Mapping the Key Motivations of Openlearn Learners in the Pandemic

Law, Patrina (2023). Mapping the Key Motivations of Openlearn Learners in the Pandemic. In: INTED2023 Proceedings pp. 1298–1306.




OpenLearn is the free online learning platform provided by The Open University (OU) in the UK. Growth to the OpenLearn platform since its launch in 2006 as part of the broader open educational resources
(OER) movement has been steady, with pre pandemic visits of nearly of 13 million. Shortly after the first UK lockdown in March 2020, the platform saw a doubling of visits overnight. Previous analyses of platform users have identified key groups using the free courses, articles, videos and educational interactives, along with their motivations to study, demographics and usability requirements. These data have resulted in a range of commissioning approaches, and technical and usability developments to better serve the OU’s own students and the body of international non-formal learners, particularly with social mission in mind.

In December 2020 a survey of OpenLearn learners was undertaken to gather new data on the massive upsurge in traffic seen during 2020 due to COVID-19, comparing this with existing knowledge and to
ensure that commissioning was reaching those who needed it most. During the financial year that incorporated the start of the pandemic (August 2019-July 2020) there were over 24 million visits to the
platform. The 6,689 survey responses received were analysed alongside key platform analytics data which were used to provide balance and insight into the geographical location of learners and the technology used by them.

Key findings show that OpenLearn appears to be in line with its social mission in terms of reaching learners in low socio-economic groups. Further, in probing to compare with UK data overall, OpenLearn
appears to be reaching a significantly greater proportion of those in low-income households. When asked if learners were influenced by the pandemic in choosing to study on OpenLearn, 51% of respondents said that they were. This paper reflects on these users’ stories, expanding on data behind the kind findings, showing that
OpenLearn provided much needed supporting during the pandemic to those furloughed and unemployed, to educators and to students. It brings to life their reasons and situations and how – in discovering OER for the first time – they were able to make a positive difference to their mental health, educational and professional situations.

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