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OpenLearn's response to the pandemic

Updated Tuesday, 13th July 2021
OpenLearn's response to COVID-19.

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During the Coronavirus pandemic, OpenLearn built on The Open University’s (OU) pioneering experience in distance learning to give 18 million people access to vital educational resources to help develop new skills since the UK’s first lockdown in March 2020. At the start of the first lockdown, daily visitors to OpenLearn increased overnight from 40,000 to over 200,000 and the team acted quickly to put essential learning resources in the hands of those who needed them most, collaborating with academics, governments, employers and unions.  In 2020, 51% of learners said that the Covid-19 pandemic influenced their decision to study on OpenLearn: you can see in the following graphic the reasons listed by learners as well as number of leaners.

Survey results for 'How did events relating to Covid-19 influence your decision to study on OpenLearn?'

Image of OpenLearn stats during the pandemicOpenLearn’s response to the pandemic embodies the OU’s mission to be open to people, places, methods and ideas, and responds to its vision to reach students with life-changing learning which meets their needs and enriches society.  Of those who visited OpenLearn due to Covid-19, 12.8% declared a disability, 22.1% have caring responsibilities and 37.6% had an annual household income under £20,000.  During one of the most unprecedented and challenging periods of recent human history, OpenLearn’s inclusive, innovative and responsive work has positively impacted millions of people: 73.9% said using OpenLearn had improved confidence in their ability to study and 45.3% thought it had improved their employability.

Career knowledge and skills

In 2020 OpenLearn was a flagship partner for the UK Department for Education’s new The Skills Toolkit, offering quality free online training to workers furloughed during the pandemic. OpenLearn’s content on the platform has continued to grow, and its courses now make up 20% of the Toolkit’s total educational material.  Similar schemes were also very successful in the UK Nations:  My World of Work in Scotland; Working Wales in Wales; and NIDirect in Northern Ireland.  Over 206,000 have accessed OpenLearn via these schemes.

I have lost my job as a result of the pandemic and therefore can't afford to pay for another course at this present moment. The free course has helped me improve my knowledge, it has enhanced my employability skills and given me greater insight. I have talked about the course in an interview.

UK learner, upskilling for career development, unwaged and seeking employment


Developed in partnership with the UK Department for Work and Pensions, the Open Door to Success (ODS) collection on OpenLearn supports Jobcentre Plus (JCP) clients and Universal Credit claimants enhance their digital and employability skills, build confidence and support their career aspirations during a period of immense economic uncertainty.  Volunteers from OpenLearn and the OU have delivered more than 50 training workshops to help 1,800 front-line JCP Work Coaches and clients in the 750 JCP offices across the UK adapt to online learning and get the most from ODS courses.  As a result, OpenLearn is now also supporting the UK Kickstart Scheme with content for candidates and employers.

Health and social care workers

As the Coronavirus pandemic took hold, NHS and local authority leaders through the UK called on hundreds of thousands of former health and social care workers to return to front-line roles.  OpenLearn responded by collaborating with retired and active health and social care practitioners across The Open University to build and publish its first nursing and healthcare, and social work and social care, training hubs of practitioner-led practical guidance for returning health and social care workers.  More than 12,000 people have completed the platform’s courses to refresh their clinical capabilities and skills such as career resilience, emotional intelligence and effective communications.

I'm a carer for an autistic 25 year old recently diagnosed. I wanted to help understand her and help her understand herself too. You may have saved her life. …I feel empowered to support people more confidently through my work. Before Covid I didn't have the time to do a course this in depth … this course is amazing and I get brownie points at the end with a digital badge.

UK worker, with caring responsibilities, disabled and not able to work

Students, parents and teachers 

Learners of all ages have been supported by OpenLearn in 2019-20, from secondary school pupils to undergraduates, those on furlough to those brushing up on skills or hobbies. OpenLearn moved particularly quickly to provide content for home learning in February 2020, aimed at secondary school students and parents of younger pupils, ensuring that support was already available by the time that schools closed.

OpenLearn went on to partner with UniFrog, an online platform used by 800,000 students from more than 2,500 schools and colleges, to directly access OpenLearn’s courses and learning resources.  This aims to level the playing field for school and college students by bringing together the best available information and development opportunities in one place. 

As a result of the success of OpenLearn’s home learning offerings, the team worked with academic colleagues to specifically curate content for learners under 18 for the first time, with a series of subject specific learning hubs.

OpenLearn drew on the OU's significant learning at scale expertise to help teachers pivot from classroom to online learning.  How can you take your teaching online?, including the popular course Take your teaching online as well as other courses, interactives, academic insights and animations on a range of subjects, was the most popular OpenLearn Covid-specific hub, supporting more than 17,000 people.  OpenLearn collaborated with the UK National Education Union to give trainee and experienced teachers, lecturers, support staff and education leaders through the UK access to crucial fee resources on problem-solving, education and development, IT skills, and wellbeing.

OpenLearn has given me varied ways of supporting my students in times of a crisis and how to build my capacity in the use of internet materials for teaching students.

African worker (Gabon), employed in the education sector

OpenLearn: resilience during the pandemic 

The huge rise in uptake for free and open learning and digital skills recognition seen on OpenLearn in the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic (2020-21) has provided a fresh view of commissioning to support students and non-formal learners’ personal and professional development goals. It is no mean feat that we are able to proudly publish the statistics that accompany these wide ranging commissions and have done so by listening to our learners around the world, and by responding to the requests of government departments and charities. The team that produced -- and continues to produce -- learning to support our audience internationally have shown resilience and exemplary dedication to their roles. A selection of some of the content produced during the pandemic is given below.




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