From paper-based to online learning: transforming the Open University UK

Sclater, Niall (2008). From paper-based to online learning: transforming the Open University UK. In: Proceedings of NIME International Symposium 2008 : Long-Term Strategic Visions of Effective e-Learning Implementations in Higher Education, 7 Nov 2008, Tokyo, Japan.



Founded in 1970, the Open University UK (OU) is now Europe’s largest university with around 200,000 distance learners. The university’s teaching and learning methods have evolved over time from paper-based correspondence learning with accompanying television broadcasts, the use of the telephone and some face-to-face teaching to the present day where these methods are supplemented or replaced by the widespread use of the internet. Course teams and tutors can now select materials and activities for students from a wide range of multimedia and social software and interact in a variety of ways with their students online.
Surveys demonstrate that a significant proportion of the university’s students expect more online activities and interaction with fellow students and tutors than are currently provided. The OU needs to maximise the use of its new VLE but faces significant change management issues such as:
• Lack of knowledge and expertise in how to develop online and collaborative learning content and activities
• Embedded working practices where academic staff activities are centred around developing text-based content
• Tutors who are not equipped with the skills to facilitate online learning
• A complex organisational matrix with embedded power structures and different departmental cultures
A three year programme of activities is currently underway to examine policies and processes around the development and delivery of elearning, staff incentives and training, general coordination and communication, and intelligence gathering on the successes and failures in elearning at the OU and elsewhere. The outcome of these activities will be to transform the way that course teams conceive of courses, moving from a conception of collections of largely static, print-based materials to viewing them as web-centred, dynamic, and activity-based.

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