Ben Wood is a Digital Analytics and Communications Manager in The Open University’s Open Media and Informal Learning Unit.
April is ‘Stress Awareness Month’, and there can’t have been many more stressful periods in recent times than the current coronavirus pandemic.
The combination of people being isolated from their friends and family, concerns over our health and the safety of our loved ones, and the potential impact on finances, for example, all mean that addressing our mental health and stress awareness have never been more important.
In the last few weeks, the free learning site OpenLearn has seen significantly increased visitor numbers to its mental health and stress-related courses, all written by experts from The Open University (OU).
The OpenLearn team has created collections to make it even easier to find relevant content, for example, one collection full of content offering mental health tips and resources, from how to open-up and talk about mental health, to understanding and managing panic attacks.
For stress-related content in particular, we offer articles on helping to identify when stress becomes a mental health problem.
With the increased reliance on technology, which is being multiplied in the current situation, more people than ever are having to get to grips with the digital world. This is stressful enough for many – even more so when an understanding of technology is the only connection to the outside world, which is covered in OpenLearn articles such as ‘Stress and anxiety in the digital age’.
Up to five times more people than usual – that’s literally tens of thousands - are visiting OpenLearn every week, such as to learn how to teach online, for inspiration on keeping the family educated and entertained or, in many cases, for mental health support.
If you can think of a subject to study, there is a good chance that OpenLearn has it – or at least something close to it – from ancient history to digital literacy. It even includes straightforward weather experiments you can do at home with objects in your kitchen!
OpenLearn courses range from one hour to weeks of study. An element of all the OU’s formal modules are made available on OpenLearn, (plus many other bespoke courses), meaning many learners start their journey with OpenLearn before going on to study formally with the OU.
To date, 75 million people have visited the site for a slice of this free learning, but the annual visitor figure is growing year-on-year and, unsurprisingly given the current situation, that total is now growing quicker than ever before.
Don’t worry if you’re not a digital native, using OpenLearn is as simple as technology gets. Enrolling on a course requires just a few clicks, and you work through the content online at your own pace, earning either a free certificate or a digital badge for doing so.
In Scotland, that’s what a huge amount of people have been doing, making more than 230,000 visits to OpenLearn already this year.
There’s also an OpenLearn Scotland hub, where Scottish history, literature, politics, education and the environment are all covered.
The free courses on ‘Understanding Autism’, an ‘Introduction to Child Psychology’, ‘The Science and Nutrition of Healthy Eating’ and ‘Attachment in the Early Years’ are among the most popular at present, highlighting the current increased focus on mental and physical health.
At this time of social isolation, worry and stress, OpenLearn is helping people to feel part of a worldwide learning community, as well as being able to offer practical advice and education on the issues.
Even if you’re not feeling the stress and strain, someone close to you might be. OpenLearn is a great way to become more ‘stress aware’, learning from acclaimed OU academics, for free… and we all need to be more stress aware right now.
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