Communicating, learning and the in-between: a study of the impact of open-access, informal online learning environments

Ferreira, Giselle (2009). Communicating, learning and the in-between: a study of the impact of open-access, informal online learning environments. HEA via COLMSCT, OpenCETL, Milton Keynes, UK.


1. The broad aim of this project has been to contribute understandings of the uses of computer-mediated communication in 'informal' (not leading to certification) yet institutionally-hosted online spaces. The project consisted of an investigation into engagement with communication and discussion tools provided by OpenLearn, the Open University's Open Content Initiative (

2. The research focused on a selection of examples of asynchronous and synchronous communication situations within OpenLearn, including a selection of forums from the LearningSpace ( and various instances of synchronous communication using FM (FlashMeeting) that took place within the context of two pilot studies organised by the researcher in coordination with discipline-based colleagues.

3. Whilst the research was based on an action research orientation, the approach was predominantly exploratory and ethnographic methods (observation and participant observation) were used, complemented with semi-structured interviews, as appropriate. Thematic analysis was used within a grounded theory approach.

4. The study suggests 5 themes as core elements of engagement in CMC within an OER context: 'validation�; 'privacy�; 'trust�; 'purposefulness�; 'leadership'. The themes are mutually-dependent and each warrants more detailed investigation, and relevant topics are discussed.

5. In short, the study provides a contribution to enquiries on the impact of OERs in that it brings to light, from within a sample of learning situations across the 'informal�/�formal' space, a number of boundary issues concerning curriculum and, in particular, pedagogy. It suggests that a major aspect of the impact of OERs is that their availability is not only creating new challenges but also uncovering previously veiled tensions and questions regarding identity and boundaries.

6. A number of outputs have been generated, including two new projects that capitalise on understandings facilitated during the pilots carried out within the remit of this study.

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