President's Message

Celebrating the 20th Anniversary of OCW

MIT President L. Rafael

MIT President L. Rafael Reif


In 2001, the age of digital sharing was just getting started. Google was still in its infancy. January of that year saw the launch of a little project called Wikipedia. And then, in the springtime, MIT presented OpenCourseWare.

The idea for OCW came from MIT faculty: to give away MIT’s course materials to the world online. The decision to move forward with this bold idea belonged to MIT’s 15th president, Chuck Vest. Institute leaders could not have known it at the time, but in creating OCW, MIT launched a quiet but profound educational revolution. It unleashed the global open sharing movement, helping to pave the way for the worldwide phenomenon of open digital learning.

In its first 20 years, OCW has offered hundreds of millions of individuals a new pathway to their future—a true gift to humanity. But in those same 20 years, OCW has helped society prepare for the challenges of its future, too.

Consider the vaccines for Covid-19. They may appear to be an overnight success, but the truth is, this “medical miracle” sprang from careful, deliberate scientific research—over decades. In the same way, society responded to the pandemic emergency with a rapid and radical shift to remote learning. That shift occurred in a matter of weeks, but what made it possible was two decades of transformative work in digital learning. From the beginning of that long, transformative journey, OCW has been a guiding light.

If you ask MIT people to name those moments when they felt most proud of the Institute, the birth of OCW is right at the top of the list. That is a wonderful legacy and an inspiring challenge, for the next twenty years and beyond.

L. Rafael Reif
March 2021