a course on international multilateral negotiation created by Tuft’s Fletcher School.

The OCW-affiliate organizations tend to have a regional or single country focus. The eGranary Digital Library, for example, places Web resources, including OCW offerings, on a server on African university campuses that have little or no Internet connectivity. A nonprofit, largely volunteer service based at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, the eGranary Digital Library manually updates its library at least twice each year on dozens of African campus intranets.


MIT says that the users of its OCW materials come from 215 countries, territories and city-states around the world. In 2005, it had 8.5 million visits to its OCW content, a 56 percent increase over the previous year. Most of its users (61 percent) were from outside the United States - 22 percent from East Asia, 15 percent from Western Europe, 6 percent from South Asia, 5 percent from Latin America and 13 percent from other regions.

Johns Hopkins’ OCW site, launched just one year ago, now receives over 70,000 page views a month from more than 110 countries, with 38 percent of the site's visitors coming from outside the United States, the university says.

In surveying its users, MIT found that 49 percent of its OCW visitors characterized themselves as “self-learners,” 32 percent as students and 16 percent as educators. Among the educators, 62 percent said they combined materials from MIT’s OCW with other content, while 38 percent said they adapted course syllabi and 26 percent said they adapted assignments or exams.

MIT has found that more than a third of its own students use OCW to complement courses they are taking. Other users are educators interested in using MIT’s OCW to improve their own teaching. Still others are self-learners who use MIT OCW to enhance personal knowledge and to stay current in their chosen fields.


MIT has established formal partnerships with organizations that are translating MIT OCW course materials into Spanish, Portuguese, simplified Chinese and traditional Chinese. MIT OCW materials have also been translated into Thai, French, German, Vietnamese and Ukrainian.

Other U.S. educational institutions and organizations currently participating in the OCW consortium include the Defense Acquisition University, Harvard Law School and the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, Michigan State University, the University of California at Irvine, the University of Michigan School of Information, Utah State University, Utah Valley State College, and Wheelock College in Boston.

The University of the Western Cape in South Africa became the first African university to join the OCW movement when it announced in February it had made a policy decision to make its course material freely available over the Internet.

OpenCourseWare is not about gaining college credit for coursework, although in the future it might become easier to gain such credit. Instead, MIT says on its Web site, “This initiative continues the tradition at MIT, and in American higher education, of open dissemination of educational materials, philosophy, and modes of thought.”

For more information on the OCW movement and for links to participating universities and affiliate institutions, see the OCW Web site.

For more information on U.S. policy, see Education.