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Open Learning Network (OLnet)

Project website

What research questions the project addresses, aims & themes

OLnet is an international research hub for aggregating, sharing, debating and improving Open Educational Resources (OER). The aim of OLnet is to gather evidence and methods about how we can research and understand ways to learn in a more open world, particularly linked to OER, but also looking at other influences. We want to gather evidence together, but also spot the ideas that people see emerging from the opportunities.

The driving research question behind OLnet pinpoints what we see as the next evolutionary step in the OER movement, namely:

  • How can we build a robust evidence base to support and enhance the design, evaluation and use of OER?

This high level question is refined into three sub-issues:

  1. How can we improve the process of OER reuse/design, delivery, evaluation and data analysis?
  2. How can we make the associated design processes and products more easily shared?
  3. How can we build a socio-technical infrastructure to serve as a collective evolving intelligence for the community?

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

OLnet addressed its research questions in three ways:

  1. targeted research: establishing eight research strands covering areas such as learning design, participatory learning, and reuse.
  2. Fellowships: leading to over thirty visiting fellows drawing in expertise in a range of approaches to learning with technology and also those who were facing particular challenges that open resources might address
  3. Infrastructure: supporting the sharing of experiences and collecting inputs through contacts and online, resulting in establishing an OER Evidence Hub

The gathering of evidence uses a collective intelligence approach to identify the big questions. Going beyond the universally available technologies for mass collaboration such as wikis, forums and blogs, the network will analyse community contributions to gain insights from debate and move idea generation towards innovative practice. Research focussed on the most urgent educational needs across the globe - from how OER are most effectively used in developing countries to working out how anyone can gain qualifications from free access to university course content online

Findings and outputs

The project has produced more than 70 related publications and presentations and also supports an online evidence hub: available at Findings and outputs include:

  • Identifying key challenges in open education
  • Devising models for how participation takes place in social sites
  • Identifying roles for learning design and patterns in open education
  • Reporting on infrastructure and ways to use open education in Africa

Project impact

OLnet has helped to establish a research agenda and approach for open education. OLnet has set up a structure of shared inquiry into the role of open educational resources and established through its fellowships expertise and reporting of the results of research. OLnet's outputs and methods have been used to help shape the agenda for OER by funders and institutions.

Publications (and ORO feed)



Open educational resources

People involved

Project co-directors: Patrick McAndrew, The Open University and Candace Thille, Carnegie Mellon University

OLnet team OU : Simon Buckingham Shum, Grainne Conole, Eileen Scanlon, Freda Wolfenden, Andreia Santos, Tina Wilson, Nick Freear, Doug Clow, Canan Blake, Ann Jones, Michelle Bachler, Anna de Liddo, Elpida Makriyannis, Giota Alevizou, Karen Cropper, Liam Green-Hughes, Kasia Kozinska, Janet Dyson, Natalie Eggleston, Patrina Law, Gary Elliott-Cirigottis, Rob Farrow, Chris Pegler, Pauline Ngimwa.

Olnet team CMU : Candace Thille, Joel Smith, Renee Fisher, John Rinderle, Jim Greeno, Marlene Scardemalia, Norman Bier, Bill Jerome.

Olnet Fellows: Yannis Dimitriadis (Spain), Yimin Jia (China), Sheila MacNeil (UK), Elsebeth Sorensen (Denmark). Engin Kursun (Turkey), Agnes Sandor (France), Cathy Casserly (US), Jenny Preece (US), Chuck Severance (US), Scott Leslie (Canada), Svetlana Knyazeva (Russia), Murilo Matos Medonca (Brazil), Doris Kaije (TESSA/Uganda), Fred Keraro (TESSA/Kenya), Priti Auckloo (TESSA/Mauritius), Juliana Bbuye (TESSA/Uganda), Anuradha Gungadeen (TESSA/Mauritius), Dele Yaya (TESSA/Nigeria), Helen Jelfs (UK), Susan D'Antoni (Canada), Marcelo Maina (Spain), Robyn Muldoon (Australia), Susan Wills (Australia), David Wiley (US), George Siemens (Canada), Sandyha Gunness (Mauritius)

Project partners and links

The Open University

Carnegie Mellon University


William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

Start Date and duration

March 2009 - August 2012

Research & Innovation