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OCW welcomes 50 million visitors

MIT's ambitious program hits key milestone
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MIT's OpenCourseWare (OCW) has now shared MIT course materials with more than 50 million visitors worldwide, indicating how OCW has grown from a bold idea into a global movement that is reshaping the role of the university in the digital age.

Launched in 2002, OCW is MIT's ambitious program to share course materials -- including syllabi, lecture notes, assignments and exams -- from virtually all of the Institute's classes, freely and openly on the Web. Through the main MIT OpenCourseWare site ( and through translation affiliate sites, OCW materials have been accessed by an estimated 50 million individuals from more than 200 countries and territories worldwide. The OCW site alone has been visited by more than 30 million individuals, who have viewed more than 350 million pages. Affiliates have translated more than 600 of OCW's 1,800 courses into languages including Chinese, Spanish, Portuguese, Thai and Persian.

About 60 percent of traffic to the MIT site comes from outside of North America, with significant levels of traffic from East Asia, Europe and South Asia. Seventeen percent of respondents to site surveys describe themselves as educators, 30 percent as students and half as independent learners. Visitors to the site have been as young as 11 and as old as 70. Traffic to the site has originated from more than 3,000 universities in the world and the site is also heavily used by top companies in the technology, defense and finance industries.

Visitors use the site in a wide variety of ways to support formal and informal learning. Lekshmi, a professor at the University of Kerala in India, shares OCW with her students and describes it as "an excellent tool to motivate my students to think outside their prescribed syllabi and gives them access to a wider knowledge base." Oystein, a Norwegian student, has improved his academic performance with OCW videos. "These lectures gave me a deeper understanding of the subject, and without them I'm pretty sure I would not have received my 'A' in my local algorithms course," he says. An independent learner in Egypt, Weam, describes how OCW helps him expand his knowledge: "MIT offers well organized courses and lecture notes making it simple to explore new subjects and understand them in an organized way."

OCW has also inspired hundreds of other universities to share their course materials openly. Leading universities from more than 20 countries have come together through the OpenCourseWare Consortium ( to publish a body of more than 7,800 courses in six different languages. Consortium members include such globally recognized institutions as Korea University (South Korea), Tecnológico de Monterrey (Mexico), Keio University (Japan), The Open University (United Kingdom), and the University of California-Berkeley (United States).

OCW materials have been shared in many other ways beyond the OCW site and translation affiliate sites. More than 200 copies of the site on hard drives have been sent to universities in bandwidth-constrained regions, primarily Sub-Saharan Africa. The OCW site also allows visitors to download copies of individual courses and so far more than 7.5 million such sets of course materials have been distributed. Videos from the OCW site are available through Apple's iTunes U, which has recorded 1.7 million file downloads of OCW content, and on YouTube, where they have been viewed more than 1.2 million times.

The MIT OpenCourseWare site has grown from a 50-course proof-of-concept site launched in September 2002 to a resource that shares materials from all of MIT's academic departments at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. The site contains the core academic materials for MIT's courses, voluntarily provided by MIT faculty under an open license that allows site users to download and modify the materials for noncommercial use. The site contains notes from more than 1,500 lectures, 9,000 assignments, and 900 exams. Many courses include enhanced multimedia content, including 31 that contain complete video recordings of course lectures.

These videos have generated tremendous public acclaim for MIT professors, including physics professor Walter Lewin and math professor Gilbert Strang. Each has course materials on OCW that have individually received more than 1 million visits, and both have been featured in major media in the U.S. and abroad. "To most people outside, MIT was like the forbidden city. They had no idea what happened inside," says Lewin. "And with OCW, the bridge was lowered. They now see MIT in a completely different way."


A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on December 3, 2008 (download PDF).

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