OpenLearn or is it LearningSpace (brand confusion is not a good start), is the UKs answer to MITs Open Courseware. After chewing through several million in funding I had high hopes, but here I am feeling rather deflated after wading (literally) through a great many of its, supposed, courses. It’s really no more than a repository of old OU print documents with some tools on top. There has been no attempt to do anything remotely interesting or different.
This is really a huge exercise in document management, with a few images and videos added in just a few of the modules. They seem to have taken a few box loads of historic OU curriculum texts and published them online with no real adaptation or sensitivity around their online use, readability or suitability. To be honest I think I could have published this lot using free software in less than a week or two.
Million pound Moodle
Moodle is famously free, but dwell on the fact that the OU have spent a cool million in development time for this ONE implementation. Perhaps the most expensive free lunch on record. The good news is that this development has taken Moodle forward, solving some of its historic problems around accessibility and so on.
As I sampled many of the courses it struck me how weak much of the content was in terms of academic credibility. Like many course notes written from within an institution, rather than published text, it has the feel of being cobbled together by good experts, but not the best. Much of it reads like standard, long-winded, written-in-the evening text. The writing is, on the whole, remarkably flat and dull.
Here’s the subjects with the number of available modules:
Arts and History 44
Business and Management 29
Health and Lifestyle 15
IT and Computing 25
Mathematics and Statistics 26
Modern Languages 15
Science and Nature 52
Study Skills 27
It’s only 5% of the OU output but the course choices do seem a little odd. I was amused to see 'Brighton Pavilion' be given the status as a course in itself, alongside major topics in history and science. The study times associated with each module seem to be grossly exaggerated. It’s so easy to just state a general activity or question, then count that as ‘study time’. That is a con. Many modules have no more than an hour of reading. Egyptian Mathematics which, according to the author, “has left disappointingly little evidence of its mathematical attainments” has just a few pages of text peppered with a few images and a short reading list. I preferred the Wikipedia entry, which had clearer structure, was better written, and gave more useful academic links and a better reading list.
The Holocaust is 17 pages of dense text with not a single image in sight. How it justifies its 20 hours of learning tag is beyond me. Dance Skills was a hoot – ten pages of text and one short video. Not an image in sight. Truly amateurish.
The language courses are all over the place and are often built around some idiosyncratic video but these are at least useful for many learning French, German, Spanish, with some English and introductions to Latin and Greek.
The costs of the pilot have been stated at around £5.65 million. That I don’t believe, as it doesn’t include loads of other internal costs. Seems like an awful lot of money for something that is essentially a bunch of documents online with a couple of tools on top. If this had been tendered out it would have cost a fraction of the price. It could have been so much more. The levels of interaction are abysmal and there’s no real assessment. Interestingly, not a single lecture online. Maybe that’s a good thing!
On the positive front, at least one institution is doing something about 21st century learning. I still love the OU and all it stands for, even if it is dragged down by the desire of its academics to mimic every other university. That wasn’t what Wilson wanted. On the whole, I find Wikipedia, supplemented by other resources such as iTUNES U, TED andGoogle Video to be miles ahead of this approach.