The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is spearheading a movement of major universities to put online lecture notes, coursework and required readings for MBA courses and other classes on the internet–for no charge! Why would prestigious universities consider giving away some of their intellectual property? The answer might surprise you.


According to a recent Wall Street Journal article titled, "Yale on $0 a Day", February 15, 2007, universities across the United States are offering more than a glimpse into the courses comprising an MBA or other advanced degree.

According to the article, "MIT's pioneering "OpenCourseWare" program, which was launched in 2003, posts the syllabus and class notes for more than 1,500 courses online for anyone who wants them. By this November, it aims to publish materials from virtually all 1,800 of its courses across all its schools."

The amount of IP given away varies by university. MIT, thus far, seems to be the most generous with class plans, lecture notes, and recommended reading materials. Other universities such as UC Berkeley are "simply making lectures available through audio and video files."

What would drive major universities to allow the general public to peer into the inner-workings of their advanced coursework (in physics, business, economics etc) and even download/utilize key intellectual property?

The universities realize there's no substitute for the real thing. "From Yale's point of view, there still is nothing more important than direct interaction between students and teachers," says Diana E.E. Kleiner, an art-history professor and director of the Yale project. "Putting a selection of our courses online doesn't change that."

Quickly reviewing the online MBA catalog at MIT, I have to concur. Take for example, a course on negotiation. Downloading the lecture notes and reading required books is part of the equation, however, I don't think there is a substitute for in-class room instruction, role-playing and simulation, and peer interaction–especially in a course like negotiation.

In fact, this is a brilliant marketing strategy, of "try before you buy" or teasing prospective students with a sampling of good things to come.

While this "sampling" isn't the same thing as the real experience, I am excited about this announcement for many reasons. Some people, like me, are life long learners. In fact, if I could make a good living just being a "student," I'd happily give up my day job.

The online courseware for MIT and other universities allows me to save time and energy in seeking the best reading materials for subjects like operations planning, supply chain management, and economics to name a few. For example, a simple search on Amazon lists 5,327 different books on supply chain management. If I was interested in this topic, why wouldn't I just read or review the three recommended books in the MIT coursework? Are the reading materials recommended by MIT the best books on a given topic? I can't be 100% positive, but at least I have a solid starting point.

Second, the free online courseware allows me to pick subjects of interest and either do a refresh or deep dive on a specific topic. If I'm a little rusty on statistics or accounting, I can easily review lecture notes, watch a digital lecture, or purchase and read key textbooks to get back up to speed.

I do have questions, however.

How will this trend affect online distance MBA courses which are essentially the same thing (lecture notes, recordings, and required readings)? I realize there is some interactivity in online courses with chat rooms, discussion threads and conference calls, but many online courses cater to individual vs. team learning.
Also, will this change the strategies of some Global 2000 companies who create their own IP coursework (technology, executive leadership etc), for internal employee use?

It is also often said, "It's best to keep the cannibals in the family." Are MIT and other universities cannibalizing their own product line with this "giveaway" of IP?

Will this increase or decrease demand for higher learning? I'd love to hear your opinions–

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Paul Barsch directs services marketing programs for Teradata, the world's largest data warehousing and analytics company. Previously, Paul was marketing director for HP Enterprise Services $1.3 billion healthcare industry and a senior marketing manager at global consultancy, BearingPoint. Paul is a senior contributor to MarketingProfs, a frequent columnist for MarketingProfs DailyFix, and has published over fifteen articles in marketing, management, technology and healthcare publications. Paul earned his Bachelors of Science in Business Administration from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. He and his family reside in San Diego, CA.