Knowledge for professional learning

Our research into professional practices around knowledge resources has had an impact on professional development in higher education institutions (HEIs) in the UK and internationally. Our early research on KNowledge Creation and Digital Literacy help shape the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) work on Building Digital Capability in the UK Higher Education Sector, which had direct impact on over 100 UK universities ( Since then our research has focused on emphasising socio-cultural factors, shifting debate from a view of ‘learning’ as a noun (eg. educational resources or technological objects), to ‘learning’ as a verb (eg learning as a set of practices).

ExplOERer: Supporting OER use in Learning Ecosystems

#ExplOERer, a European Commission co-funded project which ran 2015-16 under the Erasmus+ programme, aimed to promote Open Educational Resources (OER) adoption and re-use in educators’ professional practice. The research provided six guidelines for structuring learning and teaching opportunities relevant to educators’ practices were published. These guidelines are being used by universities to facilitate the design of professional learning opportunities to support educators in developing new professional practices around open education. The guidelines are available from (PDF).

These guidelines were developed through an analysis of the ways educators in different countries expand their practice to include Open educational Practice (OEP). The study concluded that learning practices and processes that most powerfully support educators’ professional development are those embedded within their day to-day practice. An important recommendation to education sectors and institutions is that educators’ professional development should be integrated within, rather than in addition to, their professional practice. These findings are published in: -- see references below.

The study also examined the various of types of knowledge that educations draw upon as they learn Open Educational Practice (OEP). We found educators learned not only conceptual and practical knowledge (i.e. what open educational practice is and how it is actioned) but also social-cultural and self-regulative knowledge (who to find information from and how to embed this information into personal learning). The findings give an indication of the broad types of knowledge educators require to support their ongoing development. The findings indicate that educators do not learn new practices from reading articles or participating in courses. They have to embed the knowledge learned into their teaching practice. This means that professional earning requires both formal and informal learning activities. These findings have important implications for workplaces and the ways in which they structure learning opportunities for professionals. These findings have been published in: -- see references below.

Importantly we found evidence that educators’ engagement with OER is reliant not only on the learning opportunities available to them but that their workplace is a critical component in supporting their learning. The study explored in detail how educators engaged with OER and how they conceptualised their learning. Data was gathered through interviews with 30 higher education educators. Analysis of these data drew on the theory of self-regulated learning and cultural-historical activity theory (CHAT). The study identified three distinct tensions in educators’ practice: tensions between the emerging needs of the individual as they adopt new forms of practice and organisational rules and policies; tensions between the transfer of responsibilities from educators to students as new practice is embedded and institutional accountability which may be based on traditional practices; and between cost-efficiency and the social aspects of learning. We recommend that workplaces recognise and support educators in navigating these tensions that exist between new and emerging forms of practice and traditional, hegemonic practices, published in: -- see references below.

Rethinking knowledge mobilisation for international development

In a highly collaborative ESRC-funded project Rethinking Research Partnerships: Evidence and the politics of participation in academic-INGO research partnerships for international development (2015-17) - involving a large participatory network of universities, INGOs, research brokers, funders and policy makers - the relationship between ‘the politics of evidence’ and ‘dynamics of participation’ was unpacked across seven case studies of research partnerships. Each case study was developed collaboratively by an academic and INGO practitioner and analysed by the larger group through a range of participatory and creative tools. The project culminated in a high-level international conference, incorporating additional insights and perspectives from a wide range of international contexts and sectors beyond the international development sector. A key output was the development of a critical Discussion Guide and Toolkit which channeled learning from the project into a resource to support partners to consider the place of evidence and its relationship to participation within their partnerships. Further information is available on the project website:

Democratising learning: how professionals learn in Massive Open Online Courses

Massive Open Online Courses are viewed as a way to expand professional learning. MOOCs. have been signaled as a disruptive and democratizing force in education. Our research has been examining these claims, identifying characteristics that influence their development: MOOCs appear to advantage the elite, rather than act as an equaliser; they tend to reproduce formal education, rather than disrupt it; they are designed for those who can learn, rather than opening access for all; and they are measured by metrics that may not be appropriate for open, distance education. Our research has been funded by the Commonwealth for Learning and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and is available through the following publications:

MOOC educators: Who are they, what new practices do they learn and how do they learn to teach?

People working within HE institutions and educational organisations need to learn new forms of teaching and learning practice, to transform the ways they work. A PhD study on MOOC educators, funded by the Open University’s CREET, is examining who MOOC educators are. The study is contextualised within seven online courses on the FutureLearn platform. The research explores the emerging roles and responsibilities of MOOC educators as they learn to teach in a MOOC. Data were gathered through a multi-case study of 28 online interviews with people involved in these seven MOOCs who reflected on their practice and their learning on creating and running (teaching) courses. Data analysis uses an approach based on Tynjälä’s Integrative Pedagogy model that brings together elements of expertise, professional knowledge and informal learning. This PhD study offers a fresh perspective on who educators are in MOOC environments, broadening our view of the ‘educator’. The study provides best practice recommendations for educators, institutions and MOOC platform providers to guide and support future MOOC processes.

Transforming the production of online learning resources

The Higher Education landscape is changing and universities are facing new challenges, including reduced funding, increasing competition, and a changing student population. However, the complex nature of academia suggests universities need to reimagine their professional practices in order to become adaptive and agile institutions capable of responding to change.

This research study focuses on one potential solution to this problem: the Agile philosophy. Outside of academia, in the digital enterprise context, there has been a rise in the use of Agile methodologies to respond to the need to speed up efficiency and innovation. The research study aims to learn from the application of Agile within different organisations, and translate it into an open education setting. To do so, it examines one aspect of open education: the production of online learning content.

Set within a pragmatic paradigm, the research study combines two theoretical perspectives: Phenomenology and Activity Theory. This enables two views of production to emerge: a micro-level where production is described by those who experience it, and a macro-level where production is seen holistically as an activity system.

A pilot study took a phenomenological approach to understanding how production occurs in educational organisations in order to map it to the principles of Agile. The main study takes the view that production teams are complex systems and individuals are actors within those systems. Here, an activity-theoretical framework will be introduced in order to analyse multiple dimensions of production. The findings from each study will go on to inform a tool and set of recommendations for the implementation of Agile production processes within a university context.

Read the original research

Littlejohn, A. & Hood, N. (2017). How educators build knowledge and expand their practice: The case of open education resources. British Journal of Educational Technology, 48(2), 499-510.

Hood, N. & Littlejohn, A. (2017). Knowledge typologies for professional learning: educators’ (re)generation of knowledge when learning open educational practice, Educational Technology Research and Development

Kaatrakoski, H., Littlejohn, A. and Hood, N. (2016) Learning challenges in Higher Education: an analysis of contradictions within Open Education Practice, Higher Education.

Kaatrakoski, H., Littlejohn, A. and Hood, N. (2017) Rethinking practice in higher education: a study on Open Educational Resources as social media for professional learning, Open and Interdisciplinary Journal of Technology, Culture and Education (QWERTY)

Cornish, H., Fransman, J. and Newman, K. (2017) Rethinking Research Partnerships: Discussion Guide and Toolkit: Christian Aid Centre of Excellence for Research, Evidence and Learning.

Fransman, J. and K. Newman (under review) ‘Evidence and the politics of participation in academic and INGO research partnerships for international development’, submitted to Development and Change

Littlejohn, Allison; Hood, Nina; Milligan, Colin and Mustain, Paige (2016). Learning in MOOCs: Motivations and self-regulated learning in MOOCs. The Internet and Higher Education, 29 pp. 40–48.

Hood, Nina and Littlejohn, Allison (2016). Quality in MOOCs: Surveying the Terrain. Commonwealth of Learning.

Milligan, Colin and Littlejohn, Allison (2017). Why Study on a MOOC? The Motives of Students and Professionals. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 18(2), article no. 4117.