Learning paths

If you enjoy a free OpenLearn course [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] you might like to do another one or take on a different challenge.

Your actual starting point might vary depending on your previous educational experience and qualifications, time spent away from formal study, and your level of confidence.

Another helpful route through OpenLearn is to use the online guide, Open Pathways to Higher Education, produced by The Open University in Scotland. The guide is for learners navigating their journey through the free resources on OpenLearn and on to formal learning if they wish. There are three subject pathways – Arts and Languages; Science, Maths and Technology; and People, Work and Society – that learners can choose to work through at their own pace. (Please note that only learners living in Scotland are able to obtain the hard copy of this guide.)

From informal to formal learning

Informal learning usually refers to the learning that takes place through our daily activities in everyday life. Sometimes this learning is intentional learning but often it is not. It is knowledge we come by and skills we develop through experience. For example, learning how to cook or sew at home, or perhaps mechanical knowledge to do with car maintenance. We are all very knowledgeable in a wide range of ways.

Formal learning typically is provided by an educational institution or training provider. It is structured in terms of specific learning objectives and is usually accredited, levelled and credit-rated – for example, against the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF). It takes place in schools, colleges, higher education institutions and other educational or training providers. It also includes formal study through distance learning courses, workplace training courses and professional qualifications.

Informal learning refers to community-based adult education courses, or perhaps non-accredited leisure courses and ‘lifelong learning’ evening classes not related to a formal progression route or qualification. It would include non-credit bearing continuing professional development courses. Free online courses on OpenLearn (including this reflection and planning course), which you engage with in your own time and at your own pace, are further examples.

Many colleges and higher educational institutions run especially designed access courses and summer schools to help adults who may have been away from formal study for some time, or who may not have the appropriate entry qualifications, prepare for study at higher education level. Such courses, like the OU Access to Success courses, help people gain confidence, brush up on learning skills, and act as a bridge from informal to formal learning.

The circle below shows four ways you can get started with learning with The Open University. You can start with a free taster course on OpenLearn and work your way towards a level 1 undergraduate course by taking an Access module as an interim step. But you can start anywhere – jump straight into an Access course, or if you’d like to get a feel for what that might be like, try out a pre-access course online. If you already have experience of studying at a higher education level you might be ready to start with a level 1 course right away.

Follow the links in the circle to explore the courses that are available. To return to this page, use the back button on your browser.

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Mapping learning paths