10 Mar 2006

OU announces £5.6m project to make learning material free on the internet

OU learning materials available online free of charge

OU learning materials available online free of charge

The Open University today announced a GBP £5.65 million (US $9.9 million) project to make a selection of its learning materials available free of charge to educators and learners around the world.

Supported by a grant of US $4.45 million from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation the University will launch the website in October 2006.

The provision on the internet of ‘Open Educational Resources’, free at point of use and available to everyone, reflects The Open University’s mission of promoting fair access for all. During the initial phase of this initiative, the University will select and make available educational resources from all study levels from access to postgraduate and from a full range of subject themes: arts and history, business and management, health and lifestyle, languages, science and nature, society and technology. Learners will also be able to benefit from a range of study skills development material.

The Open University was a pioneer in making learning materials freely available through its long and successful partnership with the BBC. The University’s television programmes are publicly broadcast by the BBC and many are supported by free internet activities and print materials ( The University is already working with partners in Africa to make educational resources freely available under both the TESSA and Open Door projects (see notes below).

The Open University will draw on its experience in supported open learning to provide an environment which contains both high quality learning materials and a range of learning support and informal community building tools. There will be one site that is primarily for learners, where material with suggested learning pathways will be offered. A second site will be primarily for other course creators; it will foster the concept of sharing and re-use of materials. Through the development of both sites the University plans to take open content delivery on to a new level.

The Vice-Chancellor of The Open University, Professor Brenda Gourley, said “The philosophy of open access and sharing knowledge is a wonderful fit with the founding principles of The Open University and with the University’s very strong commitment to opening up educational access and widening participation. The University will be developing forms of open content e-learning which will reach less experienced learners and, we hope, encourage an appetite for further learning. The Open University will be the first in the UK to offer Open Content materials under a Creative Commons licence. We are deeply grateful to The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for its generous support.”

“Over the past five years the Hewlett Foundation has been a leading investor in the area of Open Educational Resources with the goal of equalizing access to knowledge across the globe,” said Marshall S. Smith, the Hewlett Foundation’s Education Program Director. “The Open University of the UK is unsurpassed in the area of digitized academic material. We are delighted to support the Open University’s initiative to make some of its high quality academic content openly available to everyone around the world.”

Editor’s Notes

The Open University has over 210,000 students studying OU courses this year, with around 40,000 studying outside the UK. Since its foundation in 1969 The Open University has pursued a social justice mission to open education to all.

TESSA (Teacher Education in Sub-Saharan Africa) project aims to develop a school based training programme for unqualified and under qualified teachers working in primary schools in Africa. It will provide a comprehensive bank of teacher training resources, focusing on the teaching of literacy, numeracy, primary science and personal and health education that can be used by teacher trainers in colleges and universities across Africa. The TESSA programme, which is being led by The Open University together with a consortium of African and international organisations, is planned to support a wide range of courses and qualifications including accredited courses and in-service professional development programmes.

Open Door initiative. This scheme aims to support higher education by making its course materials available to a group of African universities, under licence but free of charge. A pilot, funded by the UK’s Department for Education and Skills, is working with three universities, including Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone, and the University of Zambia. The pilot will provide the groundwork for expanding the number of partners in the scheme. It is particularly aimed at universities where internet access is severely limited.

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