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What is OpenCourseWare?

By Jacob Queen
Updated: May 17, 2024

OpenCourseWare is the term used to describe a movement where universities offer many of their course materials for free online. This is generally done to support the basic philosophy that information should be freely available. Universities that provide OpenCourseWare often provide a wide range of different materials, including things like video tapes of lectures by famous professors for an entire course. There is generally no way to get a degree using this educational approach, and it is primarily used for self-improvement purposes.

Some people form study groups online that are built around the idea of OpenCourseWare. Participants may grade each other’s material and meet up online for discussions of the subjects they are studying. This can help replace one of the main missing ingredients of the OpenCourseWare experience, which is the social element of the classroom.

Using OpenCourseWare has some advantages over traditional educational methods. For one thing, people can generally learn things in the order and pace that suits them. They aren’t usually stressed about the learning process because they aren’t going to be graded on their performance. This often means that they can take a more laid-back approach to their studies and learn for the pure sake of learning, without any of the politics or pressure that can be associated with many learning experiences.

OpenCourseWare is available in a wide range of subjects, including everything from culinary training to high-end sciences. Some subjects are easier to study online than others. Things that are more intellectual can sometimes be easier to learn in an online environment than things that require a lot of hands-on training. For this reason, it may be easier to study something like philosophy than computer repair.

Some people think there should be a movement towards offering some kind of credit to students who study OpenCourseWare. There are already people who may claim an educational background in some area on a resume based on their online studies, but they can’t actually produce proof of a degree. People who favor the idea of offering degrees claim that it would make education more open to the poor, and they also believe that these kinds of online studies are legitimate enough that people deserve credit for the things they're learning.

Others fear that offering any kind of credit might make an education so easy to get that it wouldn’t mean anything. There is also a concern that any movement towards offering credits would make universities remove online materials to protect themselves financially. They fear that this could potentially stop the momentum for free online education in its tracks.

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