OpenLearn – Open Educational Resources from the Open University

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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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The end is nigh… five years until the demise of the printed word?

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Information World Review reports that Bill Gates is effectively predicting the end of printed media in the next 5 years, suggesting that reading on-line is superior as “It’s up to date, you can navigate you can follow links”.

The death of the printed word has been predicted for years now, but funnily enough I still don’t have any difficulty getting hold of a book, newspaper or magazine from my local library, bookshop or newsagent.

He certainly has a point when he notes the decline of newspaper circulation. There can be no doubt that Internet news sources (and the existence of 24/7 TV and radio news stations) have the edge when it comes to current affairs. Newspapers simply can’t be as effective at keeping up with the global news agenda – it’s just not practical.

Similarly, more and more students are taking advantage of online journals to supplement their learning. An increasing emphasis on blended learning styles within higher education combined with the growing popularity of distance learning will inevitably read to the growth in the electronic resource market in comparison with printed journals and monographs. This is particularly true in the sciences where fast-moving research can lead to articles being obsolete almost as soon as they have been published. In such cases the immediacy of an electronic resource comes into its own.

However in my opinion, the suggestion that books will one day be a thing of the past is taking things a step too far. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no Luddite! Electronic resources are great, particularly when it comes to current awareness issues, and I’m usually the first to laud the use of new technologies for such means. Let’s face it, I wouldn’t be reading the blogs of so many forward-thinking members of the library profession if I were anti-technology. Likewise, I wouldn’t be focusing as much attention as I do on developing Internet-based remote services for my library users if I were of that mindset. But is the end of the book really conceivable? I would suggest not.

Reading a short article on your laptop is one thing, but personally I don’t see the appeal in settling down on my sofa with a coffee and my PDA to enjoy the next chapter of War and Peace! My eyes are dropping out of my head at the end of a long day staring at my computer at work. Continuing the theme when I get home isn’t exactly my idea of unwinding, and I doubt I’m the only one who thinks this way. Admittedly, I’m not what you would term a “digital native” and I’ve had to work hard to become comfortable using new technologies. Those growing up with the Internet may well be less comfortable reading printed documents in the future, and the decline in printing may continue. Nevertheless, more than five centuries of tradition, experience and heritage will not disappear overnight. There will always be a demand for it, be it for scholarly purposes or just nostalgia.

So Bill, if you’re reading this *hysterical laughter*, you’re evidently a very clever chap and an astute business man, but realism isn’t your strong point is it?! Online information is great and I wouldn’t be without it, but the book is here to stay. I’ve held books (manuscripts in this case) that are 11 centures old – I’ve seen the craft that went to making them and the care that is now taken to preserve them. They will outlive both you and I, and so will the concept of the book-as-object.

Oh, and they don’t suffer from power cuts or flat batteries do they?! 😉