The Definitive User’s Guide to

College is becoming more expensive, and some colleges this year have set records with their lowest admissions percentage rates in history. If you cannot afford college and your SAT scores are average, you can attend a larger college where the cost is lower and admission rates are higher. And, you can supplement your education with free courses offered through colleges that are associated with the OCW (Open Courseware) Consortium.

The OCW strives to build a network of colleges that offer free and open digital publication of high-quality educational materials organized as courses. Over 200 higher-education institutions currently are cooperating in this effort worldwide with a mission to empower people through education.

To participate in the Consortium’s activities, schools must have committed to publishing materials from at least ten courses in a format that meets the agree-upon definition of an opencourseware project. Those participating institutions will carry a small OCW Consortium banner on their page, and they also are listed at the OCW Consortium site.

While some schools have not translated their materials, others have made the effort to translate their course offerings into other languages. For English-speaking and reading students, however, there are plenty of choices: 22 colleges from the U.S. are participating, four from the U.K. and one in Australia. Canada is represented by two universities, and at least four other schools from other countries participate in translations for their courses.

The total number of courses constantly changes from institution to institution depending upon the time involved with the OCW, the size of the school and the willingness to share courses openly. For example, Kaplan University, one of the newest members to the Consortium, currently offers eleven courses within seven departments. MIT — one of the original members of the Consortium and the instigator for the OCW project — offers almost eighty percent of its vast curriculum online.

If you have an Internet connection, you can log into these sites any time, day or night, to learn more about topics that range from astronomy to neuroscience. But, you may have some questions about how to use these sites and about what you can obtain from course materials. The following list, which provides tips from within the OCW site and from other OCW supporters, may help you gain the most from the offerings within the OCW Consortium, no matter if you’re an educator, a Web developer, a self-learner or just curious about the OCW movement.


  1. Participate: To participate, your institution must be committed to publishing, under the institution’s name, materials from at least ten courses in a format that meets OpenCourseWare criteria.
  2. What are the Benefits: This type of project can build global awareness for your institution which, in turn, can improve recruitment and provide a resource for current students and faculty.
  3. What are the Concerns: OCW already has tracked concerns that many educators face with offering open source courseware. Learn all you need to know about attendance, cost, drain on faculty time and more.
  4. Measure Your Success: The ability to track the usefulness and usability of your OpenCourseWare site is imperative to understand its benefits.
  5. Learn about Intellectual Property (IP) Issues: This topic is a serious concern for any educator. OCW provides a list of links to help learn about this topic.
  6. Dive into OER Resources: Open Educational Resources supplies tons of information about sharing content and is affiliated with OCW.
  7. Digital Divide Issues: Slow connections mean little chance for the viewer to watch videos, so think about transcriptions or other tools that can provide equal access to course materials. Work with your Web developer to provide as much accessibility to your courses as possible.
  8. Concerns about Technology: OCW addresses technology at this link. While some schools may have the capacity to build their own site, others may need to hire a Web developer. Make sure that developer — whether in-house or outsourced — reads through the links offered below.
  9. Join: Now that you’ve made the decision to join OCW, follow their instructions located on this page.

Web Developers

  1. How Do They Do It? OCW offers a toolkit (more of a working group) for colleges to participate. This format is open source, a tidbit that might interest Web developers.
  2. Toolkit Working Group: This is the ‘toolkit’ mentioned above, with some interesting links for Web developers.
  3. Stay Up to Date: The OCWBlog keeps readers tuned to new developments.
  4. Address Accessibility Issues: The spirit behind open access means that anything that can remove educational barriers is warranted — this includes accessibility.
  5. Look Through MIT’s Offerings: MIT OCW software works on Mac, Unix and Windows platforms and even cooperates with slow connections.
  6. Try Other Platforms [PDF]: Moodle provides ideas on how to use their software as a sustainable OCW development platform.


  1. Find Colleges: Use this list to find participants by country, language or by institution name. Some course contributors also provide RSS feeds.
  2. Earn a degree? The Guardian (UK) recently published an article that pursues that question. While you cannot establish credit currently through the OCW Consortium courses, if you are enrolled in certain colleges, those courses and work experience may lead to a degree in less time.
  3. Who Can Join: If you’re concerned about the quality of courses offered online, you can learn that only accredited higher-education institutions can become members of the OCW Consortium. You, as a self-learner, do not need to join anything.
  4. Your Requirements: This link leads to MIT technical requirements, which provide the basis for most OCW courses, no matter the resource. If you have a slow connection, you may be able to read most materials; however, you also know that video may prove problematic for viewing.
  5. Find the Best Courses: This list is just one of many that can help you find the best open courseware classes on the Internet.


  1. Support the OCW: Foundations, individuals, copyright holders, tech support and more can support this movement to open education through various activities from financial support to open sharing of technical knowledge.
  2. Spread the Word: This is along article, but worth reading every word. You can learn about the OCW project, why it exists, where it may be headed and what it can do. The only way to help this initiative stay afloat is to use it and support it.
  3. Find New Ways to Use OCW: Anyone from educators to Web techs to self-learners can use this magazine to learn more about how to use OCW. Learn from others and offer some idea yourself at eLearn Magazine.
  4. Stay Updated: Open Education News provides updates and acts as a clearinghouse for news about projects, foundations, universities and other participants in the OCW movement.
  5. Take Advantage of Other OER Projects: Open education resource projects include textbooks. Flatworld hopes to resolve some of the high-cost issues by providing free texts online to students through teachers. You can help promote this product and other textbook projects at your local schools.