Beyond the ivory tower: a model for nurturing informal learning and development communities through open educational practices

Coughlan, Tony and Perryman, Leigh-Anne (2013). Beyond the ivory tower: a model for nurturing informal learning and development communities through open educational practices. Revista de Universidad y Sociedad del Conocimiento (Globalisation and Internationalisation of Higher Education), 10(1) pp. 312–326.



Open Educational Resources (OER) and Open Educational Practices (OEP) are making an evergrowing impact on the field of adult learning, offering free high-quality education to increasing numbers of people. However, the top-down distribution of weighty university courses that typifies current provision is not necessarily suitable for contexts such as Continued Professional Development (CPD). This article proposes that a change of focus from a supplier-driven to a needs-led approach, grounded in theories of informal learning, could increase the positive impact of OER and OEP beyond the ivory towers of higher education.

To explore this approach, we focused on the requirements of a specific community outside higher education – trainers in the UK’s voluntary sector – in order to design a more broadly applicable model for a sustainable online learning community focused around OER and OEP. The model was informed by a recent survey of voluntary sector trainers establishing their need for high-quality free resources and their desire to develop more productive relationships with their peers, and by evaluation of successful online communities within and outside the voluntary sector.

Our proposed model gives equal attention to learning resources and group sociality. In it, academics and practitioners work together to adapt and create learning materials and to share each other’s knowledge and experiences through discussion forums and other collaborative activities. The model features an explicit up-skilling dimension based on Communities of Practice (CoP) theory and a system of reputation management to incentivise participation. The model is unique in building a pan-organisation community that is entirely open in terms of membership and resources. While the model offered in this article is focused on the voluntary sector, it could also be applied more widely, allowing practitioner communities the benefits of tailored resources and academic input, and collaborating universities the benefit of having their OER used and reused more widely for CPD through informal learning.

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