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Last Updated: Monday, 23 October 2006, 00:18 GMT 01:18 UK
OU offers free learning materials
OU student
The OU has some 200,000 distance-learning students
The Open University is making its educational resources available free on the net for anyone in the world to use.

It aims to make 5,000 hours' worth of material available by April 2008 - not only for learners, but for educators to adapt and use for their own purposes.

The 5.65m OpenLearn project is backed by a US charitable foundation.

Project director Andy Lane said: "We are encouraging learners to become self-reliant, but also to use online communities to support their learning."

The website will initially have some 900 hours of study in a variety of topics - from access to postgraduate level - using the Moodle "virtual learning environment".

Unequal access

The OU says it is the first British higher education institution to make its educational resources freely available online on this scale, although there are other similar "open courseware" projects, notably in the US and Japan.

We want to lead the learning revolution, experimenting with new models of content and technologies
Prof David Vincent
Open University
The content has been created using XML rather than HTML, which it is hoped will "future proof" it to an extent by making it adaptable for emerging technologies.

The OU's thinking is that, despite the efforts of governments and other agencies, there remain significant differences in the access people have to educational opportunities across the world.

"These disparities are stark in countries such as the UK and the US, and are even more pronounced between developed and less-developed countries," it said in its successful application to the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

Even within the UK, research showed that significant barriers still existed for certain social and economic groups.

"Open content provides the opportunity for access to high-quality learning materials which would not otherwise be available and affordable to many groups within both the developed and developing worlds."

Open University pro-vice-chancellor Professor David Vincent said its mission had always been to be open to people, places, methods and ideas.

"We want to lead the learning revolution, experimenting with new models of content and technologies. OpenLearn is a huge step towards this aim.

"The philosophy of open access and sharing knowledge - a cornerstone of this project - matches the founding principles of the Open University."

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