The traditional supply chain within education is a relatively straightforward system whereby public and private institutions provide a live forum for educators to deliver content to students. This archaic distribution model is offered only to small batches of students, is limited by class sizes and space constraints, and offers little in terms of customization. As educational institutions struggle to increase capacity to keep up with demand, tuition costs surge, student-to-teacher ratios rise, and access to a quality learning experience becomes even more scarce in certain parts of the world. The educational needs of individuals are changing rapidly, so is it time for the education supply chain to adapt?
In 2001, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), one of the world’s preeminent technical universities, announced the development of its OpenCourseWare (OCW) platform to address the limitations of its delivery model. The purpose of OCW is to digitalize education “in pursuit of MIT’s mission – to advance knowledge and educate students.” The site officially launched in 2002 with only a select group of courses available that users could access free of charge with no restrictions. Each course on OCW offers viewers video lectures, a syllabus, readings, and other related course materials. This approach to the delivery of education is quite different from the traditional classroom setting as it provides a tailored learning experience to anyone with access to the internet.
Recognizing the need for digitalization to reach a broader audience, the number of online degree-granting programs and institutions has risen dramatically in the last few years. Online degree-granting programs are currently offered at 75% of the U.S. News and & World’s Top 100 Universities. While the average annual tuition for an online degree in the U.S. is roughly half that of an on-campus education, the cost and structure of these programs still precludes a sizable percentage of the population from taking part. However, MIT’s OCW platform is completely free and offers students the opportunity to take courses at their own pace in whatever subject they choose. Although the institution does not offer a degree after completing the OCW coursework, the value to MIT’s mission of expanding its educational reach is substantial. Each year, fewer than 5,000 students graduate from MIT’s undergraduate and graduate schools, while nearly 1.3 million unique users gain access to MIT resources each month via OCW.
Today, nearly all of the undergraduate and graduate courses at MIT are available on OCW. Every month, more than two million educators, students, professionals, and self-learners log into OCW, half of which are based outside the U.S.7 In the short-term, MIT is continuing to add tools to the platform to enrich learning and adapt to the needs of its users. Recently, OCW has added instructor insights, interactive transcripts, and industry-specific accreditations aimed at continuing education for professionals, such as its Credential in Supply Chain Management. Longer-term, MIT continues to build partnerships with other academic institutions and organizations like Apple, Google, and YouTube to make OCW more ubiquitous and enhance the learning experience.
It’s clear that OCW broadens MIT’s reach, but the key question is whether or not the platform fully bridges the gap between the traditional delivery of education and this new means of digital distribution. MIT strives to ready its students in the classroom for the ever-evolving technological world by providing educational resources not currently offered on OCW, such as access to faculty, students, and world-class research facilities. As the platform matures and further develops, MIT should consider taking some of these social and experiential aspects of learning into consideration. Additionally, for the students utilizing OCW, the skills and knowledge that they acquire are not substantiated by a grade on a transcript or a degree. So, should MIT consider offering degrees to students who complete OCW coursework and demonstrate knowledge of the content? In the future, will mastery of a subject via digital education be viewed in the same manner as a degree?
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 Schuwer, Robert and Rob Kusters. “Mass Customization of Education by an Institution of HE: What Can We Learn from Industry?” The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning. Athabasca University. April 2014. http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1030122.pdf.
 “OCW Innovations.” Massachusetts Institute of Technology. https://ocw.mit.edu/about/milestones/.
 “The Rise of Online Degrees at Public and Nonprofit Universities.” Center for Online Education. http://www.onlinecolleges.net/for-students/online-degrees-at-nonprofit-universities/.
 Vosganian, Ed. “The Real Price of Online College.” Affordable Colleges Online. https://www.affordablecollegesonline.org/financial-aid/online-college-degree-cost/.
 “MIT Facts.” Massachusetts Institute of Technology. http://web.mit.edu/facts/faqs.html.
 “Site Statistics: MIT OpenCourseWare.” Massachusetts Institute of Technology. https://ocw.mit.edu/about/site-statistics/monthly-reports/MITOCW_DB_2017_10_V1.pdf.