Popular Ways that OpenCourseWare Is Used

by Eric Garneau

One of the key questions asked of its readers was how they made use of OCW. Tellingly, about 40% of the survey's respondents answered that they didn't know what OCW was, and 46% said they'd never used it. Those who had used OCW found it valuable for both personal and professional enrichment.

'To Update My Skills or Knowledge for Work'

About 30% of our survey's respondents who were familiar with OCW used it outside the traditional college setting, hoping to bulk up their knowledge and preparation for tasks they'd face on the job. This answer may indicate that OCW can find success replacing more traditional adult education/re-education programs - there's less need to re-enroll in college for job skills when you can get what you need for free on the Internet.

OCW Usage Chart

'For My Personal Interest/Entertainment'

Perhaps surprisingly, around 27% of our survey-takers - just narrowly the second largest group - found a use for OCW that seems antithetical to its educational purpose: fun. Could this response mean that those people who seek out OCW are motivated self-starters when it comes to education, that they crave knowledge even when it has no practical benefit to them? Or does it rather speak to the fact that more and more often OCW is presented in an attractive fashion meant to appeal to users familiar with YouTube, Hulu and other time-killing multimedia sites? Realistically, probably a little bit of both is the case.

'To Learn Something for a Specific Project or Task'

Roughly 17% of our survey's respondents chose to use OCW in a more focused method, accessing the necessary material when it helped them complete something they were currently working on. In a way, this seems like the most common use of information on the Internet - when you lack knowledge to finish what you're doing, you go to Google to learn more about that topic. Perhaps we ought to be surprised, then, that for our survey-takers this use ranked third by a significant margin. It seems as though OCW engenders more long-term usage from many of its supporters.

'To Help Understand Concepts I'm Studying'

Only 15% of those who took our survey used OCW as a study aide. That may strike some as curious, given that it may be perhaps OCW's most obvious application. However, it's possible that actual college students have less use for OCW than those not in college - they already have course material to study, and it's material they've paid for, so why not use it? Much has been made of OCW's ability to appeal to non-traditional students who may not have easy access to college, something that this survey seems to correlate.

'To Help Me Create Teaching Materials'

Although only a scant seven percent of our readers used OCW to help their own classroom presentations, this bears mentioning because it's not necessarily a usage that immediately comes to mind. Perhaps one of the best untapped applications of OCW is its ability to contribute to an ongoing dialog in the world of teaching. What techniques, materials and evaluations work best? Which don't? As a free, open resource, OCW can help to vet so-called 'best practices' in education, and it might give teachers some new ideas about delivering their own course material in the classroom.

What does Curt Newton, publication manager for MIT's massive OCW database, think about the format?

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