MIT OpenCourseWare Provides Tuition-Free Access to Higher Education from a World-Leading Technical Institute

MIT OpenCourseWare Provides Tuition-Free Access to Higher Education from a World-Leading Technical Institute
Adam West
By: Adam West
Updated: May 30, 2017
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In a Nutshell: While the traditional college education system has its advantages, it’s not within reach for everyone. College is expensive, and if you want to attend a prestigious university, that expense only gets higher. With more than 200 million users, MIT OpenCourseWare gives learners and educators across the globe free access to virtually all of the course content from one of the world’s most prestigious universities, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The content makes it possible for anyone with access to the internet to achieve a higher education, or to simply improve upon existing skills. While you won’t receive an actual MIT diploma, you’ll have the opportunity to gain knowledge that can help you earn more money, enter a new career, or simply remain a lifelong learner.

Sean Cusack has been designing and building sound systems since he was 12 years old, when he began recording music in a sound studio his grandfather built for him. With a desire to turn his passion projects into a career, he went on to earn a degree in audio engineering from a digital arts college. Eventually, Sean landed a job with a company where he was setting up audio for musical events and trade shows.

Ultimately, Sean wanted to do something on his own and came up with an idea to build a self-contained audio system that he could easily set up and break down without leaving a footprint. He connected with a nonprofit organization called Power of Green in 2014 to help him get his project off the ground, and successfully built a completely photovoltaic-fueled sound system.

“With this zero noise, zero emission generator, I was entirely off grid, and it felt way more healthy,” Sean said.

Inspired by this experience to learn more about photovoltaics and electricity, he began to search online for resources that could help him. His search and recommendations from his cousins, who are alumni of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, led him to MIT OpenCourseWare (OCW), an online publication of nearly all of the course content from one of the world’s top universities.

Here, Sean was able to identify classes that could help him with engineering basics and scientific theory so that he could increase his knowledge in these areas and potentially invent new products or choose a new career path.

“What popped out for me right away was that the courses didn’t offer information in a daunting, oppressive way that made me fear knowledge,” Sean said. “They were really nice presentations that gave me confidence I could follow the material.”

Sean is not quite sure what his long-term career plans are, but he’s confident that what he’s learned from MIT OpenCourseWare will give him an advantage over others with potential employers down the road. He’s one of the many visitors who has utilized OCW’s online resources to further their studies.

“If you’re focused, there’s an entire college education at your fingertips,” Sean said. “You can show this to prospective employers, and it gives you a kind of power.”

Users of the site have access to materials from more than 2,400 courses and the same lesson plans that actual MIT students in Cambridge, Massachusetts, are experiencing. The platform also has great benefits to teachers, who can use the site to gather materials that can enhance their own curriculum.

From Architecture to Engineering: 2,000+ Free Undergrad and Graduate Courses

One of the great benefits of college is that students have access to a wide range of courses in nearly any subject of interest. Plus, unlike high school, they finally have the freedom to choose what they want their educational focus to be.

Tuition for a four-year university, however, can often lead the studious into a pile of debt, and for folks who go on to graduate school, the tuition only multiplies. OCW offers the general public access to more than 2,000 free undergraduate and graduate courses, encompassing most of MIT’s course content.

“Watching OCW lectures, you feel like you’re really there, and all the jokes and energy of the professor comes through. It makes it much more fun and easier to learn.”  — Jamie Tucker-Foltz

When users visit the OCW Course Index page, they’re presented with a list of departments, from architecture to cognitive sciences to literature. Within each specific department, there’s an even wider range of courses for students to choose from, allowing them to design their own custom education plan, depending on what they want to learn. This free online resource has been utilized by over 200 million students, educators, and self-learners around the world.

OCW Educator Gives Teachers Access to Free MIT Resources to Enhance Curriculums

Designing a course curriculum involves steps like establishing a foundation, writing, resource review, and, of course, implementation, among other things, according to an article on the Association for Supervision Curriculum Development. Imagine doing this every semester, and being required to craft something that’s engaging enough to meet the needs of a new and diverse group of students every time, year after year.

Screenshot from the OCW Educator page on MIT OpenCourseWare

MIT OpenCourseWare goes beyond educating students by providing free resources to teachers.

While educators will always have to develop the framework for their curriculum, they can take advantage of OCW Educator to help with the actual content. OCW Educator helps teachers search OCW’s extensive library of resources. There, they’ll find different approaches to teaching, along with the materials to supplement these approaches. And these materials are all coming directly from MIT, so not only are teachers gaining access to new ideas for their study materials, but they’re getting them from one of the nation’s premier universities

Explore and Improve Knowledge In and Out of Your Professional Field

OCW’s audience includes students, educators, and self-learners, with 43% falling into the self-learner category. These are the users who want to do things like prepare for course studies down the road, or maybe they want to improve upon their skills in the workplace.

In the quest for knowledge, there’s always something new to be learned. In fact, many people really never stop learning, and for those in professional fields who want to improve their expertise within that field, OCW can be a great resource. Additionally, if you have an interest in moving into a new field, OCW can also be beneficial.

In a Huffington Post article on “The Benefits of Online Learning,” author Tom Snyder wrote that lifelong learning must now be part of everyone’s career plans: “In today’s job market, taking online courses help workers remain competitive, and they don’t need to take time off from their jobs to do this.”

Studying online allows you to take your education anywhere, and you can work at your own pace. It’s a convenient way to self-educate, and it’s a great way to increase or supplement your expertise in the workplace.

Making Education Available to All & Empowering Minds Around the World

A traditional four-year college education is expensive, and many students assume significant student loan debt to get through it.

MIT OpenCourseWare exists so that everyone can have access to a higher education, without the high price tag that’s associated with it. There may not always be a diploma attached to an online education, but for those who want to enter a new career, improve their education, or earn more money, enhanced knowledge can go a long way.

Photo of Sean Cusack with his photovoltaic fueled sound system

Sean is just one example of someone who was inspired to learn more through MIT’s free course materials.

Many people are like Sean — they have a vision, but not enough knowledge in their wheelhouse to make that vision a reality. By giving folks everywhere access to online courses that meet the standards of one of the world’s greatest technical universities, MIT OpenCourseWare sets a great example for others in the online education world.

Students are increasingly turning to online educational programs. While the days of studying in the classroom certainly aren’t over, it’s nice to know that universities like MIT are giving people the opportunity to remain lifelong learners for free, allowing them to forge new paths and expand their minds. And the best part is that they don’t have to take on massive debt to achieve this.