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Open Content (OpenLearn)

Project website

open.edu/openlearn

What research questions the project addresses, aims & themes

OpenLearn is the Open University's access point for its open and free online resources. Funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation in 2006 it started as a two-year experiment to understand how we can operate in a more open manner and what benefits it brings for learners, educators and The Open University. Since then OpenLearn has become an integrated part of The Open University attracting more than 5 million unique visitors each year. For more information on OpenLearn, the OU’s free learning mission and open media operating policy, please see http://www.open.ac.uk/about/open-educational-resources/

During 2006, the Research and Evaluation team was based at The Institute of Educational Technology and had two main aims:

  • Enhancing knowledge and understanding of open content delivery, how it can be effective, and the contribution it can make to the further development of e-learning.
  • Enhancing understanding of sustainable and scalable models of open content delivery.

How the research questions are addressed by the project (methodology and activity/environment)

The methods applied to learn about the effects on the institution were based on an action research model where all involved in the initiative were part of the research effort and the overall experiment that was being carried out in developing OpenLearn. This included academic, technology and production teams who wrote position papers, took part in interviews and provided reflective feedback. The impact on educators included building up collaborations facilitated by open approaches, targeted interviews considering attitudes and opportunities, and case studies working with key users. Finding out about the way in which learners used the site was a challenge. Researching open content means that there are too many users and too many different routes to and through the content to gain a complete set of data. Rather a variety of methods are applied to gain an understanding of activity at different levels of detail: analytics to gain the overall picture, surveys to bring out attitudes and experiences, and interview based case studies to establish persona and illustrate examples of real use.

Findings and outputs

The project produced outputs across production methods, copyright requirements, attitudes to openness, methods for collaboration, organisational change and research methods. These were reported through papers and presentations as the initiative progressed. The key findings were collected into a research report:

McAndrew, P., Santos, A., Lane, A., Godwin, S., Okada, A., Wilson, T., Connolly, T., Ferreira, G., Buckingham Shum, S., Bretts, J. & Webb, R. (2009).OpenLearn Research Report 2006-2008. The Open University, Milton Keynes, England. http://oro.open.ac.uk/17513/

Project impact

OpenLearn is now established as one of the leading OER sites in Europe and provides over 900 free and open courses embedded in a learning environment with content also available to edit and reuse. The research met both of its aims:

To understand the role of open content in learning:

  • identifying different motivations and behaviour in learners (volunteer students and social learner)
  • describing a new model for collaboration based on open sharing of content that does not require formal links
  • applying activity theory to bring out potential tension points and contradictions in changing to a more open way of working
  • considering the role and introduction for social tools (open forums, live connections, video conferencing and shared knowledge mapping)
  • drawing out patterns of use through analytics applied to the learning process

Sustainability through identifying 8 institutional benefits of open content:

  • Enhancing reputation as an innovator and provider
  • Extending reach beyond normal geographical boundaries
  • Widening participation by providing free content to work with other initiatives
  • Experimenting with course structure and content outside of formal restrictions
  • Accelerating technology adoption and trials
  • Offering a catalyst for collaboration by sharing key content and encouraging open licensing
  • Building a research base that has been applied across many other projects
  • Attracting students and resulting in several thousand registrations likely to be drawn to The Open University by OpenLearn

Publications

Research into OpenLearn, its informal learners and the impact it has on formal learners, is ongoing.

Lane, Andrew and McAndrew, Patrick (2010). Are open educational resources systematic or systemic change agents for teaching practice? British Journal of Educational Technology, 41(6), pp. 952-962. http://oro.open.ac.uk/238808

Law, Patrina and Perryman, Leigh-Anne (2014). Internal responses to informal learning data: testing a rapid commissioning approach. In: 8th EDEN Research Workshop: Challenges for Research into Open & Distance Learning: Doing Things Better-Doing Better Things, 27-28 October 2014, Oxford, UK.

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, Patrina ; Perryman, Leigh-Anne and Law, Andrew (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, Leigh-Anne ; Law, Patrina and Law, Andrew (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, France.

Law, Patrina ; Perryman, Leigh-Anne and Law, Andrew (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, France.

Law, Patrina ; McAndrew, Patrick ; Law, Andrew ; Warner, Kathy; Runyon, Jean; Lascu, David; Arundel, Anne and Muramatsu, Brandon (2012). A bridge to success. In: Cambridge 2012: Innovation and Impact – Openly Collaborating to Enhance Education, a joint meeting of OER12 and OpenCourseWare Consortium Global 2012, 16-18 April 2012, Cambridge, UK.

McAndrew, Patrick ; Farrow, Robert ; Law, Patrina and Elliott-Cirigottis, Gary (2012). Learning the Lessons of Openness. In: Cambridge 2012: Innovation and Impact – Openly Collaborating to Enhance Education, a joint meeting of OER12 and OpenCourseWare Consortium Global 2012, 16-18 April 2012, Cambridge, UK .

McAndrew, P., Santos, A., Lane, A., Godwin, S., Okada, A., Wilson, T., Connolly, T., Ferreira, G., Buckingham Shum, S., Bretts, J. & Webb, R. (2009). OpenLearn Research Report 2006-2008. The Open University, Milton Keynes, England. http://oro.open.ac.uk/17513/

McAndrew, P., Godwin, S.J. & Santos, A.I. (2009) Research 2.0: How Do We Know about the Users that Do Not Tell Us Anything? In Researching Mobile Learning: Frameworks, Tools And Research Designs Vavoula, G., Pachler, N. & Kukulska-Hulme, A.K. (eds). Peter Lang: Oxford. pp 277-288. http://oro.open.ac.uk/23854

McAndrew, P. (2006) Motivations for OpenLearn: the Open University's Open Content Initiative, commissioned report for OECD, http://kn.open.ac.uk/public/document.cfm?docid=8816

Keywords

Open educational resources

People involved

Research and evaluation director: Patrick McAndrew

Research team: Andreia Santos, Steve Godwin, Jo Watts

Funder(s)

William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

Start Date and duration

May 2006 - September 2008

Research & Innovation