Excited by learning at the OU

Collaborate to compete. Seizing the opportunity of online learning for UK higher educationis a recently produced report to HEFCE by the Online Learning Task Force. The authors include OU Vice-Chancellor Martin Bean, Sir Alan Langlands, Chief Executive, HEFCE, a number of academics and representatives from Microsoft, Apple and also the President of Higher and Professional Education, Pearson Education Ltd. 

The report employs understandings of the history of the OU noting both that ‘this country set a world standard for distance learning by establishing, some 40 years ago, the Open University’ and that

The Open University has developed its own style of online learning called ‘supported open learning’ giving its 250,000 students flexibility to study when and where suits them best. This is in keeping with the university’s founding mission to be open to people, places, methods and ideas.

 The report also noted that

Learners are increasingly able to navigate high quality, open and online resources and can do this through social networks, which in some cases are more supportive contexts in which to develop skills. New broadcast and distribution channels such as iTunes U17, Youtube and Wikipedia demonstrate this trend. Learning environments and contexts are becoming increasingly participative and the learner’s contribution is highly valued by teaching professionals….The Open University, for example, has successfully attracted students by placing small segments of content for informal learning on iTunes U.

Can you help us explore the history of this trend of support for informal learning so that we can better comprehend it and assess the impact of the OU?One way would be to share your ideas about the communities formed by former students who, inspired by the OU, go on to further learning. There are those such as Lenny Henry, who leave the OU and then attend other formal educational establishments. Others tread the informal route. Take Art and environment. This second level module ran between 1976 and 1985. It did not offer practical skills in painting or sculpture nor did it offer art criticism or cognitive skills but rather it dealt with ’the processes and attitudes of art’ and sought to develop ‘strategies for creative work’. former students of the module formed a society in order to ‘share skills, experiences, ideas and knowledge of creativity and personal growth’. Or what about the Family & Community Historical Research Society? This charity has conducted a range of connected local historical projects, encourages links between institutionally based and independent researchers and offers its own Continued Learning courses. It was initiated in 1998 by staff and former students of an interdisciplinary third level module. There is a first level digital photography module which was first presented in 2007. This encourages students to upload photographs and discuss them online. Former students have established their own online groups and maintained contact with one another.

What role has the OU played in fostering independent learners’ journeys of collective, self-directed activity? 

How do informal learners conceptualise their learning activities? 

What has sustained informal communities? 

If you have been involved in communities of former students do get in contact.

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