OpenLearn Champion Case Study – schools and colleges

Sgroliwch i lawr i’r Gymraeg / Scroll down for Welsh

Helen Thomas, Area Liaison Officer, north and mid Wales Reaching Wider partnership.

Helen is the Area Liaison Officer for the north and mid Wales Reaching Wider partnership. The organisation’s objectives are to raise the aspirations of people of any age, to encourage them into Higher Education through a range of pathways, for example through STEM projects, through the curriculum, or for older people back into education. Helen’s role is largely mobile, covering an enormous area as the result of a merger across west, north and mid Wales. It is also a diverse role including being responsible for some of the actual delivery of courses in schools, for example on a PSE day she might run a course on buddy skills.

How Helen has used the content

Helen has used content from OpenLearn quite extensively in schools, mostly with year 8 and 9 pupils. For example content from ‘Extending and Developing your Thinking Skills‘ in sessions on critical thinking. She has also used content around setting up a business in employability sessions with year 9, looking at the success of Jamie Oliver and Alan Sugar, and getting them to do a SWOT analysis for setting up their own future business.

Most of Helen’s training is delivered as one-off sessions, but she has also run a course of five sessions at a Further Education College on setting up a business. She estimates the total number of learners to be around 150, at least 100 of which are year 8 and 9, around 20 from the FE college, plus at least 10 of the elderly learners she teaches on a voluntary basis how to use computers. This is another example of where OpenLearn has been useful in group work, where some of the video clips have been played to engage the learners’ interest and show them the wide range of courses available which some of them can then go on to use for themselves. One of Helen’s learners from her study skills group went on to enrol for a degree course with the Open University, chosen for its flexibility as this learner had a young child.
Helen has also used free online resources for herself to enhance her professional role, and is currently studying ‘Logical and Critical Thinking’ on FutureLearn, one of the courses from Auckland University. She has been an OpenLearn Champion for two years, and has on occasions made use of the shared resources folder in Dropbox.

Helen, Swyddog Cyswllt Ardal, partneriaeth Ymgyrraedd yn Ehangach gogledd a chanolbarth Cymru.

Helen yw’r Swyddog Cyswllt Ardal ar gyfer Partneriaeth Ymgyrraedd yn Ehangach gogledd a chanolbarth Cymru. Mae amcanion y sefydliad yn cynnwys gwella dyheadau pobl o unrhyw oedran er mwyn eu hannog i fentro i fyd Addysg Uwch drwy amrywiaeth o lwybrau, er enghraifft drwy brosiectau STEM, drwy’r cwricwlwm neu annog pobl hŷn i ailafael ag addysg. Mae rôl Helen yn un symudol yn bennaf, gan gwmpasu ardal enfawr o ganlyniad i uno gorllewin, gogledd a chanolbarth Cymru. Mae hefyd yn rôl amrywiol gan gynnwys bod yn gyfrifol am rywfaint o’r gwaith o ddarparu cyrsiau mewn ysgolion, er enghraifft, ar ddiwrnod ABCh gall gynnal cwrs ar sgiliau cyfeillio (buddy).

Sut mae Helen wedi defnyddio’r cynnwys

Mae Helen wedi gwneud defnydd helaeth o gynnwys OpenLearn mewn ysgolion, gyda disgyblion blwyddyn 8 a 9 yn bennaf. Er enghraifft, defnyddio cynnwys o ‘Ymestyn a Datblygu Eich Sgiliau Meddwl’ mewn sesiynau ar feddwl yn feirniadol. Mae hefyd wedi defnyddio cynnwys ynghylch sefydlu busnes mewn sesiynau cyflogadwyedd gyda blwyddyn 9, gan ystyried llwyddiant Jamie Oliver ac Alan Sugar, a’u hannog i gynnal dadansoddiad SWOT ar gyfer sefydlu eu busnes eu hunain yn y dyfodol.

Caiff y rhan fwyaf o hyfforddiant Helen ei ddarparu fel sesiynau untro, ond mae hefyd wedi cynnal cyfres o bum sesiwn mewn Coleg Addysg Bellach ar sefydlu busnes. Mae’n amcangyfrif bod cyfanswm nifer y dysgwyr tua 150, gydag o leiaf 100 o’r rheini yn ddisgyblion blwyddyn 8 a 9, tua 20 o’r coleg Addysg Bellach, ac o leiaf 10 o ddysgwyr oedrannus y mae’n eu dysgu sut i ddefnyddio cyfrifiaduron yn wirfoddol. Mae hwn yn enghraifft arall lle mae OpenLearn wedi bod yn ddefnyddiol mewn gwaith grŵp, lle y cafodd rhai o’r clipiau fideo eu dangos er mwyn tanio diddordeb dysgwyr a dangos yr amrywiaeth eang o gyrsiau sydd ar gael y gall rhai ohonynt fynd ymlaen i’w defnyddio eu hunain. Aeth un o’r dysgwyr o grŵp sgiliau astudio Helen ymlaen i gofrestru ar gyfer cwrs gradd gyda’r Brifysgol Agored. Dewiswyd Y Brifysgol Agored am ei bod yn hyblyg ac mae gan y dysgwr hwn blentyn ifanc.
Mae Helen hefyd wedi defnyddio adnoddau ar-lein am ddim at ddibenion personol er mwyn gwella ei rôl broffesiynol ei hun ac, ar hyn o bryd, mae’n astudio ‘Meddwl Rhesymegol a Beirniadol’ ar FutureLearn, un o’r cyrsiau o Brifysgol Auckland. Mae wedi bod yn Hyrwyddwyr OpenLearn am ddwy flynedd ac, o bryd i’w gilydd, mae wedi defnyddio’r ffolder adnoddau a rennir yn Dropbox.

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Open University in Wales ‘Social Care Learning Hub’

OpenLearn Champion and OU tutor, Dot Williams talks about a pilot project using Badged courses. 

I’m sure you’re all aware of the ‘Badged’ courses within OpenLearn.  These are a great incentive for people to gain confidence and study skills and gain a ‘badge’ at the end.

This summer the Open University in Wales ran a six week pilot, with the Caerphilly & Blaenau Gwent Local Authority, to recruit their Care Support Workers, on to a five week introductory ‘learning hub programme’

The hub programme was developed using the OU OpenLearn, ‘Succeed with Learning’ Badged Open course and wrap around Social Care accredited course content. In order to introduce the Adult Learners involved to the format of OU study, develop confidence and HE level study skills, and, also provide practical support to help them progress to the accredited OU HE Certificate in Social Care Practice (Wales)  

The group met for four hours a week over the five week period with the sessions being facilitated by an OU tutor.  The group sessions enabled relationships to be built between people attending and they became very supportive of each other.  Facilitation by a tutor also enabled academic aspects to be explored, such as considering development of writing in sentences based on exercises from other OU material.


Of the nine people who attended the pilot programme five have now signed up for the OU ‘Higher Education Certificate in Social Care Practice’.  Another one felt that they needed to consider their financial circumstances before continuing their studies but was committed to continuing their learning journey. In addition the feedback from the local authority partners was positive.

As a result of the pilot the OU in Wales is now developing a wider project to roll out this work across Wales over the next year.


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Update from OpenLearn Champion -Jo Thomas

I had a great time last week in my role as Learning Champion on the project team, visiting community centres, health centres and the libraries in all the urban villages around Wrexham. Of course I was promoting the range of free online learning resources, but also raising the profile of the OpenLearn Champions project with our new flier which explains the train the trainer approach. Many colleagues I spoke to in these settings didn’t know about the OL Champions, so it was a good opportunity to tell them about it, and that our next training workshop for practitioners is booked for

Tuesday 21st November

10am to 3.30pm

at the Conwy Business Centre.

Places can be booked at, please tell your colleagues about it.


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Top tips from Elaine Ellen, using OpenLearn in the community

Elaine Ellen has worked for many years as a tutor with The Open University. She has also spent several of these supporting the community learning and outreach activities in North Wales. Having just retired, she reflects below on her role as an OpenLearn Champion and team member, and how she has used the free learning resources with groups, supporting events and engaging learners.

Thanks for everything Elaine, happy retirement 🙂

OpenLearn Champion Blog: Elaine Ellen, Team Member, 2016-2017

Over the last academic year, I joined a small team of 4 to oversee the development of OpenLearn Champion training in Wales. My role was to focus on Ynys Mon and Gwynedd, building on links that had been established over the previous years the various community organisations including: local libraries, Communities First (CF), Job Centre Plus, Agewell, Barnardos, Flying Start, Carers’ Outreach, Family Information Team and local authority Playworkers. To this end, I organised a number of outreach drop in sessions over the year, some of these in libraries and others in CF venues, sometimes in a supporting role working with organisations such as Carers’ Outreach, Playworkers and with Widening Access Days’ providers.

Primarily, I was attempting to encourage learners to come along and find out about online learning through OpenLearn, taking learning into community venues and making it more accessible.  In conjunction, where possible, I attempted to link with recently trained OpenLearn Champions, to demonstrate how an OpenLearn ‘drop in’ sessions might run and to show how they had acquired the skills now to run a session, hopefully encouraging them through any initial anxieties.

The purpose of this blog is to highlight what went well and potential difficulties that might be encountered when organising a ‘drop in’ session:

  • Try to do as much publicity as you can before the event. This might be emailing all your regular contacts and asking them to share your flyer/poster, on line and in hard copy if Where possible, visit local organisations like Job Centre Plus, Barnardos, CF, cafes etc. to chat and distribute your flyers. Try to get a ‘named person’ within the organisation, such as an Employment Support Officer, to become your ‘link’ with that body. You might find they too would like to undertake OpenLearn Champion Training and could encourage their colleagues to take part in the one day, ‘face-to-face’ training or online webinars.
  • Getting your ‘host’ on board or supporting a recently trained OL Champ are ways to work in partnership and extend the ‘reach’ of a session. For example, at Bangor Library, the librarians distributed flyers within the local area, they enlarged posters, displaying them prominently within the   library and on the day of the session a large sandwich board outside the building, heightened the already excellent publicity.  Within the library, the session was ‘well sign-posted’ and visible with a dedicated section of the computer suite set aside.   Furthermore, the lead Librarian, (himself a trained OL Champ) helped enquirers to get started with the OpenLearn website.  Another example, was a very helpful colleague at Canolfan Ebenezer, Llangefni who publicised our events on the centre’s Facebook page, reaching 20,000 local people.
  • Where possible try to organise your event when other activities may be happening in your For example, if a computer class is running or a reading group, you may be able to   interest these participants. Think about the timing of your session and your target audience: at Llangefni Library, we tried running a ‘drop in’ on market day and also at times of computer classes and Communities First help sessions. Less successful was a general session at Holyhead Youth Hub which probably needed more targeted publicity and maybe an afternoon slot. If running or supporting a dedicated session, such as Carers’ Outreach, do     make sure you can signpost these learners to specific courses such as ‘What About Me’? A personal development course for carers in Wales, or ‘ The Adur Carers Project’.
  • In terms of OpenLearn content, most enquirers will come along to a session with no prior knowledge of OpenLearn. I try to give a brief overview, explaining it comprises over 1000 different courses and using an available ipad or PC to get them started exploring from their own interests. Where possible, given facilities and time, I would recommend this short overview video as a first step. However, if you are dealing with disparate individuals dropping in at various times you will need to ensure everyone has information to read or a PC to work on, otherwise they will get bored and disappear! Make sure you have plenty of OpenLearn leaflets and as I often find enquirers want to find out about Access or Degree level studies it’s helpful to have a stock of these on hand as well as enquiry cards to complete whilst waiting. It is difficult to single out any particular courses that people want information about as this will depend upon their educational background, need for employment and current interests. I make sure people know about ‘Badged Courses’ for a range of skills, helpful, if they are returning to study or work after a break or to build their initial confidence in study. It’s useful to explain the various ‘levels’ of OpenLearn courses and to signpost enquirers to ‘Future Learn’ too if it’s appropriate. I find it’s always a balance between giving as much information as is needed versus totally overwhelming people with too much!
  • Above all, try to create an open and welcoming atmosphere. Enquirers are often thrilled and excited to discover this free resource and will ask lots of questions. Some will come with little experience of working online so may need encouragement and direction to PC skills, (Badged Courses are helpful here). If you are setting up in a library or hall with general enquirers then I’d recommend a dedicated ‘nook’ or ‘corner’ with a ‘pop up’ stand, plus lots of ‘freebies’ like pens and bags to attract people over.
  • Hopefully you’ll be very busy and guide lots of new users to OpenLearn.

Elaine Ellen – September 2017

Useful links:

Shared resource folder in Dropbox for OpenLearn Champions


OpenLearn Cymru – fully bilingual site has had a refresh


Short guide to OpenLearn video (approx. 7 minutes)


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Guest Blog Spot – Laura Williams, Carers Outreach Service

One of our OpenLearn Champions Laura Williams shares how she has been using the free online resources with carers in north  Wales.

Organisation: Carers Outreach Service, north Wales 

What was your project or activity?

Carers Outreach held two OpenLearn sessions for unpaid carers in Gwynedd and Conwy.

Both sessions lasted approximately 2 hours. We started with a one hour presentation demonstrating how to use the website and explored the benefits of studying via OpenLearn, we then gave the carers an opportunity to use the website themselves and ask questions.

 Please tell us about the learners who attended?

4 unpaid carers attended the Bangor session, and 3 attended the Colwyn Bay session. We had 8/9 carers sign up to both sessions, but due to unforeseen circumstances were unable to make it on the day. However, the smaller groups meant that those who did attend were able to receive a more valuable and personal session.

We had a mixture of ages, backgrounds, and expectations from our unpaid carers; from those who wanted to access the site to improve their CV, to those who wanted to explore the variety of subjects merely as a hobby.

They all found the session informative and gave very positive feedback. Many ticked a box on their feedback forms which stated that they felt “inspired” after the sessions.

Quotes from feedback form:

“Very interesting courses offered online”
“I feel like I have been shown a way forward in furthering my education”
“Both tutors, relaxed and supportive. Most helpful”
“Very helpful”

“Given my a few ideas to help with all the family. It will be really useful.”

What did the learners take away from the session? 

One of our carers decided that she would like to explore the OpenLearn website further and attended a drop in session in Caernarfon library after the event. She also obtained some details about the OU Access course.

Another carer felt that her husband and son could also benefit from OpenLearn courses and she was eager to share the information with them.

All the learners were enthusiastic and wanted to continue to explore the website after the session.

 What did you take away from the session?

 I have been sharing the website link with other carers who have shown an interest in furthering their education and skills.

I also work with a young carers project, and have found it beneficial to have knowledge of the OpenLearn site and be able to share what courses I feel would be beneficial to them.

What plans, if any have you got to progress this work further?

I will continue to make colleagues and carers aware of the courses available to them through the OpenLearn site.  We are always having contact with carers who are looking to improve their CV.

We have advertised the website through our newsletter and on our closed Facebook group, this way we hope to have reached some carers who we have not had direct contact with.

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Does ‘The Open University’ logo influence the way your learners respond?

OU tutor and OpenLearn Champion team member, Romy Wood

Romy Wood shares her thoughts on how University branding could help or hinder learners. 

When you see the OpenLearn home page, the image of the turtle and the words ‘Dive in’ strike you first. Then you see the logo (white on grey in this case instead of the ubiquitous blue on white) and the words ‘The Open University’. The OpenLearn site has an inspiring – sometimes overwhelming – feel to it. You can end up clicking on all sorts of links and topics. Some learners will ‘dive in’ and swim happily around.

There might be people, however, for whom the word ‘university’ is not so enticing. The connotations of the word might be off-putting. It may represent a world which feels far removed from the reality of everyday life or a world of complicated academic ideas. The words ‘The Open University’ might bring to mind for older people late night BBC programmes where men in corduroy jackets pointed at blackboards. For people of any age, the technology required for distance learning might feel like an obstacle and the time commitment might feel impossible.

When you use the Creative Commons license to adapt an article or activity to tailor it to the specific needs of the learners you work with, you might sometimes decide to take the branding off the documents you download. This could make it easier to share without any implied expectation about the standard or amount of learning. The learning could be very informal and relaxed. People who feel reluctant about study can be supported to take small steps, perhaps even without seeing it as work. Activities, quizzes and videos can be presented and related discussion can be a natural progression. You could present the content you deliver in such a way that it builds towards completion of a course before learners realise that that is what they have done! In many cases, the revelation that an Open University course has been completed might have a positive effect. It could give people confidence to try another, perhaps in a more structured way.

Challenging people’s assumptions about The Open University might help to break down reluctance to look at the free online content. You could mention well-known alumni, such as Lenny Henry, or inspirational stories of people with seemingly insurmountable difficulties, such as Dawn Faizey-Webster who dictated her essays through blinking.         You could ask people if they have seen or listened to a BBC programme such as ‘Child of our Time’ or ‘All in the Mind’ and then point out that it is produced in partnership with The Open University. Clips from television and radio can generate discussion which inspires an interest in looking further into a topic. Free booklets are often available and they tend to be very accessible with clear layout and text in manageable chunks. These have shared branding, with both the BBC logo and the Open University logo. The websites for the programmes have links to OpenLearn, which creates a natural pathway from television and radio to study.

You could ask your learners what the word ‘university’ means to them and how their views on study have shifted as they have engaged with the free online resources.

Romy Wood May 2017

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Preparing carers for formal learning with free courses


Carers Trust Wales recently held a conference for university staff across Wales “Creating Carer Awareness in University”. The event was part of their excellent  Going Higher Wales Campaign ,  which aims to raise awareness of the needs of young carers in university.

Carers Trust Wales are working closely with universities in Wales, and encouraging carer friendly policies and support services. They are also offering starter packs for young carers who are going away to university for the first time.

Many Universities in Wales are rising to the challenge, organising taster days, working with local carers organisations, and offering additional bursaries for young carers. It is very encouraging and a significant sector development to see this additional support offered to young carers who are aspiring to university.

It raises questions however around the provision and access to higher education for mature learners who are carers too. There must be many carers out there who didn’t follow the traditional route through their education and who don’t have the typical entry qualifications for university.

As part of a practice share, the OU gave a presentation at the conference about our work with carers.

We highlighted our carer’s project  which ran from 2010-2013 and the work we have been doing since to work with and support carers within the university.

We also talked about how Universities should work together and make more use of the free courses and resources (such as those on OpenLearn and OpenLearn Cymru) to help build confidence and prepare carers whatever their ages for university study.

We’ve highlighted some of these courses below.


What about me? A personal development course for carers in Wales 5 hours introductory level


Also available in Welsh Medium

This is a personal development course for carers in Wales. It will help you to identify and reflect on your experiences, interests and skills and your future aspirations. You will also have the opportunity to develop a personal action plan to take forward beyond the course.
Developed by The Open University in Wales and Carers Trust Wales, it is embedded with case studies from real carers sharing their experiences and reflections.
Taking your first steps into higher education


24 hours

Introductory level

Taking your first steps into higher education is a free course which lasts about 8 weeks, with approximately 3 hours’ study time each week. You can work through the course at your own pace, so if you have more time one week there is no problem with pushing on to complete another week’s study. You can also take as long as you want to complete it.
Pathways to Success



12-50 hours of learning


Introductory level

Pathways to success is an interactive guide that will take you on a learning journey through a range of free online resources from The Open University’s award winning OpenLearn website. It will help you:

·         tailor some informal study to your own interests and goals

·         gain an insight into higher education study

·         prepare for accredited learning.



Under the skills section of OpenLearn you’ll also find a wealth of other courses including Succeed with Maths , and The importance of interpersonal skills .

It’s important for universities and colleges to work together around the needs of carers of all ages. For example, we can promote the use of credit transfer if a carer has to move from full time to part time study at a different institution or visa versa.

Although it’s important to get it right for young adult carers who are aspiring and progressing to university after their A levels, let’s not forget the older carers too, who may be coming to back to education later in life and need flexible routes and support to get there. We need to work together to provide pathways to HE for all carers.


Links for further reference:

Extending opportunities for carers  – A evaluation report based on project work with carers at OU in Wales between 2010-2013. Includes a set of recommendations.

Carers Trust Wales –Time to be heard campaign

For more information on our work with carers contact


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Update from the latest Champions training workshop in Brecon

Jo Thomas updates on the latest OpenLearn Champion workshop. 

In February we ran an OpenLearn Champions training day in the heart of the beautiful  Brecon Beacons, kindly hosted by the National Park in their state of the art training room. Twelve new champions attended from various agencies ranging from Brecon Beacons National Park rangers to support workers from Domestic Violence charities.

The day began with a fun activity, working in three groups to create digital stories using the Open University app ‘Our Story’, with prizes for the group voted best. After a brief presentation about free online learning and available courses there was time to explore the OpenLearn site, and the feedback from this session demonstrated a wide range of interest areas. These included several courses in the section Nature and Environment, for example Park Rangers thought that the one hour introductory course ‘Neighbourhood Nature’ would be useful for introducing their clients to the fascinating world of nature all around them. Likewise others found that the 25 hours introductory level course ‘Welsh history and its sources’ (also in Welsh on OpenLearn Cymru) in History and the Arts could be a good subject for using in group work with clients.

This was the first workshop since the OpenLearn site had been upgraded and everyone who was familiar with it before felt it had been vastly improved. It is more colourful and less wordy, and free courses can now be found as complete lists showing title, level and length of courses, or under subject categories with a range of courses. There is a new Skills heading which divides into skills for work or skills for study which can be further refined including for example looking only at badged courses.

Evaluation from the day was positive and we are hoping that the new Champions will have been using the resources and sharing them with learners.

Jo Thomas, OpenLearn Champion

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Webinar taster sessions


The last couple of months we’ve been busy running the traditional OpenLearn Champion workshops, and we’ve also trialed a couple of webinar taster sessions for teams in specific organisations.

These sessions have been about introducing the free courses and resources, giving a short demonstration of the OpenLearn website and starting to get teams to think about how they could use this within their work context. Sessions were tailored to the themes and topics relevant for the organisation we were working with. The webinar format has also proved a practical alternative for Wales’ wide organisations, with participants joining from their different bases across Wales.

It wasn’t all plan sailing though, we did have a few technical problems, and are very grateful to WCVA who allowed us to use one of their virtual rooms for one of the sessions.

We’re planning to run more sessions into the spring focusing on specific themes. More info coming soon.

If you haven’t had chance to explore the new look OpenLearn site yet, we’ve made a short screencast giving a little tour of the site.

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Stop Press – New look for OpenLearn

new look openlearn

The OpenLearn site has had a face lift. Check out the new look site, which is easier to navigate and has a specific skills section.


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