The Open University launched the OpenLearn website in October 2006 to provide free access to its educational materials throughout the world. The publication of such structured learning materials, designed for distance learning, is unique in the field of open educational resources.
Open Education materials make three contributions. They make new knowledge available to all, not just the few who can pay for it. They allow users to download, modify, translate, and adapt to their culture the material to enhance its usefulness. They provide the opportunity for people to work together to co-modify, co-produce, test, and again co-produce and retest derivative material which generates a cycle of rapid continuous improvement. Using technology Open Educational Resources aim to remove access barriers to knowledge and educational opportunities around the world.
Through the Moodle-based virtual learning environment learners are offered over 400 structured media-rich study units, supported by a number of learning and communication tools in the LearningSpace. Presence aware instant messaging, video conferencing, video blogging and forums enable the formation of communities of learners around thousands of study hours of learning materials. Personal profiles, learning journals and rating options empower learners to become self publishers and reviewers, tagging their entries to provide a means by which others can find and connect with their ideas. Knowledge mapping software enables learners to visually represent resources and the links between them, to construct arguments and frame debates. By publishing their work online, they share their own pathways through the material with other visitors to the website.
The OpenLearn website provides a standalone experience for the learner, but is also one that can be taken apart and remixed to take on a new form. The Web 2.0 approach to an open and collaborative LearningSpace primarily for learners, is complemented by the LabSpace, an area for experimentation, where educational practitioners are encouraged to download, amend and adapt both current and archived course materials. Published under a Attribution-ShareAlike-NonCommercial Creative Commons license, the Open University media-rich materials can be reused in alternative educational settings, repurposed for a local context, translated and built upon to form a larger open repository of derivative educational materials. Collaborators are encouraged to form their own areas within the LabSpace to personalise the materials, increasing the relevance of the content for specific learning communities and to test out course ideas and develop materials based on user feedback.
OpenLearn enables viral content not just through its licensing model, but also through a commitment to open technologies. The use of an open source virtual learning environment, along with the ability for people to download and upload materials in various formats – from RSS to print to IMS Common Cartridge - encourages replication of the content and enables interoperability with other provider’s content management systems. Innovators have already re-published OpenLearn materials in new environments by implementing a variety of freely available technologies. The materials have been replicated in offline desktop libraries to provide access for remote communities around the world. RSS feeds enable the content to be easily embedded in web based widgets and RSS readers, allowing the engagement with the content to happen away from OpenLearn.
By the end of the first phase of funding, 30/04/08, OpenLearn was hosting over five thousand hours of core OU materials and additional user generated content in the LabSpace area of the site.
OpenLearn is a member of the Open Courseware Consortium (OCW)