Open learning is any kind of educational program that provides students with maximum flexibility. In other words, students who participate in open learning choose which subjects they want to study, when they want to attend courses, and how frequently they want to engage in their education. Open learning courses are often taken online, though they can also be taken in conventional classroom settings. They also may be taken for credit towards a degree or for the sake of learning without the ability to earn a degree.
When open learning courses are taken online, they are known as distance learning courses. If these courses are taken for credit towards a degree, individuals often must apply to programs, as they would for conventional courses. A notable difference between distance learning and classroom learning is the level of flexibility. Students who study online can read lecture notes and participate in online discussions whenever they have time. Online courses are often less expensive than classroom courses.
Free online open learning courses may also be available. These are normally not accredited and may not be run by instructors. Instead, they may take the form of tutorials through which students can guide themselves. Some online open learning opportunities simply offer users free access to course notes and materials.
Many established universities offer open learning courses in their classrooms. Individuals normally must pay to attend these classes, though they rarely take them for degree credits. A number of these classes are designed for individuals who are full time members of the workforce, meaning that courses are held on evenings and weekends.
It is common for individuals to take open learning courses for professional development. Even when degrees are not offered in open learning programs, many people still list courses on resumes and curricula vitae. Completion of a course can serve as evidence that a certain skill or body of knowledge has been acquired.
Other open learning courses may be taken by people who have recreational interests in certain areas, but who have no intention of applying the education to their professional development. For example, a person who would like to know more about Shakespeare's plays can take uncredited classes on this topic for purely informational purposes. Others may take courses to learn valuable skills, such as how to use certain computer programs or how to perform home repairs.
In the field of pedagogy, open learning can refer to a style of education in which students, particularly children, are encouraged to take greater control over their learning. In some instances, students might become involved in processes of production. A major tenet of these open learning courses is that students should learn primarily from experience.