OU goes global with free online service

October 27, 2006

The Open University put thousands of hours worth of learning online this week, enabling students and lecturers anywhere in the world to access course material for free.

The open content initiative, known as OpenLearn, is a key part of the university's Futures strategy, published this year, which aims to make the OU a global online university.

The OpenLearn initiative, funded by a £5.65 million grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, is intended to widen access to disadvantaged students in the developed and the developing world.

David Vincent, the OU's pro vice-chancellor, said: "Our mission has always been to be open to people, places, methods and ideas - and OpenLearn allows us to extend those values into the 21st century."

The course material is from a range of subjects, including history, science and business. It is also across a range of levels, from access courses to postgraduate courses. As well as course or subject-specific materials, the OU is also making study-skills materials available online.

But a spokesman for the university said that accreditation would not be available through OpenLearn.

"If students want to pass a course and gain an OU degree, then they will still have to enrol," he said.

The OU has also protected its interests by ensuring that entire courses cannot be downloaded.

"The idea is to give students a taster of an OU course, rather than the whole course," the spokesman said.

The new website, www.open. ac.uk/openlearn, which went live on October 25, was launched by Bill Rammell, the Higher Education Minister.

The OU is following in the footsteps of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which first made course materials available online for free in 2001.

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