Open Learning Champions – a model for widening participation
OUiS operates a network of Open Learning Champions, working in partnership with a range of voluntary sector organisations, community learning groups, libraries and others. The aim is to provide open learning in familiar spaces using open educational resources (OER) on OpenLearn and OpenLearn Works, as well as massive online open courses (MOOCs) on FutureLearn. The project has managed to successfully engage with people who may not otherwise consider themselves ‘learners’, and who may face significant barriers to accessing more traditional widening participation programmes.
Lane (2012) suggests that ‘inexperienced and unconfident learners’ may not gain much benefit from open educational resources without the support of a tutor. Open Learning Champions address this absence of support, through offering light touch facilitation and in some cases the possibility of peer support, within an existing and trusted relationship. This can be seen in the context of what Cannell (2016) describes as ‘a movement’ towards developing partnerships which target widening participation groups, and provide contextualised use of OER as well as support. For example, a group of carers may be supported by a carer support worker to undertake a relevant open educational resource, such as Caring Counts – a self-reflection course for carers available on OpenLearn Create.
The OUiS has run a series of workshops for champions to introduce them to open educational resources, develop their confidence in navigating the platforms and supporting learners, and explore different pathways from open educational resources into higher education and other positive destinations. Since June 2015, 17 workshops have taken place and there are now 127 champions from 60 organisations. Initial evaluation of the pilot (Ryan & Hewitt 2015) suggested that each champion may reach eight learners. My presentation at OER17 will present the findings of follow-up evaluation on the impact of the first year, which suggests that each champion is reaching 10 or more learners and that the learners they engage come from more difficult to engage groups, making this an effective widening participation model.