19 Jan 2010

10M visits to OU’s OpenLearn site: free university course materials for everyone

OpenLearn gives anyone in the world free access to Open University course materials and today had its 10 millionth visit. Since launch in October 2006 it has attracted 8 million unique visitors, 80% of them are new to the OU, and to date, has resulted in 13,000 OU course registrations.

The OU is the first UK university to make materials freely available at this scale with around half of users from the UK and a quarter from the US. The OU has always been a pioneer in new technologies attracting large audiences from our successful partnership with the BBC, to OU iTunes U materials with 12 million downloads to date, and 20,000 Facebook followers.

Laura Dewis, Managing Editor of OpenLearn said: “When we launched in 2006, it was the first time that any UK university had given free online access to their course materials. We could only guess what demand would be like. Now we know more about what people want, we're re-launching the site this year to include more media rich, interactive features.”

Law, fiction writing, study skills and business and plate tectonics are the current most visited course materials on the site. There are over 8000 learning hours in 12 subject areas with material from access to postgraduate level courses. Study units vary in length from 3-50 hours of learning.

Each OpenLearn study unit has clear learning outcomes and learners can connect with other learners and create their own communities of interest. Educational and professional practitioners and more adventurous learners can download materials, reversion them and upload them back onto OpenLearn LabSpace, providing a richer and broader set of materials for our global community.

OpenLearn has also initiated a new approach to OU course production that tests the cost, speed, the flexibility of delivering content across multiple platforms (e.g. mobile technologies), ease of collaboration with other education providers and making information easier to find and more personalised for learners in a Web 2.0 world.

In addition, to providing course materials to all, the OU is using its expertise across the Higher Education sector to run a Support Centre for Open Resources in Education (SCORE) funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE). This is designed to help support other universities in the UK with developing OER projects. With today’s students increasingly technologically literate, SCORE will help institutions to develop new resources and services to enhance teaching and reduce the costs of course development.

Editors' Notes
About The Open University
The Open University (OU) is the UK’s largest university and the world leader in distance education. More than two million people have studied with the OU since it began in 1969. The OU has more than 229,000 students in over 40 countries studying for a variety of degrees and vocational qualifications ranging from short courses to PhDs. Independent authorities have consistently ranked the OU in the top five UK universities for teaching quality and virtually all of the University’s research areas have received ratings of national or international excellence. OU students are more impressed with the quality of their courses and the support received than those at any other UK university, based on the findings of the National Student Survey. The OU has been at the top of the rankings every year since the survey began in 2005.

About OpenLearn
The website is built using Moodle, an open-source virtual learning environment (VLE). Social networking tools are provided through this VLE to connect learners for peer-to-peer support.

The Open University are leaders in the research of Open Educational Resources (OER). OLnet was launched in 2009, a research collaboration between The Open University and Carnegie Mellon University, supported by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. It is a $3 million, 3 year project at the OU employing 20 staff which includes 5 full-time researchers.

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