Open Courseware?

As the US has an increasing amount of courseware freely available online, what does that mean for universities? Will they go the same way as the music industries, and how do we adapt to what IS happening…

Ever since the open courseware movement was launched in the US almost 10 years ago, traditional universities have deployed a powerful weapon to prevent students from using it to earn degrees.

That so many universities now make their teaching materials freely available online has allowed US and international organisations such as Peer-2-Peer University (P2PU) and University of the People to gather up and organise the content into entire programmes – and to offer these courses to students at little or no cost.

But conventional universities have refused to award academic credit to people who complete them.

So these students have been unable to apply their work towards degrees unless they take – and pay for – the same course again on a bricks-and-mortar campus or via an established distance-learning provider. And that has kept them away in droves.

University of the People, for example, which charges an application fee of only $10 (£6.30) to $50 for any of more than 40 online classes culled from open courseware, has enrolled just 1,100 students in its two years of operation. Meanwhile, some 6.1 million Americans now take (and pay for) online courses offered by conventional and for-profit universities.

Critics contend that the universities fear being undercut the way newspapers and the music industry were when their content was made available for free online.

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