Few users study in MIT Open Courseware

September 23, 2010 at 10:59 am 12 comments

I’m at an NSF Task Force on Cyberlearning and Workforce Development meeting where issues of on-line and open education are arising often. There’s a sense here that the MIT Open Courseware site has many students (often in the developing world) getting a higher-education through self-study.  I like data, and I knew that there were site statistics available, so I went to look and found their World Impact report (old now, from 2006).  I think it shows that these opinions are false.

  • 51% of all visits to the site are single page-views. 29% are 5 or more page views, but only 6% are viewing more than 25 pages.  That’s not a lot of reading, consuming content.
  • 70% of visitors to the site visit only once, ever.  Only 30% are return visitors.  (They did a survey that found that 60% were return visitors and 40% were once-only, but they admit, based on the site stats, that they over-sampled the return visitors.)
  • The average duration of a visit to the site is 11 minutes, but the median is 4 minutes — and this is not counting all those single-page views.  The reality is that few people are spending much time there.
  • 64% of use of the site comes from North America and Europe.  We’re up to 21% of use from Eastern Asia (China), which is impressive.  But 2.9% comes from the Middle East and North Africa, 8% from India, and 1% from Sub-Saharan Africa.

There probably are students in the developing world who are learning through the MIT Open Courseware.  But few people are studying there at all.  Most use is like Wikipedia — people in the developed world looking something up, and giving up quickly after finding (or not finding) it.

Learning takes sustained effort and focus. That’s still hard to get on the Internet.  Harvesting material for free is unlikely to stumble upon the technique for getting and holding attention.

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12 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Alan Kay  |  September 23, 2010 at 11:02 am

    The problem is that virtually all of this is not really “courseware” but mostly just PPT slides used in courses.

    Is there any good “courseware” anywhere, and are people using that?



  • 2. David Klappholz  |  September 23, 2010 at 12:47 pm

    I’m not sure that number of pages viewed is all that relevant. I was on the site about a week ago, viewed very few pages — because I knew precisely what topic I was interested in — but downloaded all materials for a course of interest with a single click.

  • 3. Katrin Becker  |  September 23, 2010 at 2:17 pm

    I think the term ‘courseware’ is misleading, at least for anything I’ve looked at on the MIT site. I’ve tried to find MIT courses a number of times in the hopes of providing useful resources for my students. I have never found anything there that I could use in that way. I don’t even look any more – it’s not worth my time.

    Many of the ‘courses’ are nothing more than course outlines; some go so far as to outline readings and assignments, but they provide no guidance w.r.t. what to do with these, no sample solutions, no course notes, no exercises, reflection,….

    It should be no surprize that people aren’t spending more time at the site – there’s nothing to do there. There’s no way I could learn any more from most of the materials I came across than I could from just wandering around the web on my own. They’re not what I would call courses.

  • 4. BKMacKellar  |  September 24, 2010 at 8:03 am

    I’ve visited the site a number of times and find it pretty useless. As others have noted, most of the courses are not really courseware but just some disparate Powerpoint slides thrown up, seemingly as an afterthought. Another problem is that the course topics tend to be arcane – probably these courses make sense for MIT grad students, but aren’t all that relevant to students, especially undergrads, at other schools.Or for that matter, to the faculty who teach those undergrads.

  • 5. Gilbert Bernstein  |  September 24, 2010 at 11:44 am

    What’s the absolute number those percentages are being drawn from?

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Brian J. McNely, Ethan Watrall. Ethan Watrall said: RT @bmcnely: "Few Users Study in MIT Open Courseware" http://bit.ly/aHgHs4 [Computing Education Blog] […]

  • 7. David Klappholz  |  September 25, 2010 at 12:51 pm

    Having now looked at the “courseware” I downloaded, I agree that, with those who have questioned its being that.

  • 8. On-line learning not a big win « Gas station without pumps  |  September 27, 2010 at 9:59 am

    […] to pay for it?  Are people snapping up the freely available material from MIT and Stanford?  The Computing Education blog points out that statistics are available from MIT at http://ocw.mit.edu/about/site-statistics/.  […]

  • 9. Software Carpentry » Tracking Utility and Impact  |  September 30, 2010 at 6:07 am

    […] Guzdial recently posted some interesting (and for us, slightly depressing) statistics about MIT Open Courseware. Long story short, it looks like that flagship effort isn’t as widely used as many of us had […]

  • 10. Ray Eston Smith Jr  |  October 15, 2010 at 3:19 pm

    I’m 60 years old, living in Phoenix. A year ago, I retired from a career as a business programmer.

    I use MIT Open Courseware by downloading video lectures from YouTube. I recently completed the Gilbert Strang Linear Algebra lectures. I am now beginning MIT lecture courses on computer science, physics, chemistry, and biology. Later I plan to do the courses on differential equations and applied math.

    I have also completed free online couses from The Khan Academy on calculus, differential equations, and linear algebra. I have also completed the 9 Stanford lectures by Leonard Susskind on Classical Mechanics, and I have begun the Susskind lectures on special relativity.

    In addition, I plan to study several hard copy books, especially Hestenes’ “New Foundations for Classical Mechanics” and Jaynes’ “The Logic of Science”.

    I plan to enroll at Oregon State University in about a year to prepare for a second career as a biochemist. However, I expect to continue to further my education via the Internet for the rest of my life (another 30 years, based on family history, perhaps much more based on the accelerating pace of biomedical discovery).

    You are measuring what is easy to measure and thereby completely missing the essence of Internet self-education.

    • 11. Mark Guzdial  |  October 16, 2010 at 9:17 am

      Hi Ray, You’re right that I’m measuring what’s easy to measure, but neither of us is measuring what’s important. I’m measuring whether OCW is reaching a broad range of real students (not just once-only visitors), especially from the developing world. That doesn’t seem to be the case, but maybe that’s not the “essence,” as you say.

      But what’s important in any educational setting is what’s being learned. That’s hard to measure, and neither of us knows anything about that. Watching YouTube videos doesn’t mean that you learned anything from them. OCW doesn’t give you a way (of which I’m aware) of even measuring your own learning. So while I may be missing the “essence,” it’s still not clear that we know anything about what’s important: What are people learning from OCW, and is it enough to make it worth the investment?

  • […] Guzdial, a professor in the School of Interactive Computing at Georgia Institute of Technology, broke it down, 50% of all the visits to that institution’s OpenCourseWare site were single-page views and 70% […]


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