Open View: The OpenLearn venture is a natural extension of our founding philosophy

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The Independent Online

The Open University holds a particular place in British and higher education history by virtue of its special mission - to be open to people, places, methods and ideas. Open, in particular, to people who do not have the traditional entry qualifications to university. The launch of the OpenLearn website (see opposite), which makes freely available a selection of OU material and learning resources to all, signals the next important and ground-breaking phase of that very distinctive mission.

It is interesting to compare this development with the university's beginnings in the Seventies, when it pioneered free access to learning materials through its long and successful partnership with the BBC. The world we now inhabit, however, is vastly different. We are currently witnessing a seismic shift in higher education - a shift which is being driven by a host of interrelated developments, not the least of which are dazzling technological advances. The advances have set in motion several trends which resonate strongly with this OpenLearn project, and indeed the project is part of our response. An article in the July 2006 issue of Wired magazine identified a number of trends in this new world. They include:

* The all-access economy - open access, open source etc. Closed systems are dead; open is the new standard. The OpenLearn website is open, free to use and subject only to Creative Commons licensing protocols.

* Participation and peer production, where organisations from Amazon.com to MySpace are harnessing user-generated content, not only to fundamentally alter their business models, but to make the outcomes better for all. One part of our OpenLearn site is called LabSpace - a community-led environment that fosters the concept of sharing and re-using material.

* "Any time, anywhere, any format, any screen" which means that access is now possible by anybody with a reasonably modern telephone. Converging technologies and satellite coverage makes so much possible.

* Personalisation. People want learning outcomes tailored to their requirements and we expect to be able to learn a great deal from examining how people use the site. The LearningSpace will promote individual pathways and encourage people to share their personal educational resources. We hope to develop communities of practice as we move into a world in which the sharing of innovative learning materials becomes commonplace.

The OpenLearn website is the stuff of dreams to people who have limited access or no access to libraries, and to those who lack the time to negotiate the profusion of material that exists. We are hugely indebted to the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for making this possible.

The fact that the Open University is the first British university to place material on the web should come as no surprise. The philosophy of open access is a perfect fit with our founding principles; the marvellous resonance of the whole open source, open innovation, open educational resources movement with our very name makes it feel like our destiny! What better vehicle for reaching more people, in more places, regardless of their previous qualifications?

OPEN EYE

The monthly bulletin of the Open University Community

The Open University (OU) is the UK's only university dedicated to distance learning. We have around 150,000 undergraduate and more than 30,000 postgraduate students and 14,000 staff members. More than two million people have studied a course with the Open University.

For OU courses information call 0870 333 4340; or see www.open.ac.uk/courses

Editorial team

Editor: Yvonne Cook

Assistant Editor: Peter Taylor-Whiffen

E-mail: open-eye@open.ac.uk

Address: Open Eye, Communications, The Open University, Milton Keynes MK7 6AA

Published with The Independent on the first Tuesday of every month. The next issue is out on 5 December 2006.

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