Distance teaching and the self-study method, developed specifically for the Open University, provides conditions that meet the constraints of individuals who work, raise a family, manage a household or serve in the military. The method is not space- or time-dependent as it is not based on a central campus where lecturers and students gather, or on an established and uniform schedule.
Courses offered by the Open University are fundamentally different from courses offered at other Universities. The customary image of a course - a classroom with a teacher on the podium facing a group of students - does not apply to the Open University, or only partially. A course at the Open University is first and foremost a printed scholarly or scientific work: one or more volumes written and produced especially for Open University students. Thus, learning at the Open University is first of all self-study from written material and not sitting and listening to a lecture.
The course books are specifically adapted to self-study: they are usually divided into units, each of which deals with a specific topic and is planned to be studied within a fixed period. The study material is explained with the utmost clarity; guiding questions are integrated into the material, as are exercises and self-assessment questions. These enable students to test themselves on the study material and to examine whether their level of understanding up to that point is satisfactory or whether they should consider rereading a specific section, or even an entire unit.
Some of the courses are based on existing textbooks (in advanced courses, these are frequently in English). In these cases, a detailed guide containing the self-study tools characteristic of the Open University textbooks accompanies the text. The guide indicates which sections the student should read in the textbook itself, expands, explains and clarifies sections or topics in the textbook if necessary, and provides questions and answers.
Each course includes face-to-face components: group tutorials, laboratory work or field trips, in addition to periodic symposia. However, these components do not constitute the core of the course, and in some cases are not necessary for its successful completion. Students who wish to turn their homes into a personal campus can do so with utmost success based on the Open University's primary distance teaching method.
Students who choose to participate in the tutorials - group sessions with a tutor - can usually do so in one of two ways: regular or intensive. Regular tutorials meet once every two or three weeks; the intensive tutorials usually take place weekly. At the meetings, students discuss the course material studied up to that point, and have the opportunity to examine issues which they encountered during their self-study. While participation in these sessions is usually not mandatory, it is highly recommended, as the sessions contribute considerably to clarifying the study material and also provide an opportunity to interact with other students enrolled in the same course. The sessions are held at the Open University study centers dispersed throughout the country. These study centers also provide library services and learning aids, and serve as a meeting place for students (with or without tutors).
The Open University also makes use of advanced technologies to improve its distance teaching, which provide a wealth of learning materials and continuous contact with faculty and other students in the course. Most courses have course websites on the internet. The websites include, among other things, additional materials, links to databases and Internet sites related to the course material, multimedia materials, as well as individual and group communication between students and tutors, and among the students themselves. In some of the courses, computer-mediated tutorials replace, almost entirely, the tutorial sessions in the study centers.
In some courses, video clips and multimedia titles are included which enrich the course with interactive audio-visual materials.
Some courses hold distance tutorial sessions through the use of advanced technology. One of these is the Ofek system which operates interactive distance teaching through broadband communication. The tutorial sessions, led by the course coordinator or guest lecturer, are broadcast from a central studio to classrooms dispersed throughout the country and to the Internet.
It is important to emphasize that the new teaching methods do not replace the written study materials which are the basis for teaching at the Open University, but expand and enrich them. The incorporation of technological teaching methods is fully adapted to the written study material.
Assignments are an additional component of Open University courses. Students must submit assignments, exercises or other types of tasks during the semester. The assignments are submitted by mail, and in some courses via the Internet. Students must also pass the final examination of the course, held at study centers near their homes. A student who registers for an Open University course receives the written study materials designed specifically for the course, accompanied by the course booklet which describes the course syllabus and format in detail. It includes the topics covered, the dates of tutorials and topics to be discussed, as well as the course timetable and activities. It also includes the assignments and specifies their submission date. In most cases, the booklet also contains a sample final exam which can serve as an additional learning aid and assist in preparing for the exam.
The course coordinator is responsible for the academic and administrative planning and the implementation of all course activities, including the computer-mediated ones. The coordinators are those who provide the contact between the student and the Open University. Students may consult with coordinators concerning any question which troubles them - academic or administrative. The coordinators accompany the students throughout the courses, are attentive to their problems and do their utmost to solve them.
The various aspects of distance education developed by the Open University, along with the University's open admission policy, aim to open the world of higher education to all, irrespective of age, sex, place of residence or occupation, in order to enable every individual to realize his or her academic ability.