OpenLearn 3 years on & OLnet

[Additional (25/1/10): Many thanks to Patrick McAndrew for taking the time to comment and clarify some points in my post that I had misinterpreted from the presentation. Please read Patrick’s comment for correction to my piece.]

Thanks to a tip off by @mweller I found out about the Berrill Stadium webcast by the Open University (OU) about OpenLearn 3 Years On. I didn’t manage to see the webcast live, but watched the video afterwards (available from the Berrill Stadium link – click on “Past Events”, then look for Tuesday 19th January 2010 in the list and click on “OpenLearn 3 Years On” – videos are at the bottom of the page). All I can say is Wow.

Here are some of the points I pulled out from Patrick McAndrew’s initial presentation. Patrick is the Associate Director (Learning & Teaching).


  • reached 10 million users by January 2010
  • has a global reach
  • less than 50% of users from UK
  • brings students into UK (~13000 went on to enroll on OU courses)
  • reaches new sectors of students not usually entering HE
  • the fact that it’s free reduces the barrier to participation
  • means the OU can experiment with courses and technologies
  • improves the understanding of the learning process

OpenLearn acted not only as a place to provide open resources, but as a research mechanism to reflect on the experiment and gather evidence to share what advantages OER can bring to the world. The OU worked in partnership with Carnegie Mellon University in the US, who had the Open Learning Initiative, allowing them to research and explore people’s use of open resources.

There has been an expansion of this type of work through the Open Courseware Consortium, of which many universities are members.

From this work, the OU is to act as a hub for OER in the UK, and receive hefce funding.

OLnet is the next phase in this activity (due for public beta Feb 2010), and will be subsuming the resources from OpenLearn. OLnet will be collecting and collating views from the wider community, listening to others, testing ideas including designing materials and other tools for learning, and gathering data through interviews and generally talking to people. This will generate evidence about OER for sharing with the community. It is hoped that findings about participatory learning and how people learn from key resources will lead to a greater understanding of potential future learning.

What has come out of OpenLearn is that quality content attracts people and enables a community to develop around a topic. And a proportion of people want to learn with people like themselves as a social activity, where they can collaborate, share expertise and spread control.

The OU has developed a useful structure where open research runs in conjunction with open learning.

Laura Dewis, the Managing Editor for OpenLearn, explained a little more about OLnet and how open resources can bring people closer to the OU. There are to be more regular updates of content, so that people interested in items making the news can develop a greater contextual understanding.

There are three levels of use for the open resources site;

  • Explore – play & browse,
  • Try – a bit more depth,
  • Study – no degree or tutorial support.

There will also be easy links to registration for formal learning courses.

I find it very interesting what the Open University is doing here. I’m also interested by the linkage between informal and formal learning processes, and this desire for at least a big enough proportion of informal learners to want to enroll and study a formal course. But it also emphasizes this latent desire for knowledge from quality OER, and that is the area where I’d like to be involved, as shown from my recent post that considered the use of a VLE for Open Education.


2 thoughts on “OpenLearn 3 years on & OLnet

  1. Thank you very much for taking the time to view the OpenLearn 3 years on webcast and make the summary. Just a slight fix needed – your bit about OLnet is a good precis of the project but the launch that Laura was talking about is a new push on OpenLearn. OpenLearn is now the OU’s route for engaging with the world using free content – bringing in other outward facing material it releases such as support for BBC programmes, research videos via YouTube, iTunesU etc. together with the OER release of course material. OLnet on the other hand is a research programme in partnership with CMU and supported by the Hewlett Foundation hosted at The HEFCE funded part which you skipped over is SCORE – The Support Centre for Open Resouces for Education.

    Hmm – have I made it any clearer? Not sure – it does sometimes confuse me as well! Thanks again for the summary and your other interesting posts.


    • Patrick,

      Many thanks for clarifying the points I’d misinterpreted – very much appreciated, as is the presentation and the work your all doing at the OU into OER.

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