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What Bill Gates is learning online

Bill Gates' new web site reveals his thoughts on open courseware, school reform, and more.
Bill Gates' new web site reveals his thoughts on open courseware, school reform, and more.

It’s no surprise, really, but it turns out Microsoft founder and chairman Bill Gates is a strong supporter of the open-courseware movement that has swept through higher education in the last few years.

On a new web site that Gates launched this past week, he discusses some of his favorite sources for online lectures and other learning materials. He also offers his thoughts on education reform and a host of other topics.

“There are some great examples of how technology can enable almost anyone to learn from the world’s greatest minds,” he posted to

“A lot of people ask me what I’m reading, and how I learn about new topics that interest me. I am fortunate to have time to read a lot, and I also like to view courses online from MIT’s OpenCourseware, Academic Earth, and others.”

GatesNotes is designed to share the technology icon’s thoughts and start discussions about a range of topics, from education and philanthropy to world health, energy, and the environment.

In an interview with technology news source CNET, Gates said he plans to post content to the web site about three times a week, with some posts being brief and others being more in-depth.

Gates might appreciate open courseware, but in a Jan. 18 post on his new web site, he says one of his favorite sources for online lectures is The Teaching Company. Most of the company’s courses are available as audio downloads and on DVD, but for a fee.

Gates says his favorite course from the company is called “Big History,” taught by David Christian, a history professor at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. The course “is so broad that it synthesizes the history of everything, including the sciences, into one framework,” Gates writes.

He adds: “I’ve gotten to know David over the past couple of years, and we’re starting some work now to offer a version of Big History for high school students free online—it’s something that I am incredibly excited about.”

Gates says he’ll be writing soon about some of his favorite courses from MIT’s OpenCourseware project, as well as other good sources for free online educational material.

In another post dated Jan. 18, Gates indicates his support for the KIPP model of K-12 education, which is now reflected in more than 60 U.S. middle schools.

Founded in 1994 by Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin, KIPP (which stands for “Knowledge is Power Program”) is “one of the most promising examples of innovative thinking in American education,” Gates writes.

KIPP schools demand a lot from their students. With longer school days (typically 7:30 to 5:00) and sessions every other Saturday and for three weeks during the summer, the time students spend in KIPP schools is 60 percent longer than in traditional schools. (See “Increasing class time fraught with controversy.”)

“KIPP clearly has a huge effect on kids,” Gates writes. “One example of KIPP’s success: While only 20 percent of low-income students in the U.S. attend college, the rate for former KIPP students is 80 percent.”

He adds: “I find it stunning that the educational schools are not training teachers to use the KIPP way of teaching classes. What the heck is going on with schools of education, and what is the field going to do to get some of them to get involved in this kind of work?”

There’s also a video with Gates discussing what he sees as the strengths and weaknesses of American public education on CNN, although you need Microsoft Silverlight to watch it.

Other site content includes Gates’ lessons from the swine flu pandemic, an urgent plea for help in Haiti, and a podcast series on energy and climate change, which discusses the need to develop alternative sources of energy.



MIT OpenCourseware

Academic Earth

The Teaching Company

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