Open World Learning

1st October 2015 - 30th September 2020

Video URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4hBYBAH6tNQ

Learning in the 21st century is undergoing both subtle and radical transformation as a result of the impact of digital, networked technologies. Open learning gives unprecedented access to information and education and provides support to learners across the globe. However, it is not the technologies themselves that represent the biggest change, but the opportunities for openness that flow from their thoughtful application, in the form of availability of, and access to, formal and informal learning. Without research the changes in learning may exclude the very people who most stand to benefit from them. For example, those likely to complete free, online courses tend to be qualified to degree level already. Ironically, the revolution in open learning is in danger of increasing the digital divide by privileging those with the appropriate digital and learning skills to best take advantage of it. It is this issue that the Open World Learning (OWL) programme will address, which over a period 2015-2020 will consist of 15 Leverhulme Trust Doctoral Scholarships funded by the Leverhulme Trust, and 3 funded by the Open University.

The funding of the Open World Learning project by Leverhulme will leave a legacy in four different ways. First, the concerted efforts of a programme of research conducted by 18 students will make an important contribution to the understanding of Open World Learning in terms of learning and knowledge and to the identification of the challenges connected with this and their solutions. It will help us to find out what role technology plays in learning in an open world, and what the possible responses are to these challenges.

Secondly, the staff and student experience gained in five years of Leverhulme foundered cross-faculty working to support 18 students tackle interdisciplinary research will leave a legacy of valuable experience in constructing and working in interdisciplinary teams to think creatively and solve problems. These working practices are needed to tackle the interlinked, complex problems of the 21st century. One of the strengths of The Open University is the availability of unique laboratory facilities, such as our Jennie Lee Research laboratories, for studying and recording remote and on-site participants. These facilities will be upgraded to ensure world leading capabilities in applications such as eye-tracking and multi-angle digital recording.

Thirdly, the resources placed alongside the Leverhulme grant by the OU will fund studentships for three students from lower and middle income countries (e.g. India, Bangladesh, Ghana). This will broaden the experience of the cohort each year as well as the reach of the research programme to include geographical areas where the challenges around open learning are greatly augmented.

Finally, there will be a direct legacy of the scheme in the contribution of a total of 18 trained researchers to UK capability in researching the complex and interdisciplinary topic of openness, graduating as agents of change in an increasingly dynamic education landscape. They will also be able to multiply the impact of the OWL programme by training the next generation of researchers.