OpenCourseWare: College education, without the student loans
Free, online lectures and course materials offer Ivy-League classes to everyone.
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Spurred by advances in technology and people’s hunger to get an extra edge in a down economy, universities and colleges are posting course materials – including syllabi, class notes, and lectures – online for anyone to access. This movement, known as OpenCourseWare, allows self learners to save money on tuition, gives alumni a link to their alma mater, and enables prospective students to peek into university classrooms.
Already more than 200 colleges and universities offer courses ranging from art history to economics for free on demand. The classes can be watched on YouTube or downloaded to iPods. And the consortium continues to grow.
When he served in Iraq, John Shelton, a member of the Navy Counter-IED (improvised explosive device) roadside task force, patrolled while listening to psychology and history lectures from the University of California, Berkeley, and Cornell University, in Ithaca, N.Y.
And on research trips to the northernmost Canadian military base – known as Alert – near the Arctic Circle, physicist Wendy Ermold of the Polar Science Center at the University of Washington in Seattle watches Stanford University quantum physics lectures on her iPod.
Unlike places such as the University of Phoenix, which charge – and give degrees – for distance learning courses, OpenCourseWare is free and offers no reward other than knowledge.
The OpenCourseWare concept began in 2003. That year, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology decided it couldn't turn a profit from putting online its hands-on curriculum with an emphasis on laboratory work online. Instead, MIT began providing its syllabi, course notes, and eventually, video and audio lectures online for free. MIT’s OpenCourseWare initiative started by listing 500 courses in 2003. Even that first year the program attracted more than 4 million visits to its web pages.
But today, in less than a decade, the institution has archived 1,897 courses – and in April 2009 alone attracted more than 1 million visits.
Soon, MIT had lots of company. The college’s foray into uncharted education territory spurred a worldwide movement for other colleges to provide OpenCourseWare materials through their institution’s websites and the OpenCourseWare Consortium, which boasts more than 100 million visits since its launch in 2006.