Professor Patrick Henry Winston ’65, SM ’67, PhD ’70

Gerry Sussman burst into my office. “You were right!” he said.

“About what?”

“Twenty-five years ago, you said we should get rid of 10% of the faculty and use the money to hire unemployed, English-speaking, Indian PhDs to tutor our students individually over the web.”

“Yes,” I remembered, a little surprised that he remembered.

“Well, it’s happened.”

He had just heard a BBC report on TutorVista, of Banglore, which offers tutoring to kids at $2.50 per hour.

Now for the rest of the story. This year, my subject, 6.034, will join 40 others available from OpenCourseWare with video recording of the lectures. Many more are coming.

When I was a kid, I went to MIT because that was the only way I could have Arthur Mattuck tell me about mathematics; Tony French, about physics; Amar Bose, about circuits; and Jerry Lettvin about what the frog’s eye tells the frog’s brain.

But sitting in a lecture hall is no longer a good reason to be at MIT. You can watch today’s analogs of those great lecturers without spending $50,000 a year. In fact, if you can’t afford a computer, you can watch them for nothing at your local library. If you can spare $2.50, you can probably find someone in India to help you through the rough spots.

Of course, there still are plenty of reasons to be physically at MIT; here are a few that come to mind: working problem sets together late at night, the smaller classes, UROP, TEAL, IAP, BattleCode, and the 100K Contest.

Still, I don’t think we at MIT are thinking enough about the future, because, well, here is another prediction: twenty-five years from now there will only be 500 or so English-language lecturers. They will paid like sports stars to develop new material offered up by OpenGoogleWare, along with advertisements. Who knows what the rest of us will be doing. Maybe tutoring Indian students over the web.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

David September 13, 2010 at 1:03 pm

Take a look at this related video too:

[Editor’s Note: it’s a TED talk on The child-driven education by education scientist Sugata Mitra.]


Kevin Rhoads September 13, 2010 at 2:05 pm

“… and Gerry Lettvin about what …” Jerry Lettvin (Jerome Ysroael Lettvin)

After N years being a House Tutor in Bexley starting under Jerry, there is no way I can let that pass 😉


George McQuilken September 13, 2010 at 3:27 pm

I love this piece, could I reproduce in my own blog with proper attribution?


Nancy DuVergne Smith September 13, 2010 at 4:29 pm

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jose September 22, 2010 at 3:44 pm

There was no web 25 years ago. Tim Berners-Lee put the first website online in 1991, all of 19 years ago.

Hard to believe!


Patrick September 23, 2010 at 9:08 am

Good point. We were probably talking about whatever the ARPANET was called in those days. By the early 70s, we were sending a lot of email all over the country, and by 1985 or so, that grew into lots of collaboration experiments, so the potential for tutoring was already clear.


Elad May 4, 2011 at 5:47 am

Although online education is the next step with the internet growing everyday, I still fear for the future as online education is not on par with sitting in an actual classroom. Students will not learn basic life skills such as delivering a presentation, public speaking, working in a group. Without those skills how can we expect the next generation to be fully equipped to face the workplace? Someone who has only worked on projects alone will not be able to work in a company on a team project.


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