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