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Last Updated: Tuesday, 9 September, 2003, 07:37 GMT 08:37 UK
Free net learning attracts clicks
Students using computers
The coursework can be used by anyone, anywhere
An experiment in sharing the knowledge of a leading technology institute for free on the net has been a global hit.

The site by Massachusetts Institute of Technology offering its courses online has had more than 100 million hits since its launch a year ago.

At the start, there were just 50 undergraduate courses available.

By the end of this month, MIT plans to have 500 online, with the remaining coming on stream over the next few years.

Teach yourself

The project, called OpenCourseWare (OCW), does not offer online classes or qualifications.

Instead it is considered a study aid, with thousands of pages of information on subjects such as chemical engineering and planetary sciences.

You are welcome to download everything that is on the site. In fact we are hoping that that actually happens
Jon Paul Potts, MIT OpenCourseWare
"We get so much traffic," said Jon Paul Potts, OCW communications manager. "We have received more than 100 million hits since we launched last September."

"Our audience are students learning in other institutions, who can come to OCW to supplement what they are learning in their classroom," he told the BBC programme Go Digital.

"We had an e-mail from a student in Vietnam is who is teaching himself software programming using OCW and he has built a program to reschedule the buses in Ho Chi Minh city."

The aim of the MIT project is to share the knowledge of the renowned institute across the world and hopefully encourage others to follow suit.

Free for all

In contrast with many other educational establishments that have ventured onto the net, there are no degrees for sale. People do not even have to register to use the site.

"This is free and open," said Mr Potts. "You are welcome to download everything that is on the site.

"In fact we are hoping that that actually happens. We're encouraging people to take our materials and use them to improve their own learning or teaching."

The only restrictions imposed by MIT are that the material is not used commercially, that people share it and that they say it came from the Boston institute.

On the site, every course comes with a description and calendar, lecture notes, reading lists and assignments. Some offer much more, with hours of video lectures, seminars and experiments.

The materials are not designed to replace traditional learning methods, as the service does not offer certificates, teacher feedback or classroom activities.

Instead MIT hopes that its work will serve as a model of how technology can be used to make information that was once the preserve of just a privileged few available to all.

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