OpenCourseWare (OCW) started as an initiative to share educational sources among universities. However, it has also provided opportunities for “informal learners” and “independent learners”. Also the benefits for specific target groups, like secondary education students and lifelong learners have been increasingly documented by universities. OCW does not only benefit learners, but also publishing institutions by providing recruiting advantages. This is concluded by research by MIT, John Hopkins and the Open Universiteit.
More than 10 years ago, in 2001, MIT announced its intention to publish the core educational materials, including syllabi, lecture notes and exams, from all its courses freely and openly on the Web. This was the start of “MIT OpenCourseWare”. Soon other universities joined the initiative to openly share educational content. Not only American universities joined but also the Open University from the Netherlands, with its mission “to make higher education accessible to anyone with the necessary aptitudes and interests, regardless of formal qualifications”.
OCW broadens participation
OCW is an important tool to increase the participation in formal higher education, especially by returning lifelong learners to the classroom. OCW appears to both inspire interest in continued education and help learners develop confidence in their ability to succeed by providing in-depth access to the learning materials they will encounter during formal study. OCW also appears to be a significant aid in selecting programs and courses, preparing for entrance exams, and getting a “head start” on studies.
As the researchers state: “These effects are significant at the systemic level and should be considered by governments, NGO’s, and foundations seeking to increase higher education participation among broad populations. Especially among populations with many first-generation college students, informal exposure to higher education materials published as OCW may be a useful way for potential students to understand what it means to study at the college level. For situations where increased levels of participation in higher education are explicit goals, such as is the case in the Netherlands (and in many countries), OCW may serve as an important and cost-effective entry to formal higher education”.
Improve student recruitment
Already between 10 and 30 percent of all students pick their university through their experiences with OpenCourseWare. Figures indicate that there is an opportunity for universities to improve recruitment through the open publication of learning materials. And since the student is already familiar with the teaching material, OCW might lead to a better match between student and school.