Susan Stewart is the Director of The Open University in Scotland.
The OU in Scotland Director Susan Stewart explains how open educational resources (OERs) are helping develop entrepreneurship in individuals and organisations across Scotland, but particularly those in rural areas.
Universities have an obligation to share their knowledge, not just with their students, but with everyone that might be interested and could benefit from new learning.
At The Open University, the most obvious way we try to make learning accessible is by not requiring qualifications through our unique open entry policy. Perhaps less well known is the way we use open educational resources, or OERs.
There’s no single definition of what constitutes an OER, but broadly speaking it’s a piece of teaching or learning material that’s freely available online for anyone to use.
We use OERs to help deliver our social mission to make learning accessible to everyone, regardless of their background, previous education, or – crucially – geography.
Because they’re freely available online, OERs can be used by anyone with an internet connection in any part of Scotland (or anywhere else in the world).
So when it comes to promoting awareness and understanding of entrepreneurship – when it comes to Making It Happen – we have a much wider potential audience than just our students.
OpenLearn, our free learning platform, received more than quarter of a million unique visitors from Scotland in the academic year 2017/18.
A quarter of a million Scots interested or participating in learning through OERs – that’s almost five percent of the population.
OpenLearn has thousands and thousands of hours of free learning across just about every subject you can think of, including business, finance, strategy, human resources, leadership, marketing, organisational development and more.
It also has several courses specifically on entrepreneurship and innovation, of different lengths and at different levels, so there really is something for everyone.
More than 2,500 Scottish learners have participated in our entrepreneurship OpenLearn courses in the last two academic years, with most of those focused on Rural entrepreneurship in Scotland, a specific, tailored attempt to help learners to understand entrepreneurship and business start-up in the context of rural Scotland.
But we don’t just push OERs out there and hope they’ll swim rather than sink. Our network of Open Learning Champions – individuals we’ve trained so they can help others to productively engage with OpenLearn specifically and OERs generally – now includes more than two hundred people, most of them in the voluntary sector, but also members of community groups and trade unions.
We’ve actively engaged with partners, including Scotland’s National Parks and the Scottish Crofting Federation, to help them promote and use Rural entrepreneurship in Scotland in their own work and with those with whom they work and support.
The Scottish Crofting Federation, having identified entrepreneurship and business start-up as an interest of many aspiring and existing crofters, has included the course within its own materials.
This kind of outreach work, along with smart use of data analytics, has allowed us to understand what content is most useful to rural entrepreneurial learners, leading to the adaptation of some content and the addition of more – making the course more relevant to learners and enabling the development of the skills they identify, whether directly or indirectly, themselves.
OERs are not a new idea, but in a context in which we hope to reach more and more Scots with entrepreneurial thinking, opportunities and skills, they are a crucial part of the picture. They work at a scale which face to face or classroom learning, with the best will in the world, simply cannot.
For the small business owner or entrepreneur just starting up, they make learning and skills acquisition accessible alongside the hard work of the day job, minimising time away from the workplace.
And when they’re combined with carefully-interrogated data and good solid partnership working, we can be sure that they’re meeting the needs of entrepreneurs and potential entrepreneurs all over Scotland.
This blog was originally published by Universities Scotland as part of a series to co-incide with Global Entrepreneurship Week, highlighting how Scottish universities are embedding entrepreneurship and enterprise in students and staff and contributing to make Scotland an entrepreneurial nation.
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