Supporting learning in healthcare practice – ground-breaking free mentorship learning

Press release: Mentorship Badged Open Course launches

Facilitating learning in practice badge

Facilitating learning in practice badge

The Open University’s (OU) Nursing Team and Open Media Unit have produced a free online course in mentorship to develop healthcare practitioners in their role supporting staff who are learning in practice.   ‘Facilitating learning in practice: an OpenLearn resource’ is the sixth in a suite of OU “Badged Open Courses” or BOCs, all of which are completely free, accessible to anyone and available online.

The new short course (around 24 hours of learning) focusses on mentorship skills and it explores the principles and best practices underpinning mentorship in healthcare practice. The course authors use their own experience in the nursing profession to help learners develop their knowledge, understanding and skills of mentorship practice which is relevant to many workplace environments. Enrolling on the Facilitating Learning in Practice BOC also gives learners the opportunity to earn an Open University digital badge which demonstrates their interest in the subject and commitment to their career via continuing professional development.

Practising nurses will find this course particularly relevant as it contributes towards The OU’s Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) approved mentorship programme (register online at The Open University website).

Professor Jan Draper, Head of The Open University’s Department of Nursing describes the new course as timely and much needed “A shortage of trained mentors is a serious challenge to the current plans to increase the registered nurse workforce. The OU’s new and innovative course will be a welcome option for employers seeking to develop mentors in the workplace and therefore help to grow the numbers of qualified nurses”.

The OU’s OpenLearn website hosts an extensive and growing portfolio of open educational resources (OER) with over 860 free online courses.

The first five OU BOCs on OpenLearn were launched in February 2015 and are already proving very successful with over 400 badges issued within the first three months. BOCs are different from MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) because they are perpetual, enabling students to return to them at any time to refresh their knowledge, unlike MOOCs which have a set start and finish date. OU Digital badges issued with each BOC and accompanying OU Statement of Participation certificate demonstrate learner achievement as learners will have read full online courses and passed an online assessment.

Follow OU Free Learning on Twitter @OUfreelearning

Why we do free learning at The OU

What are badged open courses?

OU BOCs with digital badges and Statements of Participation

Link to BOCs open courses

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The Open Media Unit and Social Sciences present: Wastemen

The Wastemen

The Wastemen

The Open Media Unit and Social Sciences present:

Tuesday 28 April 2015
9pm on BBC2
Today (Tuesday the 28 April) sees the first episode of Wastemen on BBC2 at 9pm. The episode will be broadcast in Scotland at 11.50pm. This is a new 3-part series. Britain generates enough rubbish to fill the Albert Hall every hour. But once we put our bins out to be collected very few of us know exactly what happens to what we throw away after it goes in the back of the truck.

Episode 1: The Home Front – 28th April at 9pm on BBC2

Every household in the country puts a tonne of rubbish out for the bin men to collect each year. In Newcastle the people tasked with dealing with it are waging a war on waste. Landfill is the last resort and is now highly taxed. Recycling rates are now on the rise. And on the streets bin men and council enforcement officers take the fight to the people as they try and get them to throw away less and recycle more. But one time of year always pushes the entire industry to breaking point – Christmas.

Episode 2: One Man’s Rubbish One Man’s Treasure – 5th May 9pm on BBC2

The war against rubbish never stops for the waste men of Newcastle. But the things we throw away have never been worth so much. On the streets of the city no bin, skip or piece of scrap metal is safe from the opportunists who have learned how to turn rubbish into cash. But, as the waste men working at the city’s tips know, the value of waste is not simply financial. Often it’s the emotional value that means that one man’s rubbish really is another’s treasure.

Episode 3: Big Problems Big Solutions – 12th May at 9pm on BBC2

As a nation we throw away more than ever. And with increasing landfill taxes and concerns over the environment, burying it all in a hole in the ground is no longer an option. Bigger and better solutions to our waste problems are needed and Newcastle and the Northeast are helping lead the way. Giant incinerators turn rubbish into electricity, industrial plants turn waste into compost and machines the size of jumbo jets shred old cars into fragments of metal that are sold around the world and reused. A new future for our rubbish is coming.


OpenLearn also has extensive content in connection with the programmes subject areas.  For more information go to OpenLearn

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OER15 conference

The Open University is represented at the Open Educational Resources conference this year (in Cardiff, 14th and 15th April) by several projects and people.  The Open Media Unit has a poster at the conference about ‘Why and how The Open University provides free learning’.  The abstract for the poster is below:

This poster will show how and why the OU provides free learning via its OpenLearn and OpenLearn Works platforms as well as other third party channels and how it continues to innovate to reach potential learners. The OU ensures it provides about 5% of its course materials as free open educational content every year. It does this because informal learning is part of the OU’s Royal Charter: “Advancement and dissemination of learning and knowledge … to promote the general wellbeing of the community” In the beginning the OU shared course materials via its broadcast partnership with the BBC, however in recent years it has broadened the channels and platforms where OU free content is available to allow learners greater flexibility and help them develop new approaches to learning. Badged Open Courses (BOCs) are the new innovation offered via OpenLearn, they differ from MOOCs because they are perpetual, enabling students to return at any time to refresh their knowledge. The BOCs give users a consistent and coherent approach by providing structure to clusters of OER and complement the extensive growing portfolio of OER on OpenLearn. OpenLearn contains over 12,000 study hours of material in 12 subject areas and has received over 34 million visitors since it was launched in 2006. Informal learners can get a taste of what formal study is like by trying the adapted course extracts on OpenLearn, which helps them discover the right subject area for their needs and builds their confidence as they learn. Users mainly discover OpenLearn via the call to action in BBC/OU co-productions and via Google searches. The OU now syndicates free content to other third party platforms such as iTunes U, YouTube, AudioBoom, GooglePlay and Bibblio. This means that users have a choice of how to access OU free materials online and can participate in discussions via social media tools offered by the various platforms. OpenLearn Works is the sister platform to OpenLearn and enables users to create, upload and share their own OER materials on an OU hosted platform. The platform is currently undergoing further development to support communities and organisations make the most of OER and discover good open education practices. The developments will improve search functionality and user profiles, support alternative formats and badging and make OpenLearn Works interoperable with other platforms and technologies.
Reference: OU Royal Charter

You can also see the abstract and the poster on the OER15 website at

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The Open Media Unit and Arts present: The International Radio Playwriting Competition

The Open Media Unit and Arts present:
The International Radio Playwriting Competition
Saturday 11th & 25th April 2015 @ 10.05pm
BBC World Service

The International Radio Playwriting Competition, run by the BBC World Service and the British Council, and co-produced with The Open University in partnership with Commonwealth Writers,invites anyone resident outside Britain to write a 53-minute radio drama for up to six characters. The competition attracted nearly 1,000 entries with plays from a record 86 countries.

Two award-winning radio plays, which scooped prizes at the 24th International Radio Playwriting Competition, are set to debut on BBC World Service this April:

Zimbabwean Virginia Jekanyika’s The Cactus Flowers won first place in the English as a Second Language category and will air on Saturday 11th April 2015 @ 10.05pm

Australian Alana Valentine’s The Ravens won first place in the English as a First Languagecategory and will air on Saturday 25th April 2015 @ 10.05pm

Other prizes awarded included the newly introduced Georgi Markov prize which went to Ana Gonzalez Bello from Mexico for her play Diablo and Romina. The new prize – which honours the script with the most outstanding potential from the competition’s shortlist – was set up in memory of the writer and BBC World Service journalist Georgi Markov who championed freedom of creative expression.

You can listen to the programmes through your digital/freeview television or online via the BBC World Service.

OpenLearn has extensive content in connection with the competition – offering a wide variety of podcasts, articles and study materials (including the free Start Writing Fiction course) to support you in your creative writing.  For more information go to OpenLearn

This co-production was commissioned by the Open Media Unit and is supported by the Arts Faculty, with particular relevance to A215: Creative writing and A363: Advanced Creative Writing

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#FLeco15: Ask an Academic: Q&A with Dr David Robinson

Introduction to Ecosystems

Introduction to Ecosystems

Thank you for sending in questions for the live session on 20th March which you catch up on in YouTube. There were lots of fascinating questions and I have tried to answer as many as possible either here or in the live session. Do continue the discussion that the questions have generated in the comments below.

Anneke: Could you name your top 5 threats to global biodiversity in order of priority, eg climate change, human population growth, decline in pollinators, spread of non-native invasive species, intensification of farming, spread of plastics in water and soil, increase of built-up land (buildings/roads). I realise most of these overlap, are each other’s cause or effect etc, but still, would like to hear an expert’s priority listing.

 David Robinson (DR): There are an awful lot of threats to global diversity so I suspect that we won’t all have the same list, but here is mine:

  • human population growth
  • unfettered demand
  • exploitation of natural resources
  • short-termism
  • lack of education.

James : Hi Dr. Robinson ! Would you say that human pollution could very well cause a chemical reaction that could result in genetic mutations of plants and animals within an ecosystem? If so, how should we be concerned about it and hopefully try to prevent the mutation from spreading?

DR: Chemical pollution could provide a selection pressure that would influence evolution. Also, hormones released into the environment have affected salmon. If a pollutant was mutagenic (causing mutations) it might be difficult to prevent an advantageous mutant spreading through natural selection. However, most mutations have negative consequences.

Jack: Do you have any advice on talking to politicians about environmental issues?

DR: Do plenty of research so that you are on top of the subject. A lot of politics is not evidence-based, but it should be and for us as scientists, evidence is fundamental. 

Deborah: Humanity is increasingly living beyond our means – we currently consume 50% more natural resources than the Earth’s ecosystems can replenish. Dr. Robinson, please can you give the forum 5 key things we can do at home and in our close by ecosystems for sustainable living?

DR: My five suggestions are – walk, cycle, upcycle and recycle, actively thermoregulate, buy local.  By ‘actively thermoregulate’, I mean that if living in a cool environment (like the UK and N Europe, for example) use clothing layers rather than heating to keep the body at optimum temperature.

Melanie: We heard that movement is difficult for phytoplankton and yet they migrate in a vertical direction on a daily basis. How do they achieve this?

DR: Most phytoplankton are motile, as they have flagella. However, vertical movement in the water is mostly through transport by currents.

Olwen: This year’s farm Single Payment Scheme rules do not promote a diverse ecosystem as trees, gorse, bracken and blackthorn are classed as ‘ineligible features’, thus not gaining agricultural status. Do you feel this government policy will harm our countryside diversity?

DR: I think that there is good evidence that agriculture does affect diversity and that the funding system even discourages diversity. For example, in the Cross-compliance Regulations, farmers must prevent ‘unwanted vegetation’ from growing on their land, even if their land is producing nothing. So, they must cut, graze or spray it with herbicides to get their money. This rule has particular effects on upland areas which continue to be bare of diverse vegetation and trees, leading to more rapid surface run-off of water.

Carol: I’d be interested to know your views on the translocation of ancient woodland and soils as mitigation for planning applications which would destroy the original site if implemented. Is the process of translocation justifiable, and what percentage loss (or range of loss) of original features might one typically expect?

DR: Translocation of animals and plants is not easy and personally, I doubt its effectiveness but have not located any references that have specifically analysed success and failure of translocation projects. I have seen some pretty depressing (unpublished) figures for decline in translocated newt populations. See also June’s comments below.

June: I have recently been reading Dr Oliver Rackham’s ‘Woodlands’, where I was surprised and saddened to find that it is very hard or indeed impossible to establish new woodland with its attendant flora, particularly on previously farmed land. Although I was angered by Owen Patterson’s biodiversity offsetting plans and realised that planting a few trees is no replacement for an ancient forest, I was still under the impression that we could plant fairly good and biodiverse woodland. Given the work by Dr Lee Su See in Malaysia with mycorrhizal ‘wood wide webs’ and other research, could we perhaps be more hopeful that we could reinstate or plant new biodiverse woodlands in the UK?

DR: Oliver Rackham also made the point that sourcing trees globally rather than locally also sources pathogens globally, with often catastrophic results.

Deborah: Step 4.1 spoke about Flu not being specific to humans but using many animal hosts. It got me thinking, can people catch kennel cough from a dog?

DR: Kennel cough is caused by Bordetella bronchiseptica, a bacterium. There are also viruses that make dogs more susceptible to infection. It seems to be possible for humans to be infected with the bacterium, but I have not found any publications that provide evidence of human’s contracting kennel cough.

Paul: Do the fungi in the woodland improve the soil for all seedlings, whatever the species? Or is there some recognition and promotion of growth to the saplings of the host tree? If it were the latter, it would suggest a closer symbiosis, would it not?

DR: The fungi in the soil link trees to seedlings and a fungus that is specific to one species is likely to be carrying nutrient to seedlings of the parent tree and others of the same species. The connection is a direct one, so it isn’t that the fungi are enriching the soil directly.

Francesco: Are there any cases study in Europe about using fungi in contaminated places as tools to enhance the soils and the ecosystems?

DR: You might find this paper interesting as it describes how a fungus can break down pesticide residues.

Dean: Conventional agriculture is responsible for a large proportion of the biodiversity loss we have seen in recent times. However, GM intensifies this trend by supporting singles species with toxic chemicals, which feed the plant but does nothing for the long term health of the soil.

What is your view on this? And why isn’t there any news on this issue?

DR: GM is a technique and its effect depends upon what the modification is intended to achieve. GM crops may help conserve diversity. An example, from South Africa, is a modification that makes a crop plant poisonous to insects that feed on it.  By removing dependence on spraying to keep the crops clear of herbivorous insects, other insects are not affected. Incidentally, in the South African example it reduced human deaths from misuse of pesticide sprays.

Marie: There has been little news about genetic modification in farming. I seem to recall a very early paper on the effect on wildlife in that those crops that are genetically modified do not require pollination in the natural way. A downside of GM farming was identified as making any insect that visited these crops, infertile. Do you have any opinion or up to date information as if this is so, then this method of farming is detrimental to ecosystems for insects/pollinators?

DR: Some early concerns were about particular GM crops which were designed not to set seed, preventing spread into the wild. Farmers that used this GM crop were then tied in to buying new (and possibly high cost) GM seed from the supplier each year. GM as a technique is very valuable. However, each use has to be properly evaluated and some applications will have too many negative features while others are very positive in their effect

Khima: I am monitoring the vulture population in my city and have a very good sighting of more than 300 individuals of 3–4 species on a single site. Please suggest to me how we could sustain the population at that site? What are the measures I have to follow?

DR: Difficult to answer. Diclofenac used as a veterinary product was the cause of decline. Wild dog population has increased so now they are in competition for food with vultures.

Alison: Are there courses like this being set up schools to educate the younger generation?

DR: I am not aware of schools using this type of course.

Lindsey: What areas in Britain would it be possible to re-wild and do you think it will ever happen?

DR: Re-wilding is difficult but not impossible. Have a look at what Trees for Life in Scotland are doing ( ). Wales Wild Land Foundation is another example of attempts at rewilding ( )

Lindsey: Here in Wales we have brought the Red Kite back from the brink. In the early 1970s, I believe there were only 12 breeding pairs and our joy at seeing one was huge. The other morning I counted 5 on a 3 mile car journey. I see several every day. Have there been any studies on how their huge increase has affected the other species? I am sure I do not see so many buzzards as I used to.

DR: I have not found any studies on the impact of red kites on other species. I am seeing more buzzards than I used to and I also see plenty of red kites. However, these are just my observations. This year for the first time I saw two red kites circling over my garden, and for several days in a row. It is a great example of a successful re-introduction. It is not working so well in Scotland and there are suspicions that humans might be the cause.

David: Do we have many ecosystems that we know little about?

DR: Deep ocean ecosystems are not well studied for obvious reasons.

Wisdom: Describe one way in which species’ extinction can begin in ecosystems, and one way in which a species can be restored after destruction. Give a recent example in each case.

DR: Natural extinction can come about because there has been a change in some part of the ecosystem that an animal or plant cannot adapt to. Human activity, for example, may remove part of an ecosystem, like scavengers – examples are the shooting of red kites in the UK and the poisoning of vultures (via cattle carcases) in India.  In both cases, protecting the scavengers may allow their populations to recover.

Diane: I understand that ecosystems are reliant on a constancy of factors, but in this fast-changing world is it not conceivable that the micro ecosystems on which we and all life are so dependant will be changed beyond repair? What can we do to stop or slow down this damage and can it be reversed?

DR: The problem with ecosystems in general is that we rarely have complete knowledge and so it isn’t easy to spot damage and know how to reverse it. Diversity can make natural systems resilient and natural selection does drive responses to changing conditions.

War: I think ecology is a great course. In an ecosystem, green plants are primary producers, herbivores and carnivores are primary and secondary consumers and then the highest level are people that feed on all levels to bottom. How can we know the whole ecosystem in water and terrestrial life of mode in food chain and food web?

DR: It is very difficult to chart all the links and interactions. It is also worth remembering that we define an ecosystem in terms of energy flow and that the concept of an ecosystem is a human construct that enables us to study and understand the world around us.

Duane: In trying to define ‘ecosystems’ we have started from a biological or species perspective. Little has been made of the ecosystem perspective, where every living ecosystem is driven and fuelled by atmospheric energies ~ sun, wind, water and gravity. Plants and photosynthesis are major components as well as co-evolution with other organisms. How do we study the interdependency of systems over time and space? Will we be looking at how we can map complex open ecosystems spatially?

DR: We did define ecosystems in terms of energy flow, which includes atmospheric energies. Studying interdependence in terms of time and space is difficult, of course, but something that we need to do, despite such studies taking many years.

James: I read about a theory that the natural world vibrates at a frequency of 528hz, and that this vibration can impact the psychological aspects of mankind for the better. Do you think that the study of ecology will, in the future, start to focus more what we consider to be the peripheral scientific theories like this , or will it continue alongside the long-established linear paths laid down by Banks and Darwin?

DR: Theories have to be tested and remain just ideas if they cannot be verified from evidence. The 528 Hz theory is, as far as I know, not sufficiently evidence-based. I can’t really predict what peripheral theories might emerge in the future.

Steve: I have recently studied FutureLearn courses on renewable energy and on fracking. Do you think enough thought is given to ecosystems, and their conservation, when planning applications are assessed for energy supplies? Off-shore wind and tidal schemes have been in the news, in the UK, very recently.

DR: I don’t think that sufficient thought is given to ecological considerations in many planning decisions. For example, short term (in planet rather than human timescales) often dominates and the long term consequences are not considered – or considered relevant.

Martin: In an earlier lecture, the concept of succession was introduced. My question resolves around man’s perceived need to ‘manage’ ecosystems. Is this an absolute necessity or can we (should we) leave ecosystems to their own devices?

DR: This is a hard question to answer because small remnants of once extensive systems will probably need management. However, the ideal is to leave systems alone to re-establish themselves, after the initial set-up, and this might work well in some cases where trees are being planted on hillsides. Our lack of megafauna in the UK can make continual management of herbivores necessary.

James: We as humans pose the greatest threat but, somewhat strangely, are also the greatest hope for the survival of the planet (our intelligence v. our morals). Have we reached the point of no return for the planet, and if not, how close are we to doing so?

DR: No, I don’t think so but we do have a large problem to contend with and that is that both the numbers of humans and their demands are such that human impact is a global threat. The planet will survive, of course, but it may become a very different place. We can all make a difference individually and as groups. I commented earlier about short-termism being a problem and we have to find a way of enabling our societies to take a very long term view, because the damage that we are doing to the planet requires long-term solutions. Re-wilding is an example of something that we need to do that will take a long time.

This question generate a number of additional comments (below)

Elaine: I think we are in trouble because those with power to make a difference seem to have no morals when money is brought into any equation.

Gabrielle: But I would argue, Elaine, that each of us individually, and also many of us in combination, can make a difference. But then I’m known as what is called ‘an unreasonable’ person who believes in a vision no matter how unpromising the prospects may be for realization.

Duane: Visionaries are like guiding lights providing simple ways to solve often complex problems.

Luana: I would like to know Dr Robinson’s opinion on this matter too, James. I agree with Gabrielle that individuals can (and must…) make a difference, but also with Elaine that also “those with power” should take environment more than money into account. A dream.

Brigit: I don’t know how far things will go before we reach a tipping point of some kind, but the closer we get, the higher the stakes – and the higher the stakes, the more we (who recognise the damage being done) need to up our game. I notice more and more people every day waking up to this fact and that gives me great hope. Hope is a wonderful motivator! My understanding is that we may already have crossed the threshold regarding run away climate change with our past actions, but we don’t know this for sure. Climate models contain many variables and there are still aspects we don’t fully understand. In the mean time we can do a great deal to help increase biodiversity by allowing more areas to re-wild. Then, whatever happens to the human race, we will at least have left some natural ecosystems behind us to continue evolving as they might have done had we not intervened so much in the first place. I know it’s way more complex than this, but I feel sure that re-wilding is somehow extremely important I’m very interested to read Dr Robinson’s reply to this question

Rebecca: I’m pretty confident whatever happens to humans, nature will take back the Earth. Life has survived through five major extinction events before, if humans are going to cause the sixth, life will persist. I like to think that eventually we will find a way to live completely off clean, renewable energy, and will have perfected sustainable practices, but the main question is, will we do this in time? Or will things get so bad that the world suffers, large parts of the Earth will become uninhabitable, leaving the habitable parts overpopulated and over-polluted?

Brigit: Himalayan Balsam is the bane of many waterways and related habitats in the UK. However, it provides an extremely valuable and much needed forage resource for the Buff-tailed bumblebee which (because of warmer winters) has recently begun to establish winter colonies rather than going into hibernation. I appreciate the negative impact HB is having upon our native river banks and riverside flora, but what happens when an invasive species like this becomes so valuable to one of our native species of (in this case) bumblebee, that its elimination would impact negatively on that species? How do we balance this out?

DR: HB highlights the problems of dealing with invasive species. The standard answer would be that the native species is not dependant on the invasive so we should remove the invasive one. Removal of HB is difficult as the seeds survive for a long time in the soil seed bank, but I think it should really be removed because of its overall effect on habitats.

Andy: During election time we’ll probably hear lots of messages that £1 spent on an early social initiative will save £x later on the crime bill. Are there any ecosystem cost–benefit analyses out there that may persuade politicians / economists to act together as they seem to like such sound-bites?

Gill: There is a big push on getting UK politicians to take this seriously, with a campaign for a Nature & Wellbeing Act in the next parliament which would recognise the value of nature in terms of ecosystem services and also health and wellbeing, crime and so on – it’s been calculated that the right progressive, enlightened approach to valuing nature could save the public purse £33bn a year in the UK.

DR: You both raise some interesting points. George Monbiot ( ) does highlight the costs of agricultural and environmental projects. He has pointed out in recent articles that the UK government has argued against the €300,000 cap on subsidy payments to individual farmers and has also nearly doubled the subsidy for grouse moors (from £30 per hectare to £56). He argues that subsidies damage the environment, are grossly unfair and very costly.


Dr David Robinson

Dr David Robinson


Thank you everyone for your questions, it was fantastic to speak with you, and I hope that you enjoy the final week of the course!

Dr David Robinson
Lead Educator
Introduction to ecosystems

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Creative Commons without fear

The commitment to free and open

Patrina Law             @HigherEdPatrina

Library Books image

The Open University (OU) has long delivered a diverse range of courses to large numbers of people. It is particularly concerned with reaching those that might not otherwise have access to such experiences ensuring that there are as few barriers as possible. As part of this commitment to access, The OU freely releases educational materials into the public realm reporting over 10 million unique users each year across OpenLearn and third party platforms.

The OU is particularly concerned with reaching those that might not otherwise have access to formal learning and hence ensures that there are as few barriers as possible. So, as part of its commitment to access, The OU has always freely delivered educational materials into the public realm to support its social and business missions and because informal learning is part its Royal Charter.

The OU’s OpenLearn website was launched in 2006 to provide a platform for material from OU courses as Open Educational Resources (OER), as well as acting as a hub for the University’s free media content (OpenLearn, 2012). Now hosting hundreds of course extracts and free, whole courses, OpenLearn research studies have been reported (Law, et al., 2013; Perryman et al., 2013; and Law et al., 2014) and show that:

  • Students that use free learning content during formal paid-for study declare improved performance and self-reliance,
  • University-provided OER acts as a taster to those considering paid-for, formal learning,
  • Work has been needed to improve the usability of OpenLearn as an open course environment,
  • The provision of digital badges enhances learners’ motivation to complete an online course,
  • Badged open courses attract learners who are more inclined to take up formal study and are key to meeting The OU’s widening participation, and
  • Where content is syndicated across different platforms, it can meet the needs of both professional and personal development and can serve very different demographic groups.

OpenLearn hosts hundreds of online courses and videos (most of which are available under the Creative Commons 4.0 licence and serves as the channel through which the OU promotes its partnership with the BBC and the related broadcasting and free content that is created through co-productions.

Since its launch, OpenLearn has received 36.4 million unique visitors and has grown from being a platform that hosts samples of existing decommissioned units from undergraduate and postgraduate courses, to one which delivers specially commissioned interactive games, videos, audio and free online courses. Much of the course extract content is developed using structured authoring tools and then made available to users in multiple formats which can be syndicated to other platforms as eBooks. As 5% of OU module content is released each year under a Creative Commons licence, this now equates to around 850 free courses available on OpenLearn as OER.

Creative Commons commitment

Creative Commons commitment

Anyone who releases under the Creative Commons licence recognises that their content could be more effective on platforms other than the ones chosen for initial distribution, hence supporting users or organisations who want to republish the material to other locations for other uses and audiences.

Creative Commons have produced various updates to the licence over the years, responding to the needs for local and international variations in relation to copyright legislation. The latest international version 4 has produced a licence which is hoped is robust enough to avoid among other things, the need for variations to fit local laws and jurisdictions.

The Non Commercial (NC) clause of the licence enables the OU to maximize the amount and accessibility of freely available OU content in the public domain without undermining its social and business activities. In this context, NC is understood as not expecting individual users or organisations to use The OU’s content for commercial purposes.

However, with the rise of MOOCs and the monetisation by certification, there has been some concern that the Non Commercial clause of the Creative Commons licence is ambiguous and could lead to re-use by monetising aggregators (of courses and MOOCs). This may have an impact on the discoverability of OU content and also that the University’s academics will not understand nor accept use of the licence (and potentially withdraw support for Creative Commons release of their materials).

To mitigate this problem, a fuller explanation of The OU’s interpretation of NC is now provided on the OpenLearn website. This is critical to us as we release Badged Open Courses (BOCs) and open courses with certification into the open on OpenLearn. BOCs differ from MOOCs because they are perpetually open, enabling any learner to view them at any time.  The BOCs give users a consistent and coherent approach by providing structure to clusters of OER and complement the extensive growing portfolio of OER on OpenLearn. The courses contain whole pieces of assessment and have followed the same rigorous quality assurance processes as The OU’s modules delivered to its formal students.

Why we provide badged open courses

Why we provide badged open courses

We recognise, through our research into our informal learners, Martin Weller’s iceberg model of OER engagement in that our learners on OpenLearn are somewhere between Secondary and Tertiary OER users i.e. that they do have an awareness of OERs in general (Secondary), but have little or no interest in licensing of content and are “consuming rather than creating” (Tertiary) (Weller, 2014). Data from our 2014 study shows that awareness of free learning content is increasing (Law and Law, 2014). In the light of greater numbers of universities’ participation in MOOC provision, availability of free informal learning content is increasing as is the understanding of what it means to deliver to open platforms and to third party platforms.

The massification of education does not distinguish between ‘MOOC world’ (business driven, closed licence) and ‘OER world’ (philanthropically driven, open licenced), nor the distinction in learners that Weller identifies. Hence, a clear understanding of who our learners are and their motivations for informal study combined with a definition of NC that enables us to protect and justify our commitment to Creative Commons openly licenced learning.


Free learning at the OU

Law, Patrina and Law, Andrew (2014). Digital badging at The Open University: recognition for informal learning. In: The Open and Flexible Higher Education Conference 2014: ‘New Technologies and the Future of Teaching and Learning ‘, 23-24 October 2014, Krakow, Poland.

Law, P., Perryman, L-A. and Law, A. (2013) Open educational resources for all? Comparing user motivations and characteristics across The Open University’s iTunes U channel and OpenLearn platform In Open and Flexible Higher Education Conference 2013, 23-25 October 2013, Paris, European Association of Distance Teaching Universities (EADTU) (pp. 204–219).

Law, P., Perryman, L-A. and Law, A. (2014) Badging and employability at The Open University In European Distance and E-Learning Network (EDEN) 2014 Annual Conference, 10-13 June 2014, Zagreb.


Perryman, L-A., Law, P. and Law, A. (2013). Developing sustainable business models for institutions’ provision of open educational resources: Learning from OpenLearn users’ motivations and experiences In Open and Flexible Higher Education Conference 2013, 23-25 October 2013, Paris, European Association of Distance Teaching Universities (EADTU) (pp. 270–286).

The Open University Royal Charter

Weller, M. (2014). The Iceberg Model of OER Engagement. [blog] 7 July 2014. Available from

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OU joining OERu

The Open University is increasing access to Open University (OU) Open Educational Resources (OER) by joining the OERu (OER Universitas). This is to coincide with the launch of The OU’s first Badged Open Courses (BOCs) on OpenLearn, the OU’s home of free online learning. The OERu provides members with options to host their open courses on the OERu platform or point to free courses on institution-hosted channels. The OERu platform, which reports access to 217,000 unique monthly visitors from around the world, will now link to the new Open University (OU) BOCs and open courses on OpenLearn over the coming months.

Linking BOCs through the OERu builds on the OU’s mission to be open to everyone, allowing all learners access to free learning content regardless of their previous learning or educational experiences. Both the OERu and The OU through OpenLearn, release content under a Creative Commons licence, recognising that for some users, the content could be more effective on platforms other than the ones we chose for initial distribution. Therefore The OU supports users or organisations who want to republish the material to other locations.

The OU continues to forge relationships and partnerships in OER and open educational practices to improve access to academic study and research as part of its widening participation mission. Development and distribution of OER, plus researching how learners use OU free online courses, enables the OU to understand and be responsive to informal and formal learner needs and ways of learning.

While some of the other channels which The OU uses to distribute open course content have large volumes of traffic, such as YouTube and iTunes U, learning-focussed channels such as OERu and OpenLearn attract visitors who have a specific interest in learning and personal development. This means they are more likely to engage, enquire and register for formal learning after using free OU material or go on to study more free courses.

Follow OU Free Learning on Twitter @OUfreelearning

Why we do free learning at The OU

About the OERu

OERu is an Open Educational Resource channel that offers free access to learning materials from 32 post-secondary institutions around the world. It is owned by the OER Foundation (with support from The Hewlett Foundation, Commonwealth of Learning and others). It is an independent, not-for-profit organisation that provides leadership, international networking and support for educational institutions to achieve their strategic objectives using OERs.

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The OU launches Badged Open Courses

Press release: OU launches Badged Open Courses

OU Badged Open Courses

OU Badged Open Courses

The Open University (OU) is building on years of knowledge, experience and research into Open Educational Resources (OER) with its release of innovative new free Badged Open Courses (BOCs). These have been developed in response to the needs of informal learners who are seeking access to study skills and to have their learning recognised.

“We have listened to the changing needs and requirements of our informal learners using our open platforms” says The OU’s Open Media Unit Director, Andrew Law. “Badged Open Courses will complement The OU’s extensive and growing portfolio of OER on OpenLearn and provide learners recognition for their achievements through assessment – for free.” The team at The OU who produced the courses were finalists in The Learning Awards 2015 for ‘Innovation in Learning’.

BOCs will be different from MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) because they are perpetual, enabling students to return to them at any time to refresh their knowledge, unlike MOOCs which have a set start and finish date. The first to be released will be as Beta, to gather user feedback which will help improve the experience for learners.

Currently, learners enrolled on any of the 800 short courses on OpenLearn can download an Activity Record to print or to share online what they have read. Digital badges issued with each BOC and accompanying Statement of Participation certificate are a different marker of achievement: learners will have not only read full online courses but will have passed online quizzes to earn their digital badge and OU certificate. Pilot research has shown that this will help informal learners build confidence and motivation for learning, providing a record of achievement which they can share with friends, learner communities, employers and educational institutions. Learners will be able to display their completed badges publicly or privately in their My OpenLearn profile and link to other platforms, such as LinkedIn, WordPress, Twitter and Facebook.

Follow OU Free Learning on Twitter @OUfreelearning

Why we do free learning at The OU

What are badged open courses?

OU open courses with Activity Record

OpenLearn (800 courses)

OU open courses with Statements of Participation

OU BOCs with digital badges and Statements of Participation

Link to BOCs open courses


OpenLearn aims to break the barriers to education by reaching millions of learners around the world, providing free educational resources and inviting all to sample courses that OU registered students take – for free. The OU launched OpenLearn in October 2006 thanks to a grant from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. In 2010 OpenLearn merged with, the Open University website that has supported OU BBC broadcasts since 1999. OpenLearn gives access to topical and interactive content, from expert blogs, to videos and games, samples of over 800 of the OU’s courses, plus whole, free courses. This ‘open media’ often links to OU television and radio programmes produced as co-productions with the BBC.

What is Beta?

Beta is a development stage in the software release life cycle. It starts when the software is feature complete but may have performance or navigation issues for users. The content of the BOCs is fully developed and completed. Releasing BOCs in a Beta stage is part of a continuing improvement of the OpenLearn website – how the courses are displayed on screen and how users start quizzes is under continual development. User feedback on their experiences navigating the courses will be collected. Badges collected by learners while the BOCs are in Beta will be valid as achieved.

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The Open University Presents: The Bottom Line

Evan Davies

Evan Davies

The Open Media Unit and Faculty of Business and Law present: The Bottom Line

Thursday 29th January 2015

8.30pm on Radio 4

The Bottom Line returnson Thursday the 29th January, 8.30pm on Radio 4. This episode will be repeated again on Radio 4 on Saturday the 31st January at 5.30pm. This is a new 9-part weekly series presented by Evan Davis.  Evan discusses the big issues with top business leaders from Britain and around the world.

The first programme of the series is titled The Price of Time.How should we price services? By the hour? By results? Or by the difficulty of the task? And what impact does each model have on how businesses are run? In the first of a new series Evan Davis and guests look at the history of how we’ve priced our time and expertise and why this may be about to change.

Guests :
Christopher Saul, senior partner, Slaughter & May
Debbie Klein, UK CEO, The Engine Group
Russell Quirk, Founder, EMoov

Get extra insight on OpenLearn and go beyond the headlines

The eight part series was commissioned by Dr Caroline Ogilvie the Open Media Unit, and is supported by the Faculty of Business and Law, with particular relevance to B120: Introduction to Business Studies, and B201: Business organisations and their environments.


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The Open University Presents: Thinking Allowed

Laurie Taylor

Laurie Taylor

The Open Media Unit and the Faculty of Social Sciences present: Thinking Allowed

Radio 4

4pm, Wednesday 21st January 2015

On Wednesday 21st January 2015, The Open University team up once again with Radio 4’s Thinking Allowed programme.  Laurie Taylor explores the latest research into how society works and discusses current ideas on how we live today.

In the first programme Laurie explores Dissident Irish Republicans  – what accounts for the upsurge in paramilitary violence in recent times?

John Morrison, Senior Lecturer in Criminology at the University of East London, has conducted an extensive study of the many factions which threaten peace today. Does the movement’s history of splits and schisms provide a key to understanding the renewed conflict?  They’re joined by Henry Mcdonald, Belfast correspondent at the Observer.

Ulrich Beck – Angela McRobbie, Professor of Communications at Goldsmiths, London University, gives a tribute to the German sociologist who died this month. What can his analysis of the ‘risk society’ tell us about our contemporary anxieties about global terrorism?

Below is an outline of some of the topics coming up, however please be aware these are subject to change due to the nature of the show being topical, and also live.

28 January

Not Tonight: Migraine, gender and health – how have cultural beliefs about women and pain shaped medical and social attitudes to migraine?

‘Chavs’ and ‘Pramfaces’ – how lower working-class young men and teenage mothers manage social class stigma.

4 February

The Muslim Brotherhood – an in depth study of the organisation and its ideology

Privately educated young women – is the reproduction of class privilege always ensured by an elite education?  A 3 year study involving 91 pupils across 4 independent schools in England.

11 February

Harvard Business School – a journey through its complex, moral world. How does the School’s organisational culture combine a logic of profit with ethical concerns?

Thinking Allowed is broadcast every Wednesday at 4pm, on Radio 4, with a repeat on the following Monday at 12.15am.


OpenLearn has a wealth of information and resources on the topics featured in the series.  For further information on this series, as well as previous ones, go to OpenLearn

This 26-part series was commissioned by Dr Caroline Ogilvie of The Open Media Unit , and is supported by the Faculty of Social Sciences, with particular relevance to BA (Hons) Combined Social Sciences (Q69) and BA (Hons) Politics, Philosophy and Economics (Q45).

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