I’ve been reading with interest the comments from colleagues about OpenLearn . Seb Schmoller in his piece argues about the type and volume of content and appropriateness of platform. Martin Weller gives a good defence of it from a content providers viewpoint and demonstrates how Tony Hirst and others have been using it. I’m not going into the content arena to argue the case for the defence but instead I’d like to give my thoughts on the project from my personal perspective as I (along with Martin) was involved in the early stages of the project and I created the first functional specification for the system.

So where do I begin…The OpenLearn project is full of intelligent people who have worked very hard to make it happen.

OpenLearn has been successful in achieving it’s funding objectives and making large amounts of learning material available to the public. So why do I feel slightly disappointed by it? I think because it has a missed opportunity. I created an extremely ambitious (but not unrealistic given the funding) functional specification that would have been difficult but not impossible to deliver. I suggested a range of learner centred resources, sense making tools and other neat widgets and things to help navigate through resources and use these effectively. I suggested many other things that have been successfully implemented in OpenLearn but they missed out the sensemaking layer in my opinion. I feel that the project wholly delivered on meeting the funding body objectives but has not delivered on bringing any added value (aside from publicity and a bit of ‘bonhomie’ to the OU) back to the OU or indeed to those that use the resources…perhaps what has been delivered is enough?…the contraints of building to scale and ensuring quality have in some senses restricted the platform and choice of tools to provide.

I strongly believe though that there is an opportunity that has not yet been realised to make something more substantial and to get people to contribute back and make it a true repository (as opposed to a depository) for course chunks (not necessarily the OU’s). To make it a ‘repository’ we need to allow people to build designs using the learning chunks and resubmit them easily back. I think there’s a case for building a Learning Design tool to do exactly that and I was discussing this with Grainne today (the LD bit was her suggestion by the way)…but even more important, go back to the basics of what is ‘best of breed’ in the world of sharing content. I did this with the specification and I think it needs to be revisited because the specification was to build something that would be a paradim shift for the university. I don’t see that in what has been delivered. What I do see though is something that works because it has provided learning materials which over 1.4 million people have downloaded. That’s part 1 complete, box ticked, now lets get part 2 done.


About willwoods
I'm Head of Learning and Teaching Technologies in the Institute of Educational Technology at the Open University.

2 Responses to OpenLearn:Discuss

  1. Tony Hirst says:

    “I suggested ….”
    “I suggested…”
    “I strongly believe though that there is an opportunity that has not yet been realised ….”
    “To make it a ‘repository’ we need to allow people to build designs using the learning chunks and resubmit them easily back. ….”

    So make a tool; provide a demo; take some openlearn content and put it in an environment that does have sensemaking tools (whatever ‘sensemaking tools’ are?;-)

    If we assume that no-one out there is being paid to work with openlearn, and no-one out there is being paid to ‘learn with openlearn’ I guess we should assume that they’re doing it in their own time? Are we, at the OU… ?

    PS 21.15 time to say goodnight to daughter of mine then maybe put an hour or so into OpenLearn tinkering, maybe….? 😉

  2. willwoods says:

    Hi Tony,
    Yes we are doing that (as are you I see). That’s the part 2 I was refering to. We’re working on a nice LD design sharing tool for example. I think the core system could do with more work though and that needs internal funding and LTS commitment.

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