Author: Laura Dewis

Frequently asked questions on OpenLearn

Updated Thursday, 22nd October 2015
Do you have a question that you'd like to ask the OpenLearn team? The chances are that we may have already answered! Check out the frequently asked questions below.

This page was published over 6 years ago. Please be aware that due to the passage of time, the information provided on this page may be out of date or otherwise inaccurate, and any views or opinions expressed may no longer be relevant. Some technical elements such as audio-visual and interactive media may no longer work. For more detail, see our Archive and Deletion Policy.

Using OpenLearn for the first time

What is OpenLearn?

OpenLearn gives you free access to learning materials from The Open University.

It has content which stretches back to 1999, when The Open University created, providing free online learning to support broadcast collaborations with the BBC.

We launched the LearningSpace back in October 2006 thanks to a grant from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Our shared vision was free online education, open to anyone, anywhere in the world. OpenLearn is the result and we have since reached over 40 million people.

In the first two years, the LearningSpace grew to include over 8000 study hours of learning materials from Open University courses. The website continues to grow with new course materials being published regularly in our OpenLearn free course section.

LearningSpace merged with in 2010 to create the new OpenLearn - providing a single home for all the OU's free learning activity.

Combined, OpenLearn gives access to topical and interactive content, from expert blogs, to videos and games. This 'open media' often links to our BBC television and radio programmes. As if that isn’t enough, you can also find Open University channels on YouTube and iTunesU and you can follow us on Twitter (@OUFreeLearing and @OpenUniversity).

Why should I create an account?

You will get the most from OpenLearn if you create an account (this is free). Creating an account will give you full access to a range of features that are not available to guests, such as commenting on articles and enrolling on free courses. From your MyOpenLearn profile you will be able to track your progress and download an activity record. You can easily unenrol from these activities at any time. You do not need to register if you just want to read content without participating in activities. You can read about how we handle your personal data in our Privacy statement.

What is MyOpenLearn and how do I update my profile?

MyOpenLearn is your user profile. It contains the information about yourself that you have provided on OpenLearn as well as any recommendations of what you may also like, the free courses you have enrolled on and your personal tag cloud. From here you'll also be able to track your progress and access activity records. As we roll out badged courses, you will be able to see your badges here, too. To amend your profile, click on your name, which is displayed near the top of each page. You can control what information you share with other people - allowing you to choose if you want to learn in public, or private, or a mixture of both.

Can I get any qualifications through OpenLearn?

It's not possible to gain any qualifications through OpenLearn. You will need to register for an Open University course if you want to become a student and have the support of a tutor, sit examinations and gain qualifications. For more information visit the Study at the OU section of The Open University’s website to view the online prospectus.

How does using OpenLearn differ from studying with The Open University?

OpenLearn is the home of free learning from The Open University. It does not require you to become an OU student and does not award credits or grant degrees. It does not provide access to the services provided for registered students of the University. If you are interested in studying with the University please visit the Study at the OU section of The Open University’s website.

I'm interested in enrolling on a free course. What does level mean?

Much of the content on OpenLearn will be accessible to anyone with a general interest in a subject. Each free course is set at a particular level to indicate the amount of previous educational experience expected for you to be able to study the unit without too much difficulty, and within the stated hours of study. There are four levels - introductory, intermediate, advanced and masters - indicated in the summary description of each free course. If you are new to higher education we recommend that you start with free courses at introductory level.

Can I speak to a tutor?

OpenLearn does not provide you with a tutor. Instead you can connect with other learners. Every page has a Comments section. Once logged in, you can use the Comments to share your ideas, views and questions with others.

What are tags and tag clouds?

Tags are words or terms that we have assigned to all OpenLearn content. Tags act as links enabling users to classify, search and find content based on keywords that are meaningful to them.

Sets of tags are combined in to tag clouds, allowing you to see the most popular keywords associated with content from a particular subject. Each subject, for example 'Languages', will have its own dedicated tag cloud. You will be able to find all OpenLearn resources tagged with a particular keyword such as 'French' by clicking on that keyword in the tag cloud.

And if you have registered for a free account, you will also have access to your own personal tag cloud which enables you to collect tags for content that you are interested in. You can access this tool from your MyOpenLearn feature on the right-hand side of any page.

How can I make use of alternative formats?

OpenLearn offers alternative version of our course material. On course pages, you will find the links to access these materials behind the alternative format tab towards the bottom of the page. For ease of use, there is a prominent link to download an epub which can be found beneath the left-hand navigation on course pages.

To view these you will need appropriate software on your device, or experience of working with the format.

  • ePub - this will work on tablets and devices which have eReaders built-in; if you are using a desktop machine you may need to find an ePub reader. A list of these can be found at the tucows website
  • Kindle - Requires an Amazon Kindle, or software. For tablets, you should be able to download free versions from your app store; desktop users can use a web-based version
  • Word - This will open in most word processing software, including Microsoft Office and Google Docs. Microsoft offers a number of free Word readers via its website.
  • PDF - Most devices and desktop machines will come with a PDF reader bundled in the operating system. Adobe offer a range of up-to-date free downloads.

We also provide a range of formats which allow the course to be easily shared through some other Learning Management Systems. We cannot provide support for these formats, and they are made available on an as-is basis. If you would like to discuss a supported service to use these formats, please contact The Open University. These formats are as listed below:

  • RSS
  • OUXML Package
  • OUXML File
  • IMS Common cartridge
  • HTML

OpenLearn courses and badges

What are free OpenLearn Courses?

There are around 1000 courses on OpenLearn, all of which are free to study. Many are based on Open University course materials while others are written specifically for OpenLearn. These courses are a key part of The Open University’s mission ‘to promote the educational well-being of the community’ and are written to cover some of the basic topics taught across our curriculum, as well as exploring subjects in more depth.

By enrolling on an OpenLearn course your progress in the course is tracked and you can see how much you’ve completed in your My OpenLearn profile. When you complete a course you will also gain a free Statement of Participation.

Some of our courses also enable you to earn a free digital badge when you have read the full course and gained a particular grade in the quizzes. You can use your badge to share your achievement with others.

Our free courses do not carry formal credit towards a qualification.

Find out more and explore our free courses.

What is a digital badge?

Digital badges are a way of recording and displaying your new skills and achievements online for anyone to view.  Badges can demonstrate your interest in a subject, commitment to your career or provide evidence and recognition of continuing professional development.  They do not, however, carry any formal credit towards an Open University qualification.

Only certain OpenLearn courses carry a digital badge. You can gain a digital badge on OpenLearn by studying one of our free ‘badged open courses’ (our courses clearly indicate at the start if they carry a digital badge).

Whilst you will not receive support from a tutor on a badged course, you do get useful feedback from interactive quizzes. You are awarded the badge when you have read the full course and gained a particular grade in the quizzes.

Digital badges normally consist of the badge image and the badge information which lists the badge title, who issued the badge and the requirements for gaining the badge.  This enables employers, organisations, schools and individuals to see your achievement.  It also provides you with a confidence boosting record of your abilities.

You can show your digital badges to others by sharing them with Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn and by making them public, should you choose, in your My OpenLearn profile.

Find a badged OpenLearn course to study.

How can I earn a badge?

As you work through a Badged Open Course, you will be invited to complete interactive quizzes which can count towards a digital badge.  There may also be other requirements in order to claim your badge, such as reading all the pages of the course.   At the end of the course when you have completed all the requirements, your badge will be issued.  You will receive an email and the badge will appear in your My OpenLearn profile, normally within 24 hours.

You can manage your digital badges in your My OpenLearn profile and download and print your OpenLearn Statement of Participation which also displays your Open University badge.

You can show your digital badges to others by sharing them via Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn and by making them public, should you choose, via your My OpenLearn profile.

What is a backpack of badges?

You might like to display all the badges you earn on OpenLearn and on other sites within your MyOpenLearn or on another platform.  You can do this by creating a digital ‘backpack’.  Think of the backpack as something you can carry around with you in your online profiles and open to reveal your informal learning which you have gained online.  You will need to sign up for a backpack service if you choose to gather and display all your badges on My OpenLearn. You can send your digital badges to other websites or backpacks by selecting the ‘Export’ function shown by your badge in the My OpenLearn profile.

Create your badges backpack

Open the openbadges backpack in a new window.  Create an account and set up your Mozilla backpack.

On the badges page of your My OpenLearn account the ‘add to backpack’ button will appear once you are signed into your Mozilla backpack.  You can export your new OpenLearn badge to your Mozilla backpack.

If you already have collections in your backpack you can display them on your My OpenLearn profile by selecting the checkbox next to each collection you wish to display.  You will then be able to view the badge(s) on your My OpenLearn page.

What is a Statement of Participation?

Once you have enrolled on an OpenLearn course and have completed it, you will be able to access and download an Open University Statement of Participation

You can print or email this Statement of Participation to demonstrate your successful completion of a free online course and your interest in the subject, commitment to your career or to provide evidence of continuing professional development.

If you have successfully completed an OpenLearn course that carries a badge, the badge will also appear on the Statement of Participation.

The Statement does not carry any formal credit towards an Open University qualification.

How do I find my Statement of Participation or digital badge?

You will be notified by email if you have received a Statement of Participation or been awarded a badge. This is usually within 24 hours of successfully completing the course. You will be able to download the badge image from the email. 

Once the Statement or badge are available you will be able to see and download them from the course, when you are signed in, and from your My OpenLearn profile, under the Achievements section. (The Statement will be a PDF file. To access the badge information you will need to click on the badge from the course or ‘Download’ in your my OpenLearn profile).


Technical questions

What kind of computer do I need to use OpenLearn?

OpenLearn is optimised to be enjoyed by users on the current full versions of Firefox, Safari and Chrome on Windows 7 and Mac Snow Leopard, Lion and Mountain Lion, and Internet Explorer 10 and 11 on Windows 7 and 8.

Older browsers will display most of the content normally, but some features won’t work. In particular, Windows users who use Internet Explorer 8 are strongly advised to upgrade their browser, or use an alternative, to get the full value of OpenLearn content.

In addition, we aim to provide the best possible experience for users of iPads, Android Tablets and Surface, but cannot guarantee that all features will work as intended on these devices.

Furthermore, some content on the site – in particular older interactive features and audio-visual content – was optimised for browsers at the time these were originally published and users may experience some compatibility issues. Most notably, many interactives use Flash, which is not supported widely on portable devices. We suggest using a browser designed to display Flash content to enjoy these features (for example, Puffin).

Why can't I sign in?

There could be many reasons but the most probable is that you have simply forgotten your password, are trying the wrong one or are entering it incorrectly. Does your username or password contain a mixture of upper or lower case letters? It should be entered exactly.

You could also try clearing cookies from your browser or trying another browser to see if that helps. 

If you're still having problems, please email 

How do I sign in on the website using my OUCU?

If you already have an OUCU you only need to enter it when signing in OpenLearn.  You will need your password, but no other information is needed.

Can I decide what information about myself is shared with other users?

If you create an account on OpenLearn, other users will be able to see your name, location and study interests. You can choose whether or not other users can see your email address by editing your profile. To edit your profile, click on your name which is displayed at the top right of each page once you have logged in. You can control how much of the information on your MyOpenLearn profile is shared - and by using the 'public view' button at the top of the page, you can see at a glance what other users will see when they visit your profile page.

What technology is used to publish the OpenLearn website?

The OpenLearn website has been developed using both Drupal and Moodle technologies. Drupal is an open content management system whereas Moodle is a virtual learning environment. OpenLearn draws on both of these technologies to enable online learning. More information on Moodle is available from

Is it possible to save the video files to a disk or to my hard drive?

It is possible to download some audio and video files from the OpenLearn website. We enable this where we have the intellectual property rights to allow these downloads - you will see clear links where this option is available. 


Is OpenLearn an open source project?

OpenLearn is committed to open systems and will share its approach with those who may wish to launch similar efforts. OpenLearn is best described as an open educational resources (OER) project. This means that we are using many of the principles of the open source software movement and applying it to materials and tools that help people learn. All of our educational content can be reused according to the Creative Commons licensing that we have adopted and where this logo is seen: Creative Commons BY-NC-SA licence logo

The software tools that we have developed are also being released as open source to make them available for reuse and for others to contribute to the development. Finally, we are trying to use as many open source components in our work as possible, in particular building the main learning environments on the open source Moodle system and Drupal. We do need to use some proprietary software behind the scenes to fit with how The Open University works, but these do not impact on the final system.

How do I change the font size on OpenLearn?

The OpenLearn website has been designed so that text can be resized using the standard tools in your browser. For example in Internet Explorer and Firefox this is achieved using the View menu and increasing the text size. If you use Google Chrome, you can adjust the font size in 'Settings' > 'Advanced Settings' > 'Web content'.

Will OpenLearn be compliant with W3C standards and accessibility requirements?

We aim to make OpenLearn content as accessible as possible. We continue to work towards full compliance with W3C standards for all aspects of the site, including providing accessible versions of our most interactive content.

OpenLearn has been reviewed by accessibility experts and tested using a range of different assistive technologies and computer settings. While we recognise there are areas that can and will be improved based on recommendations from this review and otherwise identified, core aspects of the site are already provided in a way which meets the needs of a wide variety of users. Users with screenreaders should have no difficulty accessing the text-based content. Users who require specific Windows or browser settings should not have any difficulties with the site, nor should users with screen magnifiers. Video and audio materials are provided in such a way that they can be played through a range of different media players or downloaded and have textual descriptions or transcripts to accompany them. As far as possible, where material is provided as figures/images, we have included textual descriptions of them, but this does not yet cover every diagram or formula.

For more information on this please see our website accessibility statement.

What information does OpenLearn collect from visitors to the website?

At OpenLearn we want to understand about your use of our website and how we can help you. We do this in three ways: by logging general activity on the site such as the time each visitor spends on the site and whether they have also used some other sites; by tracking the use of content for learning; and by asking visitors whether they are willing to be involved in research. You can read about how we handle your personal data in our Privacy statement.

CaPRéT copy reuse tracking

This site has Copy Reuse Tracking enabled - based on CaPRéT (ocwcapret-ga)

CaPRéT (cut and paste reuse tracking) is a suite of Javascript tools that help us to find out how you are using OER content from sites like OpenLearn and OpenLearn Works. This research is important so that we can continue to fund and develop OER projects like OpenLearn.

As part of the Track OER project we took the original CaPReT code, and re-purposed it to track cut and paste events via different analytics software. CaPRéT was an innovative JISC-funded project developed by Tatemae and the MIT Office of Educational Innovation and Technology.

What are 'cookies', and does OpenLearn make use of them on its website?

Cookies are small data files on your hard drive or browser. Cookies cannot read your hard disk or make any information collected by use of a cookie available to a third party. A cookie can only be read by the organisation that installs it. OpenLearn cookies store information about your use of the website, in particular we use these so that we can recognise that you have visited the site before. This information is used for statistical analysis including to assess the usefulness of our site and the effectiveness of our navigational structure, and to identify trends in educational needs and demands. You can read more about this in our cookie policy.

Does OpenLearn share the information it receives?

We do not release this information to third parties. Understanding how our users interact with OpenLearn helps us to improve the service we offer. If you prefer not to share anonymous information on your use of the site, you can disable cookies from your browser and delete all cookies currently stored on your computer. You do not need to have cookies turned on to use or navigate through many parts of our website. 

Copyright and intellectual property

Who owns the intellectual property in materials published on the OpenLearn website?

The Open University owns and retains copyright in its course materials. However, our material also includes substantial extracts from other sources: quotations from books and journals, still and moving images, interviews with academic and subject experts and performers, and so on. We make use of these extracts under licence. We make every reasonable effort to clear and license our use of other rights holders’ work. We will remove promptly any material that infringes the rights of others. If you believe that any of our content is infringing the rights of others please contact us by email at

What can I do with OpenLearn materials?

We believe the primary barrier to access high-quality educational experiences is cost, which is why we aim to publish as much free content as possible under an open licence. If it proves difficult to release content under our preferred CC licence (e.g. because we can’t afford or gain the clearances or find suitable alternatives), we will still release the materials for free but under a more restrictive end-user licence.

In the free courses in which we own copyright, these are licensed for you to use under the Creative Commons licence ‘Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share-Alike’.

This means that you must meet the following three requirements to use the materials:

  • Your use is ‘non-commercial’.
  • You always cite The Open University and retain the name of any original authors.
  • You ‘share-alike’; that is, make any original or derivative works available under the same terms as our licence to you. Derivative works must be redeposited in OpenLearn Works.

We recognise that our materials may be more effective if they are adapted or built on (e.g. translated, disaggregated, mixed with other materials, localised with new case study examples etc.). Therefore, we strive to avoid the use of the ‘No Derivative’ restriction on our content.

Therefore we grant you the right to make use of the materials as they are or in modified form. You may translate, modify, print, network, reformat or change the materials in any way providing that you meet the terms of the licence.

Free course content in which we do not own copyright, but which we have licensed for use from other rights holders, are identified in the acknowledgements of every free course and in the article information of other OpenLearn content. These extracts may be used freely as part of your use of the website but we are unable to grant the right to modify them or to use them as stand-alone items. The surrounding OpenLearn content may be modified, however, and the extract retained for use within the modified version.

Canonical linking:

When you directly republish content from OpenLearn on your own website, you must indicate the canonical source of the content in the metadata. You should add this tag in the <head> area of your webpage:

<link rel="canonical" href="[URL of content on OpenLearn]" />

What does OpenLearn mean by ‘non-commercial’ use of OpenLearn materials?

The Open University considers ‘non-commercial’ to include educational institutions, commercial companies or individuals making use of OpenLearn content on a cost-recovery basis.

We aim to make as much free learning content available as possible. We encourage others to adapt and develop our materials in the development of new free learning experiences. 

  • You may charge for learning experiences you provide using our materials on a cost recovery basis under the following conditions: 
  • You may represent these materials in any format or medium, including photocopied or hard copy printouts/DVD/SD Card. You may make a charge for the recovery of your costs for printing/duplication.
  • Where the OU open media content forms part of a course you are presenting you may charge for the recovery of your costs for value added services such as the provision of the additional or adapted content or tutoring/teaching and support.
  • You may not charge for services in order to return a financial profit (through sales of the content or through placing advertising around them).
  • You may not charge for these services if you have not made significant adaptations of the materials or if our unadapted content forms the main basis of the course. Aggregation of our content does not comprise adaptation.

Please check the licensing conditions for ALL content that is to be adapted. Exceptions to the CC BY-NC-SA can be found in the acknowledgement pages of our free course content.

If you are unclear we are always happy to discuss the meaning of ‘adaptation’ and ‘significant’ on a case-by-case basis. So if you are unclear about these conditions – or feel your case needs special consideration – please contact us at . We are keen to explore how we can support your educational service – however big or small.

How do I cite OpenLearn content?

If you use or amend or incorporate any OpenLearn free course content provided under a Creative Commons licence, use the following attribution: ‘(Name of free course). An OpenLearn chunk used/reworked by permission of The Open University copyright © (Year).’ If a chunk has a named author then the following citation must be added ‘Written by (name)’. If your use is online, you must also include a link to the Creative Commons ‘Attribution; Non-commercial; Share Alike’ licence. If your use is offline include the web address’

How do I contribute my own work to OpenLearn?

Our sister website, OpenLearn Works, has been built with contributors in mind. Take our content, rework it or adapt it for your own use and then contribute it back into the OpenLearn community by placing it in OpenLearn Works. The OpenLearn free course content has been developed with individual learners in mind and we take responsibility for the materials held on OpenLearn. It is not, therefore, possible to deposit materials in OpenLearn, only in OpenLearn Works.

Can I use your materials to teach my class?

Educators are encouraged to use OpenLearn content in the classroom.

Can I link to OpenLearn from my website?

Please feel free to link to pages within the website. There must be no claim, appearance, or implication of an affiliation with or endorsement by The Open University. We cannot guarantee the permanence of any specific link other than those to the homepage.


How do I unsubscribe from the OpenLearn newsletter?

Please click on the word Unsubscribe in your copy of the e-newsletter and this will unsubscribe you. Newsletters are sent quarterly to subscribers.

Can I buy Open University books and TV programmes?

The Open University Students Association (OUSA) sells The Good Study Guide. We are in discussion with other distributors about the possibility of making The Open University's products available for purchase.

When we have more information about buying OU books and programmes, we'll update the answer to this question.

Many OU co-produced TV programmes are available on DVD from Amazon for private purchase.  For broadcasters interested in purchasing programmes, full details can be found at our Media Sales Website or contact our distributor direct.

Can I watch Open University TV programmes?

The Open University makes many programmes in partnership with the BBC and other broadcasters, covering arts, humanities, social science, education, maths, science, nature and technology.

A listing of programmes co-produced by The Open University on TV and radio this week can be found in the What's On section.

How can I make a donation?

In developing OpenLearn, The Open University is very grateful for the generous support of The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. The philosophy of open content mirrors exactly The Open University's founding principles of widening access to high quality educational opportunities. Through OpenLearn, the University expects to contribute significantly to the development of both the quality and reach of open educational resources delivery at an international level.

The generosity of our users, supporters and partners will help our dedicated staff to continue the academic, pedagogic, technological and research activities that support OpenLearn.

Making a donation

You can make your donation to The Open University using our safe and secure online form. Please quote OpenLearn in the 'What prompted you to donate?' box. Your gift - whatever the amount - will enable us to continue to fulfil our mission.

You may also send your donation to:

The Open University Development Office
Walton Hall
Milton Keynes
United Kingdom

Tel: 01908 653786



Will enquiries to OpenLearn be answered?

If you can't find the answer that you are looking for, please contact us at and we will try to respond as soon as possible.

Are there other initiatives like this at The Open University?

The Open University is a world leader in the development of open educational resources (OER) and several prominent projects have emerged in recent years reflecting our work in this groundbreaking new field of Education.

To find out more about the Open University OER projects, current and complete, and to view a showcase of our research and good practice which takes place at the University, please visit the Open Educational Resources at The Open University website.



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