1 What is open learning and why OERs?
Names quickly become loaded: distance learning, supported self-study, computer-based training/computer-aided instruction, home study and flexistudy, to name but a few, have all been used to describe self-instruction or self-study and many of these terms are thought wanting. The UK Open University is sometimes described as a ‘distance learning institution’, yet the support that students receive from their tutor through telephone, email and face-to-face tutorials, and through correspondence tuition by commenting extensively on assignments is often greater than a student receives at a ‘conventional’ bricks-and-mortar university. The Open University prefers to use the term ‘supported open learning’, and you can find out more about its approach at. Furthermore, the use of the word ‘instruction’, rather than ‘study’ or ‘learning’, implies training over education and a narrower focus.
Similarly, ‘open educational resources’ (OERs) as a term is often used interchangeably with – but can be distinguished from – ‘open content’ and OpenCourseWare.
Briefly, according to the OpenCourseWare Consortium, a collaboration of more than 100 higher education institutions:
An OpenCourseWare is a free and open digital publication of high quality educational materials, organised as courses.
In 2001, MIT was the first university to work on putting many of the teacher-defined support materials from its undergraduate and graduate courses online, in MIT OpenCourseWare.
The term ‘open educational resources’ was coined by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in 2002 (Caswell et al., 2008) and it embraces OpenCourseWare but would also include any educational materials, technologies and resources offered freely and openly for anyone to use and under some licences to remix, improve and redistribute. OpenLearn is an example of a collection of OERs. The term ‘open content’ was first used by David Wiley, an academic now working at Utah State University and a key figure in OERs (read his open content blog Iterating Toward Openness), and the term tends to refer to all types of materials (music, video, text and so on) that are available for use under an open, ‘some rights reserved’ copyright licence that enables people to use, adapt and share the materials. So open content may not necessarily have an educational purpose. There are a number of different types of open licence and so the content may be ‘open’ but not necessarily free to use as one would like. A good review of open licences can be found on the Commonwealth of Learning website – see ‘Open licenses’ – and this is discussed in more detail later.
Rather than spend more time looking at differences in terminology, we will now look at some examples of OERs to investigate their purpose and structure. Specifically, we will consider some different examples from this OpenLearn site. Even though a course is not a whole course, these OERs use different elements such as text, pictures and audio-visual elements that are together known as ‘assets’.
Have a detailed look at the following OpenLearn courses.
For each one, consider and write brief notes about:
- the intended learning outcomes
- the activities that learners are asked to do
- the range of media that are employed
- the teaching sequence.
As you look through these courses you will have seen a range of activities that learners are asked to engage with. Some, such as Play, learning and the brain, use Flash to animate diagrams and to set up quizzes. Maths everywhere uses video to exemplify mathematics being used in an everyday setting and has audio clips too to talk the learner through some pictures of ‘mathematical musings’.
It is clear that assumptions have been made about the intended learner. For example, Play, learning and the brain was written for a teacher or helper working in something like a nursery or similar education setting, so it has a professional focus. Maths everywhere is from an introductory course for those adults who may feel have felt in the past that mathematics is not for them.
Has your institution been involved in any OER projects? What lessons can you draw on from other projects to inform colleagues and further promote your use of OER? How might you collaborate with other institutions to create and use OER?
You can complete this activity in a downloadable reflection tool, which also includes reflective questions for other topics in this course.
Section 1 resources
‘What does “open” mean in OER?’:
Transcript: What is the meaning of open in OER
‘Implications of OER for mediating teaching and learning opportunities – what are you trying to present?’:
Transcript: The implications of OER for mediating teaching
‘OERs are what people make of them’:
Transcript: OER are what people make them
‘What OER can do for individuals, teachers, institutions and governments’:
Transcript: OER and the four major groups of people
‘When might it be better to collaborate or compete in HE learning?’:
Transcript: When is it better to collaborate? When is it better to compete?
[LAUGHTER AND INTERPOSING VOICES]
‘OER business models, and their sustainability and viability’: