Why This MIT Professor Wants to Help Everyone Learn Basic Economics

Simple line drawing of two neighboring houses, people out front of each house looking at the other one and saying "Wierd".

Image from a video in Introductory AP® Microeconomics, using the challenges negotiating with a noisy party next door to illustrate the concept of market failure.

Professor Jon Gruber’s 14.01SC Principles of Microeconomics is OCW’s most popular economics course, with legions of appreciative fans. 

Professor Gruber wants the world to understand that economics is not only useful, it’s also “beautiful and surprising and cool.” He’s invested in spreading the economics gospel to a wider audience, such as his 2011 graphic-novel treatment of health care reform [still a timely work, it seems!].

So we wanted to spread the word about Professor Gruber’s new online course with MITx on edX. Introductory AP® Microeconomics opens on August 15, 2017 for self-paced learning. Compared to his OCW course, this gentle introduction is for a more general audience, explaining key points with fun video animations rather than the beauty of calculus. Read on…

Why This MIT Professor Wants to Help Everyone Learn Basic Economics

Jonathan Gruber, Ford Professor of Economics, MIT

I’m excited to announce the launch of a new course on edX that covers Introductory AP Microeconomics. I’ve wanted to do a course like this for years. I have always found economics provides a terrific way to think about the world. Economics principles explain so much of what drives our everyday life: how people decide which goods to buy and how to spend their time; how firms set prices and hire workers, and whether the outcomes of markets are fair and efficient.

These economics principles were inspirational to me when I first learned them as an undergraduate. I have gone on to apply to them to a set of topics I am passionate about, both as a Professor at MIT and as a policy expert for both state and local governments. Whether in the classroom, in Washington D.C., or in state capitals, I have found that basic economic principles never lead me wrong in terms of explaining important aspects of the world.

Yet these basic economics principles are not understood by many. This isn’t surprising. Economics is kind of like a new language. Once you understand it, whole new experiences are open to you – but first you have to learn it, which can be hard.

But what is neat is that learning economics is it’s a whole lot easier than learning a new language. I have realized through years of teaching economics principles that with a relatively short set of lessons we can provide the tools for everyone to see the world the way economists do. And that’s what this course is about.

By combining short videos on economics principles with fun applications of those principles, the course provides both the level of economics knowledge that is sufficient to pass the Advanced Placement® exam and a means of understanding more broadly how economics works.  Now, more than ever, the lessons of the course and the questions that it asks are vital. Is going to college worth it? Why is Tesla building the world’s largest battery production plant? Is rising inequality something we should worry about, and what can we do about it?  These are hard questions – that become much easier once you understand the principles of economics.

Economics is a way of seeing the world that’s useful, but it’s also beautiful and surprising and cool. I truly believe our world would be better if everyone took this course. And I know that you’ll have a great time if you take it.

New OCW version of 8.01 Classical Mechanics!

Man gesturing at an overlaid diagram with math formulas.

Using a lightboard, Senior Lecturer Peter Dourmashkin gives a brief lecture on “Newton’s 2nd Law and Circular Motion.”

The How and Why of Motion: Classical Mechanics

By Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director

Terrific news for students and teachers of introductory physics: OCW has just published a new version of 8.01 Classical Mechanics.

This course is taken by all MIT students in their first year and helps form the foundation for much of what they will learn in their undergraduate careers.

Arranged in weekly learning units, the OCW course site abounds in useful materials. The centerpiece is a series of 220 short instructional videos that cover the full range of topics, from kinematics and Newton’s Laws of Motion to rotational motion and angular momentum. An additional six review videos cover basic concepts like vectors and scalars, so you can be familiar with the necessary terminology before you start the first learning unit.

Videos Galore

The course is taught by a team of seven MIT instructors led by Professor Deepto Chakrabarty and Senior Lecturer Peter Dourmashkin. The videos are presented in variety of formats: studio, tablet, and lightboard. 8.01 is the first OCW course to employ a lightboard, a relatively new technology that allows the instructor to face the viewer while writing on a transparent surface (a software program reverses the writing so the viewer can read it). Many instructors like this form of online instruction for its more intimate and personal feel over traditional classroom videos.

Students can also read Peter Dourmashkin’s openly published and fully downloadable textbook.

Each course topic has a problem set tied to videos of related worked examples to help learners make the most of their homework.

Materials for Multiple Uses

The materials on the OCW site were used both for on-campus instruction and in a series of MOOCs hosted on the edX platform. The MOOCs are run periodically, so students interested in getting an MITx on edX certificate can get a head start by familiarizing themselves with the materials on OCW before diving into the MOOC.

So don’t let inertia get the better of you! Steer your vector to 8.01 and get moving!

MITx learners on why you should try out 3.032x

Our colleagues at MITx have a big fall planned, with many courses starting during September. Here’s motivation to explore one of those upcoming courses.


Photo collage of several mechanical structures.

By Lisa Eichel, MITx Community and Outreach Manager

MITx MOOC 3.032x Mechanical Behavior of Materials is a fascinating exploration of how engineers create materials for different purposes. In advance of its next run starting September 9th, MITx talked to a few learners from the first run of 3.032x to tell us about their experience and share why someone may want to take the course this time.

Why did you decide to take 3.032x?

The learners we spoke to had a variety of reasons for taking the course.  They were eager to get exposure to subjects not available to them during their own university course of study, or were aiming to fill in gaps in knowledge that could benefit them in their current careers.

But commonly, they were drawn to a chance to learn from Professor Lorna Gibson.  Even across the globe, learner Tri Suseno of Perth, Australia was aware of Professor Gibson’s highly respected profile in this field after taking a materials science course during his undergraduate education. “Professor Gibson is a well-known expert in her area, and a well-known excellent teacher.” Mungo Aiken noted that staff from a related MITx on edX course he had completed recommended 3.032x as a next step and specifically emphasized the excellence of Gibson’s teaching.

What was your favorite aspect of the course?

Learners enjoyed the section of the course on Mohr’s Circle, a method of determining stresses on materials.  While challenging, they could really understand how easily it could be applied to common problems. They also appreciated how Professor Gibson included examples found in nature into the course.  “It’s amazing to see how strategies of mechanical advantage are reflected in evolutionary development — how woodpeckers avoid brain damage, for example,” said another 3.032x learner Steven Frank.

Aiken was also impressed by how much time Professor Gibson and MITx Digital Learning Lab Scientist Jessica Sandland spent answering student questions. “The high-quality answers from the staff really furthered my understanding of the subject and led to me taking an interest in current research in material sciences,” he said, “Lorna’s passion for her research really shines through in her posts.”

How did this course help you, either in your career or in your life?

All of the learners we spoke to really appreciated what they got out of 3.032x.  While the course is challenging and time-intensive, they were happy with the decision they made to stick with it.  For patent lawyer Frank, he felt more equipped to talk with clients: “Familiarity with the underlying mechanisms [of materials] helps me ask smarter questions.”  Seseno also noted that as a business owner, taking part in the course, “helped expand my curiosity and problem-solving skills.”

Aiken experienced an even more profound outcome from the course – the chance to meet Professor Gibson in person and talk to her about a potential science career. “I consider myself incredibly fortunate in the sense that taking 3.032x gave me a massive boost to my career,” said Aiken.  He is happy to share that he has accepted an internship at a science company in Massachusetts, which he was initially introduced to via Professor Gibson’s contacts.

Frank’s final thoughts? “If you’re even thinking of taking the course, just DO IT.”

3.032.1x Mechanical Behavior of Materials: Part 1 – Linear Elastic Behavior starts on edX.org on September 9.  The course is formatted as 3 consecutive modules, which make up the full course.


OCW has other examples of Professor Gibson’s teaching, including her recent 3.054 Cellular Solids: Structure, Properties and Applications. This course is a follow-up to 3.032, and spotlights the surprising structure and mechanical behavior of honeycombs and foams. Students apply models for the behavior of cellular solids to applications in engineering and medicine and to natural materials like plants and animal skulls. The OCW course includes a complete set of lecture notes, examples of student projects, and several Instructor Insights videos in which Professor Gibson explains how she teaches.

What to Do on Your Summer Vacation

Photo of students walking down a school hallway, with a bank of electronic devices on their right.

By Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director

The school year has wound down, and summer promises to be a time for recharging batteries and reflecting on how things might go better, or even be different, next time around.

Many instructors, indeed entire school districts, see great potential to transform education by implementing new technology in the classroom.

But the landscape of videos, online assessments, tracking tools, and evaluation metrics remains an intimidating one. How can teachers hope to get up to speed in the vanishing weeks of summer?

Professor Eric Klopfer’s edX course 11.133x Implementation and Evaluation of Educational Technology offers an easy way to get into the pool and make waves.

The course starts on July 15, giving teachers enough time to decompress from the school year before taking on a new assignment. The course should also be of interest to entrepreneurs, developers, practitioners, and leaders in educational technology. Running for seven weeks, 11.133x has a very manageable workload of only 4–5 hours per week.

Professor Klopfer is practiced hand at online teaching. He has developed and led three successful courses on edX already.  11.132x Design and Development of Educational Technology ran last fall. It is not a requirement for 11.133x, which is open to all comers. Two other edX courses offered in the past year tapped into a second area of Professor Klopfer’s research—games in learning: 11.126x Introduction to Game Design and 11.127x Design and Development of Games For Learning.

Students interested in gaining some background might examine Professor’s Klopfer’s courses available now on OCW:

As the course registration page says, 11.133x “provides a practical overview for selecting, integrating, implementing, and evaluating educational technology initiatives in formal educational settings, primarily in the US. It will include the perspectives of stakeholders that make such initiatives possible, and consider how to evaluate for efficacy.”

Like nearly all of Professor Klopfer’s offerings, this one is project-based. Students will learn by doing. Lounging on a beach towel is not an option!

Calculus for the Aspiring Mind

Photo by Andrés Monroy-Hernández on Flickr

Photo by Andrés Monroy-Hernández on Flickr, license CC BY-SA.

By Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director

Two MIT mathematics professors have designed a new online series of short introductory calculus courses for high school students and recent graduates. The first of these MITx on edX courses, Calculus 1A: Differentiation, starts on June 2.

These courses—or modules—are similar to what is taught in MIT’s on-campus introductory calculus course, but they are redesigned for a more forgiving pace. As on campus, students apply what they learn to real-world problems, such as how fast a plane should fly to minimize fuel use and how accurate a GPS positioning system really is.

The courses are taught by Professors David Jerison and Gigliola Staffilani. Students will learn how to:

  • evaluate limits graphically and numerically
  • interpret the derivative geometrically
  • calculate the derivative of any function
  • sketch many functions by hand
  • make linear and quadratic approximations of functions
  • apply derivatives to maximize and minimize functions and find related rates

Professor Staffilani is Associate Department Head of the MIT Mathematics Department. Professor Jerison will be familiar to the many OCW users who’ve visited his courses 18.01SC Single Variable Calculus and 18.02 Multivariable Calculus (taught with Professor Arthur Mattuck).

The second MITx on edX module Calculus 1B: Integration will start in Fall 2015; Calculus 1C: Coordinate Systems & Infinite Series will start in early 2016.

What Two Years of MOOCs Can Tell Us

Diagram of many interconnected circles, each representing one MOOC.

This visualization of MOOCs from HarvardX (blue nodes) and MITx (red nodes) highlights how over 300,000 unique registrants participated in sequences of multiple courses.

By Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director

Researchers at Harvard and MIT have just published a study of user behavior in 68 MOOCs offered by HarvardX and MITx on the edX platform from Fall 2012 through Summer 2014.

HarvardX and MITx: Two Years of Open Online Courses runs to 37 pages and analyzes massive amounts of data: 1.7 million participants, 10 million participant hours, and 1.1 billion participant logged events. But don’t be intimidated. The study opens with a convenient executive summary, and all terms (like participant and logged event) are clearly defined in a brief glossary.

Harvard’s Andrew Ho and MIT’s Isaac Chuang are the lead authors of the report, which identifies trends and patterns in demographics and outcomes, reveals the top five courses in a variety of categories (like female participation and participation by people without Bachelor’s degrees), and visualizes the emerging MOOC curriculum by participation in multiple courses in sequence.

The report reveals a dynamic and subtly changing situation, in which the numbers both of total participants and of unique participants are steadily rising, and the make-up of the population is becoming slightly older and more female.

Perhaps the most interesting finding from surveys of MOOC participants is that as many as 39% are teachers, and some 21% of them are taking courses in their areas of expertise, suggesting that there be a substantial multiplier effect in classrooms around the world.

From MITx: Shaping the Next Generation’s World of Work

By Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director

Even after the Great Recession, the American economy continues to be the wonder of the world—nimble and efficient in a tumultuous environment. Innovative products and services crop up every day, implementing exciting new ideas and new technologies. The stock market is booming. Inflation, once an untamable menace, has vanished.

Yet somehow this picture of bountiful productivity has left many high and dry, and for younger people the American Dream seems elusive. Even those who study hard and act responsibly have trouble finding decent paying jobs. Many are hobbled with massive student debt. Their future, rather than being bright, seems in jeopardy. How can this be? Is this just the way capitalism works in the 21st century?

MIT Sloan Professor Tom Kochan provides the keys to understanding these issues in his new MITx on edX course, 15.662x The American Dream for the Next Generation. The course starts on March 23 and runs for nine weeks. Professor Kochan brings to the discussion the knowledge he has accumulated from decades studying employment patterns and labor-management relations.

You can familiarize yourself with some of his work by visiting the courses he has published on OCW: 15.668 People and Organizations, 15.676 Work, Employment, and industrial Relations Theory, 15.343 Managing Transformations in Work, Organizations, and Society.

The situation is dire, Professor Kochan admits, but he insists that it is decidedly fixable.

“I don’t believe that it’s some invisible hand of the market that’s created the challenges we’re facing,” he says in the introductory video to 15.662x. “Instead, it’s policies and attitudes, and actions or inactions that have created these problems. But I also believe that we can make a difference.”

That difference can arise from cooperation between employees, managers, educators, and government officials, and also from individuals making decisions about their own futures. Professor Kochan will take the students of 15.662x on a personal journey, helping them define the American Dream for themselves, and building a career plan to carry them forward.

Why not join them and see if you can find a way to a brighter future?

> Explore all of the upcoming MITx on edX courses here.