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Curriculum of MIT to be online for free

MIT intends to reach an epic milestone soon: By the end of the year, its entire curriculum should be available online for free.

Scholars -- and amateur scholars -- are coming in droves; this month, the site could receive 1.5 million visits.

"It's exceeded our expectations," said Anne Margulies, the official at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who heads up the online curriculum program called OpenCourseWare.

MIT began putting courses online in 2001; more than 1,500 are already available, and all of its 1,800 courses should be posted by the end of this year.

So far, the most popular online course has been an introduction to electrical engineering, Margulies said, but visitors to the site can also school themselves on such subjects as cell-matrix mechanics, holographic imaging, hip-hop, and How to Make (Almost) Anything.

Courses that include video presentations tend to draw online crowds, and popular courses include Linear Algebra, Physics I, and Principles of Macroeconomics.

MIT students also use the site to take practice exams and to help them determine which courses to take next semester.

Even so, roughly 60 percent of visitors to the site come from outside of North America, and about half are what MIT calls "self-learners" -- folks who are neither students nor educators but are presumably drawn to MIT only by the sheer joy of learning.

Other US universities are putting some of their courses online; many offer what might be deemed a "greatest hits" approach to the online curriculum; but to Margulies's knowledge, MIT is one of only a handful of universities on the planet that seek to make an entire catalogue of courses available on the Internet.

In the business world, executives would brainstorm over how to "monetize" the Internet. That's not part of MIT's thinking; at its site, learning is free.

"During the dot-com era, people thought about to how to make money on the Internet," Margulies said. "Today we think knowledge should be in the public domain."

Chris Reidy can be reached at reidy@globe.com.

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