This month’s celebration of National Learning at Work Day makes this a good time to consider the role of free & open learning in the workplace.
Free & open learning builds on the success of commercial e-learning, which became an established option for workplace learning for these reasons:
- Flexibility. Workers can study e-courses when they need to learn about a subject, rather than when a course is scheduled, and e-learning can be undertaken when it is most convenient for the employer and employee.
- E-learning allows individuals to study at their own pace and can be more effective for learners who are shy, reflective, or require more time to absorb information.
- E-learning is consistent and scalable, enabling large and dispersed organisations to provide staff development for all their employees and volunteers. Similarly, professional and occupational bodies can ensure that whole sectors have access to core training.
- In the process of e-learning individuals improve their familiarity and competence in processing information, using online forums and many other Web 2.0 skills which are increasingly important.
The qualities of E-learning are familiar, but now “we are on the cusp of a global revolution in teaching and learning. Educators worldwide are developing a vast pool of educational resources on the Internet, open and free for all to use.” This free & open learning offers unique benefits over and above e-learning:
- The training resources are transparent, allowing their relevance and quality to be judged in advance.
- It allows employers to customize both content and delivery-mode for their organisation and circumstances, e.g. adapting online material for workplace seminars as Unison have done.
- Learning material from different sources can be blended; e.g. a social care organisation might go to SWAPBox for learning material about Social Work and OpenLearn for business and management resources.
- Free & open learning material can be cascaded throughout large and dispersed organisations or sectors without worrying about licensing restrictions.
- Learning material can be updated as required, e.g. to reflect political or legislative changes.
The Cape Town Declaration asserts that free & open learning nourishes “the kind of participatory culture of learning, creating, sharing and cooperation that rapidly changing knowledge societies need“. To me, these qualities resonate strongly with the aims of the UK’s National Learning at Work Day on May 19th.