Relating OCW to Pedagogy

Creating an OCW website opens to your users a remarkably rich selection of content for use in their teaching or learning. These pages aim to help you present OCW content in ways that maximize learning potential so that your users may optimally acquire the knowledge or skills needed to achieve their goals.

Our working hypothesis is that there is a wealth of research into how we learn and that this research should inform the ways you present OCW content. Considerable literature on learning has been distilled into a set of Guidelines, which are available at: This site also includes information specifically intended to help users of OCW get the most out of their learning experience.

In the pages here, we have transformed these Guidelines into questions you should keep in mind as you design courses. The goal is to maximise your users’ ability to learn using OCW content. Next to each question is a link, which takes you to a page providing guidance in considering that particular question.

In some cases there are further links to readings or examples that you might find useful as you design courses. Discussing these issues with your faculty in a sensitive manner as you prepare OCW versions of their courses will, we trust, become part of the value your OCW project can offer faculty and students at your own institution. We encourage you to use pedagogically sound examples from other OCW courses to illustrate the use of pedagogical principles to your faculty.

How will you articulate expectations, goals, and learning outcomes?

Articulating expectations, goals, learning outcomes (learning objectives) is important in traditional teaching environments because it provides a context for learning. Without an instructor on-hand to make asides, hold office hours, etc., self-learners are even less likely than their face-to-face peers to discern learning objectives in the course of instruction. The provision of explicit learning objectives enhances a self-learner’s ability to, e.g.:

  • Connect ideas, themes, methods from one part of the course to another
  • Abstract from specific cases to general principles
  • Apply course principles to their personal experiences.

Learning objectives also provide a context for evaluation. In lieu of an instructor on-hand to provide feedback on presentations, papers, discussions, etc., learning objectives provide the means to consider whether a self-learner is “getting it.”

Perhaps even more significantly, learning objectives provide a context for further teaching. Instructors who come to OCW for teaching materials receive indirect mentoring from the faculty who originate those materials. As a result, they are able to learn not only what to teach but how and why to teach it. This is particularly important where:

  • The instructor is new to teaching (in this field), particularly in situations where there are few or no mentors available for guidance.
  • The teaching environment is informal, as in a study group, so that there is no designated facilitator or the facilitator has no formal training.
  • The teaching environment is changing, so that the praxis in which the instructor was trained is no longer (or not yet) applicable or appreciated.

Further reading:

Read more about Articulating expectations, goals, learning outcomes

How will you encourage active engagement?

Users need to do more than simply read the content and answer questions to learn optimally. This section will help you develop strategies for creating active learning opportunities. OCW production offers an excellent opportunity for discussing the topic of active engagement, since faculty will naturally be concerned about the ways in which creating OCW versions of their courses will effect attendance and participation. Having the lecture materials online motivates the instructor to offer “something more” to those who come to class, while assigning lecture-viewing as before-class preparation affords the instructor more in-class time for student engagement activities. Those activities can, in turn, be presented in the OCW version of the course, where they can inspire other teachers to develop similar or alternative activities as well as guiding independent learners into deeper engagement with the course content.

Further reading:

Read more about Encouraging active engagement

How will you encourage users to have an enjoyable and meaningful experience of using OCW?

Users who don’t enjoy their studies are likely to give up. With face-to-face teaching it is often obvious whether students are enjoying their studies and, if they are not, it is usually possible to modify the teaching approach to keep them engaged. At all stages in the development of OCW it is useful to ask “How am I keeping users motivated?” You might consider, for example, whether there are opportunities to build in mechanisms which:

  • Encourage each user to record their progress as they study
  • Facilitate discussion between users
  • Help users appreciate the benefits of what they have learned
  • Recognise and celebrate achievements
  • Allow users to work at a pace that balances study with other aspects of their lives
  • Enable users to learn in a way that suits them, rather than through following a rigid regime.

Further reading:

Read more about enjoyable and meaningful use of OCW

How will you provide opportunities for useful reflection on what users have learned?

Reflection is a key part of effective learning that is often sacrificed as users fit their OCW studies into busy lives. It is therefore helpful to make activities that entail reflection integral to the design of OCW. This may necessitate the inclusion of guidance on the reflective process, as well as the development of specific reflective tasks. At its best, reflection and its outcomes will be a key element in a user’s learning experience as they progress through the OCW. This may be achieved by the user, for example, keeping a journal used to consolidate learning, document progress, note particular problems or set their studies into the wider context of their daily lives.

Further reading:

Read more about providing opportunities for useful reflection

What tools can help users assess their prior experience and knowledge to help them select the most appropriate OCW material and direct their learning activities?

Many people begin a study course and then realise later that they are following a program that doesn’t meet their needs. Part of the task of motivating OCW users is to provide opportunities for them to confirm and reconfirm that they are studying the right material. For example, designing appropriate skills- and course-related self-assessment activities into OCW materials at an early stage will help users gain an understanding of their needs and what they might gain from the OCW learning experience. This might involve a variety of activities built into the OCW, such as:

  • The use of structured questionnaires
  • Specific tasks designed to test prior knowledge and skills
  • Reflective activities which explore broader needs and feelings about study
  • Focused activities intended to clarify learning purposes and objectives.

Such activities should also help to establish a baseline of prior experience against which individual users’ progress and achievements can be measured. The activities therefore become integral to the process of learning, rather than ‘OCW study preliminaries’.

Further reading:

Read more about helping users select the most appropriate OCW material

How will you encourage users to link their learning with OCW content to their own professional or personal circumstances?

When teaching a group of similar students face-to-face it is easy to introduce anecdotal examples of how learned skills and knowledge applies to their personal or professional experience. This basic technique for motivating students and reinforcing their learning is much more of a challenge through OCW since users may be extremely diverse in their backgrounds, circumstances and aspirations. Simply encouraging users regularly to reflect on and use their learning will help users contextualize their studies, but there are more focused activities that can be designed into OCW. For example, as part of their program, users might be asked specifically to find and present practical applications of what they have learned drawn from their lives ‘outside OCW’. This can be used not only to broaden their horizons but also to monitor and assess progress.

Further reading:

Read more about linking learning with OCW content to professional or personal circumstances

How will you encourage users to learn in a community?

Studying can be lonely and disheartening if you have no one to share the experience with, particularly if you are having difficulties. Regular and effective support from remote or local tutors can be critically important to OCW users’ success but it cannot replace the informal peer support that often helps to consolidate learning and makes it a pleasure. The challenge in OCW design is to give users a well-founded reason to build local mutual support networks without making those who are unable to do so feel discouraged. Guidance with OCW on how to benefit from this kind of support needs to take account of the possible variety of support mechanisms. These include connecting with peers also following OCW, seeking out mentors from a user’s profession, or simply talking regularly with family members or friends about their OCW experience. Fortunately, contemporary IT-based social networking facilities can do much to negate physical isolation although it should be borne in mind that there may be many users who cannot avail themselves of these, or do not wish to.

Further reading:

Read more about learning communities