Free Online MBA Courses at MIT

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) 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 the Wall Street Journal article titled, “Yale on $0 a Day”, 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 MIT OpenCourseWare (OCW) 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.” Review the list of the offered courses in the online MBA catalog at MIT. Take for example, a course on negotiation. Following the downloading of the lecture notes and reading required books you, however, will come to the reasonable conclusion that it is not a valid 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.

The online courseware for MIT and other universities allows prospective students 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 you are interested in this topic, why wouldn’t you 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? You can’t be 100% positive, but at least you have a solid starting point.

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

Many visitors use the online courses site in a wide variety of ways to support formal and informal learning. For some, OCW is a tool to motivate students and gives them access to a wider knowledge base and deeper understanding of the subject. Others laud the way OCW helps self-learners explore new subjects and understand them in an organized way.

“To most people outside, MIT was like the forbidden city. They had no idea what happened inside,” says MIT professor Walter Lewin. “And with OCW, the bridge was lowered. They now see MIT in a completely different way.”

What can you expect to find when you show up for your virtual class? Right now, the offerings focus on sustainability, industry evolution and global entrepreneurship—MIT Sloan’s areas of expertise and subjects not as widely available in more standard areas of management, the school says.

  • Global entrepreneurship case studies include “Compsis at a Crossroads,”where students address how a Brazilian startup considers entering new markets, particularly the United States. In “,” students describe China’s online video distribution market and the challenges for a China-based online video provider startup as it prepares a growth and exit strategy.
  • Sustainability case studies include “Materials Pooling A, B, C,” which describes the concept of materials pooling as a sustainability strategy for businesses and the challenges that such collaborations encounter; and“SunPower: Focused on the Future of Solar Power,” which highlights that company’s dilemma as to whether to try and maintain market share through a strategy of differentiated technology or through pricing.
  • Industry evolution case studies include “DeBeers’s Diamond Dilemma,”which focuses DeBeer’s response to the threat of the synthetic diamond industry. “Eli Lilly: Recreating Drug Discovery for the 21st Century” describes changes facing the structure of the pharmaceutical industry as a result of new science, cost structures, and the company’s strategy for the development of tailored drugs.

Exciting things are happening in these fields, says MIT Sloan’s deputy deanJoAnne Yates. “Our goal is to spread knowledge and make a difference in the world of business education — to have an impact on business education and where it is going in the future.”

More areas of focus will be added as the site grows, and the school plans to add management flight simulators — interactive models based on system dynamics — that will be available for faculty worldwide to use with their students in summer of 2009.