OpenLearn is the Open University’ (OU) educational resources (OER) website, which offers free access to a wide variety of educational content and learning materials. Initially inspired by MIT’s OpenCourseWare, the OU now provides over 900 learning hours of materials covering a range of different topics – from science and IT, through to the arts and languages.

Apparently this was launched in 2006, but the first I heard of it was when a leaflet arrived at my workplace this morning advertising this as a resource (very remiss of me!). Thank crunchy for good old-fashioned advertising though, because this really is a resource worth investigating!

I’ve not had chance to try any of the course materials yet [I dare say I’ll post something once I’ve given it a test-drive], but the fundamentals as I see them are as follows:

  • Anyone can use the resources and study materials provided – just turn up to the website, register, then get cracking
  • Once inside you are presented with what is effectively a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) that offers you a number of different options. You can browse through courses on offer by following topic links (e.g. “Technology” or “Study Skills”), or by more specific terminology in the form of a tag cloud.  Additional support modules include forums where you can discuss ideas with other participants, video conferencing software and instant messaging (allowing contact with learners from around the globe).
  • There’s also a “learning journal” module, allowing you to make notes on courses.  These can either be made private, opened up to other participants, or made public to anyone who visits the site.  Effectively they are learning logs or blogs, and so come with similar benefits such as tagging and RSS, and thus you can track the public posts of other people and make use of their observations.

This all falls within a module called LearningSpace.  Interestingly though, there is also an additional module called LabSpace, which contains all the resources from the LearningSpace, along with additional material from obsolete OU courses.  The LabSpace section aims to encourage learners and, more specifically, educators, to manipulate and reuse course material (the online resources fall under a creative commons license), as well as to create and upload new learning material to share with other practitioners.  So, when combined with courses on education and pedagogical practice within the LearningSpace section, this makes this a very appealing resource for both learners and educators.

For anyone involved in teaching or instruction within the workplace this could well prove to be both a useful (and very cheap!) source of CPD activities, whilst also providing interaction with/support from other educators, and inspiration for new teaching methods/resources.

On first impressions, this is definitely worth further investigation.  More from me on this later.  For more information on OpenLearn check out the details of their story so far.

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