"Professor of learning technology at Glasgow Caledonian University"

Director of the Caledonian Academy

OER and the Vision for Adult Learning

Posted by on May 2, 2013 in Higher Education, Professional Learning, Sustainable Learning | 0 comments

On April 28th 2013 the outcomes of OER4Adults provided policy makers within the European Commission with evidence on how to incorporate the use of OER into a Vision for Adult and Lifelong Learning to 2030. This Vision was drafted with the help of a group of over 20 experts from more than 10 countries who met at IPTS in Seville to discuss, debate and advise on the Vision. Our goal was to provide the EC with evidence of existing initiatives and practices to enable them to optimise the socio economic impact of OER.


In the OER4Adults survey, we identified over 170 OER Initiatives across Europe and other countries (mainly the US). Many of these initiatives – those who provide OER for adult and lifelong learning – are from the higher education, vocational and school sectors. These initiatives assume that the primary users of OER are teachers and registered students, but the might not necessarily think about ‘nonformal’ learners.


Many examples of open learning are within open fora (eg discussion groups around health or hobby areas). These groups are seldom recognised as having an explicit remit for learning. Also they are not associated with the sorts of formal institutions that MOOCs tend to be associated with (eg think about EdX, Coursera, Futurelearn and so on).


From the OER4Adults survey we know that little is known about what lifelong learners are doing with OER resources. Even the leaders of the major OER initiatives know little about the use of the OERs outside their immediate communities. Yet this knowledge is critical to planning future directions in open education, open learning, OER and MOOC.


We carried out a SWOT analysis (analysis of Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats, see http://oer4adults.org/highlights-of-the-oer4adults-swot-survey/) of OER and identified a number of tensions in the following areas:

OER Resources - We recognised a tension between open versus free resources. Use of the term ‘Open’ in MOOC is blurring the distinction between what is ‘free’ and what is ‘open’. While many MOOCs are free of charge, the resources within these courses are not always ‘open’. Will mass participation push forward on this area? In other words, will the large numbers of people involved in MOOCs make it irrelevant that the resources in a MOOC are not open?

Learning – The OER4Adults SWOT survey identified a tension between conventional pedagogy (largely teacher led) versus appreciation that learners should be able to take control of their own learning. Do resources have learner intentionality? Most don’t. OER tends to be viewed as a resource with a specific learning outcome. There are examples of ‘dynamic’ resources that evolve as learners use them. However, these resources don’t readily ‘fit’ with educational technical infrastructure (eg quality policy etc). In many aspects of society organisational infrastructures are becoming rapidly outdated, thus inhibiting progress –  and this is one example. The tension between pedagogy versus appreciation is exemplified in the papers for the EC Vision for Adult and Lifelong Learning in 2030 where none of the visions view teachers as having a traditional role in the future (the papers are at http://blogs.ec.europa.eu/openeducation2030/files/2013/04/OE2030_LLL_Booklet.pdf).

Motivations for releasing OER The SWOT survey surfaced a tension between two key motivations to release OER: altruism versus marketization, where ‘altruism’ is the desire to openly share resources and ‘marketisation’ is where institutions and individuals want to build a ‘brand’. Marketisation examples include EdX, Futurelearn, Khan Academy. Its possible that organisations pitch ‘marketisation’ to governments to gain funding, but, at the same time, institutions sometimes state altruistic motivations (such as sharing knowledge freely).

A previous study by Falconer, Littlejohn, McGill  and Beetham (2012) https://oersynth.pbworks.com/w/page/63710786/Motives%20and%20tensions%20in%20the%20release%20of%20Open%20Educational%20Resources  identified that the  stated motivations to release OER may be different from the real, underlying motivations. Real and stated motivations are complex and blurred. During the workshop discussions we found examples of complex/mixed motivations.

Workshop participants agreed that the focus of the vision for lifelong learning to 2030 should be on the socio cultural impact rather than on motivations to release OER. Yet they recognised that motivations ultimately determine peoples’ actions. Much of the focus of OER release has been on ‘introductory level learning’, rather than more specialist areas, and there has been lots of duplication. How do we create resources that are ‘done’ and translated – particularly in the introductory areas (for example look at alison.com which has been translated by volunteers).

Capacity building – There is an inherent tension between ‘community’ versus ‘openness’. During the workshop we had extensive discussion about ‘communities’ and how capacity it built. ALISON provides an excellent and relatively unique model where volunteers contribute their time to translate resources for adult and lifelong learning. Community building requires engendered trust – for example within the ALISON community there is a level of trust that spending time translating resources will not be exploited.

The workshop participants noted that ‘nothing is for free’. Voluntary action is funded, though the funding is from individuals, rather than governments and organisations.

Openness – A previous study (UKOER) we identified a tension between communities (which are important for capacity building) and openness (See http://www.slideshare.net/loumcgill/openedweek2013). This tension also emerged during the OER4Adults SWOT analysis. An effective way to develop resources is within a trusted and bounded community. The effort required to translate the resources for use within another community cannot be underestimated, however we found examples (from Athabasca University) where people overestimated the amount of time required to readapt a resource for reuse (eg teachers thought they had to change every detail within a resource, rather than using resources as they exist).

Numbers of learners – Organisational controls and norms break down in circumstances of mass participation. There is a tension between mass participation versus quality. Where large numbers of people learn, it is more difficult to retain ‘control’ around quality. Recommender systems don’t always help – a ‘massive stamp of approval’ doesn’t always signal quality. Lifelong learners don’t always understand how to assess or evaluate the quality of resources and tend to rely on ‘trusting’ the source. Learners were more inclined to use resources from another “trusted organisation” than “from a university”.  This finding raises questions around current quality systems. Should we change the current validation systems or should we try to ensure that learners have better developed digital literacies so they can evaluate quality? These questions are complicated by the fact that quality shifts as we move across disciplinary and cultural boundaries.

Sustainability – Another tension was around add-on versus embedded funding models. Most of the OER initiatives we identified were funded through governments or institutions. The adult and lifelong learning community are less concerned (than Higher Education groups) that government or institutional funding may diminish. These groups are more focussed on sustainable models, including ‘freemium’ models.


Key findings and questions:

1 Many examples of open learning are not recognised as learning.

Idea 1: change public perception of what they recognise as learning.


2 To move forward with lifelong learning,  we need a fundamental shift in the way society perceives peoples’ roles (eg learners, teachers, others, etc) and organisations’ roles (eg HES, companies, publishers, etc).

Idea 2: change public perception of the roles of learners and teachers – and of organisations more broadly.


3 Within the OER arena, there is little focus on the bigger societal issues. For example the tension between the public and private sectors which have different values and norms. We don’t have a clear idea of the outcome when these values and norms come into conflict.

Idea 3: consider the longterm impact of vested interests of various stakeholders in different sectors.


4 Little is known about what lifelong learners actually do with OER. OER initiatives have little concern about this and don’t view it as significant.

Idea 4: investigate how learners use OER to learn.


5 The focus of attention could shift from open resources (OER) or open courses (MOOC) to the ability of people/learners to learn in open environments.

Idea 5: change the focus of attention from  OER or MOOC to learners

Acknowledgements: These ideas were collated as part of the validation of the OER4Adults project (on April 29 and 30, 2013) and may not reflect the views of IPTS



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Four observations on how OER initiatives are modelled

Posted by on Apr 5, 2013 in Higher Education, Professional Learning, Sustainable Learning | 2 comments

Isobel FalconerLou McGillEleni Boursinou and I  have been commissioned by the EC to carry out a SWOT analysis of Open Educational Resource initiatives for adult learning. In 2012 we carried out a scoping of adult learning initiatives using OER. We identified over 150 different initiatives distributed across Europe.

In March we invited the leaders of the initiatives to fill in a structured questionnaire. We’re in the early stages of data analysis and plan follow up interviews. Here are four observations:

European OER initiatives are based (largely) on the traditional view of instructor using OER as content for teaching

  • Most leaders of initiatives view that their content is used by teachers (school teachers, HE teachers, adult educators).
  • There is some emphasis on students or lifelong learners using content (prioritisation given to ‘prospective students’ – emphasises marketisation motivation).
  • Though –responses suggested that future emphasis should be on communities.
  • The view was that OER users were mainly ‘teachers’ – with some divided views focusing on ‘students’ or ‘projects’ as key users.

2 Most European OER initiatives rely on government or institutional funding

  • Most OER initiatives are funded by governments or institutions (universities, colleges).
  • OER leaders view ‘lack of future funding’ as having the greatest potential impact.
  • Although sustainability was marked as a significant barrier (ie potentially likely to impact negatively on the initiative) there were few examples of sustainability models that move away from core funding from government/ institution – eg examples of OER self-funded, self-generated communities or networks.
  • Where we found examples of raising funding models, these tended to be through membership fees, fees paid by contributors for a hosting service, donations, or through bespoke funding models.
  • Perhaps it is not surprising that funding, staff, policy processes were marked as significant enablers.

 3. OER is often viewed as content curated by ‘experts’

  • The main focus of many initiatives is publishing content (45.7%).
  • Initiatives prioritise the creation/management of content with some focus on discoverability and accessibility.
  • Much of the initial setup effort was setting up the infrastructure and processes.
  • Respondents found it difficult to isolate key factors that make OER useful. However the key focus areas included metadata (80%), discoverability (88.7%), good search engine (88.7%). Medium focus areas included support for the user from teachers/ community.
  • Future directions planned by initiatives focus around creating more OER, either through projects being funded to create content or through nurturing various types of communities to create and release OER.
  • Currently there is little focus on ‘soft’ areas such as skills development. Yet there is recognition that research evidence, communities, ‘ecosystem’ are important.

Significant groups of people are not being considered as key users of OER

  • People outside formal structures (eg lifelong learners) were not considered key users of OER, yet learning is critical for this group of people.
  • Another key gap we identified are manual workers. These could be deemed a critical group of workers who could benefit from upskilling, yet only one initiative are considering this group.

These initial findings raise the question – how can we ensure OER initiatives are sustainable and are not locked into models of operation that exclude potential groups of learners or emerging forms of learning?

Our data analysis is ongoing so check oer4adults.org as the story unfolds.

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Open Educational Practice

Posted by on Mar 11, 2013 in Higher Education | 1 comment

Are communities helpful environments for changing professional practice?

Authors: Allison Littlejohn, Lou McGill, Isobel Falconer, Helen Beetham

For Open Education week at 11am (GMT) on Thursday at Lou McGill, David Kernohan and Allison Littlejohn will present some of the key findings from the UKOER programme ‘What you can learn from the UKOER experience‘. The programme included over 80 projects aiming to release OER ,funded by two UK government agencies, Jisc (www.jisc.ac.uk) and the Higher Education Academy (HEA www.hea.ac.uk). The programme was based on the idea that widespread involvement of faculty and support staff within the programme would bring about a sustainable change in culture from focusing on content ownership, to focusing on open sharing; and that building a critical mass of OER would bring about sustainable change in practices of reuse and re-purposing. The lessons learned from evaluation and synthesis of the programme are available from http://bit.ly/oerevalsynth

One set of key findings was around the role of communities in the release of Open Educational Resources (OER).  How professional practice is transformed to support activities underpinning the release of OER, sometimes called open educational practice (OEP), is not well understood. Communities of practice provide a positive environment for changing professional practice. Examples of communities are subject discipline communities or communities within an institution. Each community will have members with different roles (for example academics, support staff, learners), regulated by specific rules. These sorts of communities are important if the benefits of a culture of open resources, open knowledge, free sharing and peer collaboration in education are to be realised. The UKOER programme provided a context to explore these tensions and highlight the benefits and limitations of communities in transforming professional practice.

The UKOER Evaluation and Synthesis team, Allison Littlejohn, Isobel Falconer, Lou McGill and Helen Beetham, analysed the contradictions evident in OER release by UKOER project teams. We drew data from our programme-wide synthesis and evaluation (McGill et al, 2010), using project reports and focus group discussions to surface, 1) common issues, key barriers and enablers around OER release,and 2) cultural differences across the sector, detailing evidence of norms, roles, rules and reward structures that foster effective professional practice.  Analysis was through mapping the actions of project team members against an activity framework (see figure 1). In our study, the activity systems were UKOER projects where project team members (subjects) work on OER (object), transforming it into an outcome using technological and conceptual tools (Engeström, 1987 & 2005). The tool-mediated action of the project teams was mediated by rules and the broader social context of the community within which the activity takes place. Labour was divided among the community members (roles). This framework provided an analytic socio-cultural lens for understanding complex relationships across different groups.

Figure 1: activity framework  for a UKOER project

This analysis provided evidence that OER projects made best progress where  project team were within existing communities. Examples included subject communities, where people already sharing teaching materials. However we also found that in projects where people did not have existing, working relationships, new collaborations were difficult to initiate. For example, project teams found it difficult to convince university support staff to allow collaborators from outside their community access to institutional repositories.

A key factor within communities that helped change professional practice was trust. In many cases, when trust was not apparent, peoples’ willingness to open access to resources was reduced (for a more detailed description Falconer et al, 2013). Faculty wanted to retain control over which communities or sub-communities they opened up their resources to, preferring to release content within a closed community. Yet controlled release of resources within closed communities is antithetical to the philosophy of open access, mitigating against the successful release of OER.

In summary, while communities may encourage first steps into open practices, they sometimes seem antithetical to the basic philosophy of open release of resources. We found a contradiction between the aim of the UKOER programme to openly release OER and limited practices within some communities, resulting in release of OER within bounded communities. These contradictions present major barriers to successful OER release.



Beetham, H. (2011) Reflections, blog post, http://oersynthesis.jiscinvolve.org/wp/2011/01/25/reflections/ [accessed 23/12/11]

Engeström, Y. (1987) Learning by expanding, Helsinki: Orienta-konsultit.  Available from http://lchc.ucsd.edu/mca/Paper/Engestrom/expanding/toc.htm  [accessed 23/12/11]

Engeström, Y. (2005).’ Knotworking to create collaborative intentionality capital in fluid organizational fields.’ In M. M. Beyerlein, S. T. Beyerlein, & F. A. Kennedy (Eds.), Collaborative capital: Creating intangible value (pp. 307–336). Amsterdam: Elsevier

Falconer, I, Littlejohn, A., McGill, L., and Beetham, H. (2013) ‘Motives and tensions in the release of Open Educational Resources: the JISC UKOER programme’ Draft available from https://oersynth.pbworks.com/w/page/63710786/Motives%20and%20tensions%20in%20the%20release%20of%20Open%20Educational%20Resources

JISC (2009) HEFCE/Academy/JISC Open Educational Resources Programme: Call for Projects http://www.jisc.ac.uk/media/documents/funding/2008/12/oercall.doc [accessed 18/10/2010]

McGill, L., Beetham, H., Falconer,  I., and Littlejohn., A. (2010) JISC/HE Academy OER Programme: Pilot Phase Synthesis and Evaluation Report. Available from https://oersynth.pbworks.com/w/page/29688444/Pilot%20Phase%20Synthesis%20and%20Evaluation%20Report


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OER4Adults: methodology to scope practices around OERs

Posted by on Sep 28, 2012 in Higher Education, Professional Learning, Sustainable Learning | 0 comments

In OER4Adults we are providing an overview of Open Educational Practices in Europe by identifying, describing and classifying a comprehensive number of European OER initiatives in the area of Lifelong Learning and adult education. We are identifying bottlenecks and barriers to the innovative implementation and use of OERs in adult learning, surfacing factors critical to the successful implementation, up-scaling and mainstreaming of evolving practices around OERs, whether learning, teaching or scholarship practices.

Lou McGillIsobel Falconer and I have been planning the methodology for OER4Adults. Building on the methodology we used (with Helen Beetham) in the JISC funded UKOER programme (Joint Information Systems Committees, UK), we are using an iterative community-engagement approach to scope and analyse emerging educational practices. We are using activity theory as the basis for our analysis because it allows us not only to examine activities around the creation and reuse of OERs, but also the motives behind these activities.

Our method is in two phases: identifying where OER activity exists and when it has a positive influence and/or impact on adult learning.

Phase 1: identifying where OER activity exists

We have started work building a typology and mapping all OER initiatives in the domain of adult learning. This typology map will allow the European Commission to identify areas where there has been little OER activity.

  • Firstly, we are scoping OER initiatives across Europe. Please send us any initiatives not included;
  • Secondly, we will map these initiatives against a typology of OER activity, based on existing typologies (by Lane and Atkins), underpinned by Leontiev’s activity model that describes activities (governed by motives), actions and operations. These classifications will help us map out initiatives existing at different levels. For example, we can position initiatives designed to trigger OER release across trans-national groups with those designed to support individual educators and learners;
  • Thirdly, we will identify in what areas OER activity is profuse and where there has been little activity.

A key question is, of course, under what circumstances and in which contexts are OERs making an impact on adult learning? This question leads to the second (parallel) phase of our study.

Phase 2: identifying where OER activity has a positive impact on adult learning

Understanding the impact of OER activity on adult learning is complex. However, our previous research provides evidence of a palpable change in ‘educational practices’ (ie the practices people use for learning, teaching and scholarship) (Falconer, Littlejohn, McGill, Beetham, under review).

To build a detailed and accurate understanding of these changes in practices, we will:

  • Firstly, build scenarios of OER activity within the European OER initiatives scoped in phase 1. To gather evidence for these scenarios we will use an instrument based around a framework that has been validated as useful in helping OER initiatives to synthesise and structure their experiences, highlighting strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, and iteratively building an overview of these.
  • Secondly, we are identifying ‘dimensions of OER activity’ that may lead to successful outcomes. We have build a dimensions model which we will test and validate with the OER4Adults experts group. The dimensions span a number of crtitical areas. For example one dimension is around who plans and structures learning, whether the teacher/ organisation (formal learning) or the learner/ peers (informal learning). Another dimension is based around who funds the resources, whether an organisation, or the learner or some other entity.
  • Thirdly, we will identify the profile of OER activity within each scenario by mapping scenario examples to these dimensions. Each scenario will provide a ‘fingerprint’, which may help the European Commission to predict the likely success of future, planned OER activity.

On September 24th 2012 we met with our experts group, which includes   some of the leading contributors in the field of OER. One of our main tasks was to gain feedback and improve the methodology and instruments we plan to use in the study. The experts are now helping us so we expect to finalise the methodology over the coming weeks.

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OER4Adults: researching practices around Open Educational Resources

Posted by on Sep 17, 2012 in Higher Education, Professional Learning, Sustainable Learning | 0 comments

On Sept 4th 2012 Lou McGillIsobel Falconer and I met with Yves Punie and Stefania Bocconi at the European Commission’s Institute for Prospective Technological Studies in Seville. We launched an exciting new study that has the potential to shift the dialogue around the creation and use of Open Educational Resources (OERs): OER4Adults (http://oer4adults.org)

A unique aspect of the project is that, while encompassing well-recognised technological and legal barriers, we move from discussing access to materials, focussing on how to foster practices around OER that seize their full potential for learning.

This project is timely because the our understanding of what is encompassed by practices around open educational resources is changing from a narrow view of educational practice which centres on the production of content, to a broader definition of learning practice that would encompass all activities that open up access to opportunities for learning, in a context where freely available online content and services (whether ‘open’, ‘educational’ or not) are taken as the norm.

This study follows on from research we have carried out over the past three years examining the largescale JISC-funded UKOER programme,  An output from that study was  the JISC Open Practices briefing paper, in which we visualised OERs as the conjunction of open content practices with open educational practices more broadly. In relation to open content, we questioned what is special about educational content and how it is made openly available, licensed and distributed or shared. In relation to open practices, we asked how educational practices around content contribute to or are supported by other open practices (not specific to education) across the sphere of educational activity.

In the OER4adults project, we are building on this understanding of the mutual relations between open content practices and open learning practices using the social focus of the OER impact model that we developed during UKOER evaluation and synthesis, continuing to highlight aspects of open practice for different sectors and perspectives and consider ways in which open practices impact individuals, institutions, and organisations.

Educational practices around OER are situated within the wider educational context of adult education and lifelong learning. Within this broad context individual and social educational practices influence the nature of OER initiatives, and the initiatives, in turn, affect the institutionally based practices associated with them[1]. Further, we recognise that these practices and resources exist within a wider societal context in which open educational practices and resources are evolving rapidly. Such practices can be considered individually (i.e. the practices of an individual learner or teacher releasing or reusing resources) or socially (i.e. the practices of groups or collectives releasing or reusing resources). These aspects of OER practices are integrated in the UKOER Impact Model, as illustrated below:

The UKOER Impact Model


Individual impact (the left hand side of the model) has been explored by the JISC OER Impact Study and Open Resources: Impact on Learners and Educators (ORIOLE), led by the UK Open University with input from this team). Through our evaluation of the whole of the UKOER programme during the period 2009-2012, we have examined the right hand side of the model, taking a social focus.

OER4Adults provides an in-depth understanding of the bottlenecks and barriers to mainstreaming the use of OER and to implementing open educational practices in Europe.  Investigation and pre-planning of OER activity has never been realised at this level before. Given the hundreds of millions of euros or dollars that are funding OER activity worldwide, we anticipate this study will be significant.


[1] Lou McGill, Helen Beetham, Isobel Falconer, Allison Littlejohn (2011)  JISC UKOER Programme:   Phase 2 Synthesis and Evaluation Report https://oersynth.pbworks.com/w/page/46324015/UKOER%20Phase%202%20final%20report



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Work and Learning at the Boundaries of Knowledge: A funded PhD Fellowship

Posted by on Mar 9, 2012 in Organisational Learning, Professional Learning | 0 comments

Applications are invited for a PhD research studentship within the Caledonian Academy (www.academy.gcal.ac.uk) in Glasgow, UK.  The Caledonian Academy is seeking a talented,  PhD Fellow for a project studying learning practices within groups of knowledge workers at Google and the Chartered Institute of Securities and Investments.The studentship is for a period of three years, subject to satisfactory progress and provides payment of tuition fees at the UK/EU rate  plus an annual stipend of approx £14k. The successful candidate is expected to undertake up to 6 hours of academic support activity per week, which will include research, teaching or administration.

Purpose of Studentship

The Caledonian Academy is offering a 3-year studentship, starting October 2012, to carry out research leading to a PhD investigating work and learning at the boundaries of knowledge. Data will be collected at two sites at Google (USA) and the Chartered Institute of Securities (UK).

Research project

Societal changes, as well as changes in the nature of knowledge mean that knowledge workers are increasingly asked to operate at the boundary of knowledge, or to source and use knowledge across different domains (Nardi et al, 2000). Examples include Software Engineering where technology innovation demands constant reconceptualization of knowledge, and Finance, where changing regulations and recent failures require new solutions and process innovation. Knowledge workers in such contexts must learn continually to maintain expertise. Little is known about how knowledge workers make connections across distributed networks (Edwards, 2010), however social technologies (web2.0) play an important role in supporting learning networks through which knowledge workers can learn from and with each other as they exchange and create new knowledge (Littlejohn et al, 2012) .

This study is a GCU partnership with two leading organisations: Google and the Chartered Institute for Securities and Investments (CISI). The study will examine the learning practices of:

  • a software engineering team at Google – capturing, creating and distributing knowledge in a dynamic and global environment.
  • investment operations professionals devising new processes within global finance institutions, associated with CISI.


Learning practices within these groups will be explored to identify commonalities.

The goal of this study is to identify and model the strategies used by knowledge workers to plan and direct their learning for work. The key research questions are:

  • What factors (individual, organisational, social and technological) constrain and enable effective learning for connected knowledge work?
  • What methods and practices do connected knowledge workers adopt to plan and direct their learning?
  • How can these practices be supported through the use of social technologies?

The project will use a mixed method approach to collect data from target groups of knowledge workers as they learn in the workplace. Instruments will include semi-structured interviews and network analysis.


Supervisory Team

The studentship offers a unique opportunity to work with an internationally-renowned research team which has strong links with leading research centres and the industry.  The supervisory team comprises: Prof. Allison Littlejohn, Dr Colin Milligan and Dr. Anoush Margaryan Further details are available at http://www.academy.gcal.ac.uk/people/index.html


Education/Experience sought:

The fellowship is open to candidates from EU countries. We are looking for a smart, dynamic, curious and motivated person who has the following skills:

  • Experience, or interest in, conducting mixed methods applied research
  • Strong abilities in writing and oral presentation in English
  • Ability to structure own work to achieve results within strict deadlines
  • Ability to communicate research findings efficiently to both academic and non-academic audiences


  • Applicants must be graduates (Masters or Bachelors Degree plus relevant Masters) with a background in Learning Science or its sub-disciplines. Candidates with a background in Social or Behavioural Sciences are also eligible to apply, though interest in Organisational Learning  is essential.
  • Strong interest in conducting applied research
  • Interest in researching adult workplace learning areas is important


  • Experience  in contemporary network theories is a plus.
  • Familiarity with relevant research on workplace learning is also an advantage



Those seeking further information should contact the supervisory team colin.milligan@gcu.ac.uk  allison.littlejohn@gcu.ac.uk or anoush.margaryan@gcu.ac.uk before April 10th 2012.

How to Apply:

Applicants should submit each of the following documents by e-mail to fiona.hughes@gcu.ac.uk before April 10th 2012

1. Letter of interest specifying how you learned about this vacancy and outlining how your skills, experience and background meet the essential and desirable criteria for this studentship.
2. CV

3. A writing sample (e.g. a recent journal publication or a chapter from your Masters thesis)

4. Names and contact information of two references (academic and/or professional).

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Grand Challenge in Open Learning

Posted by on Mar 5, 2012 in Higher Education, Professional Learning, Sustainable Learning | 0 comments

During Open Education Week, the JISC UKOER evaluation and synthesis team, Lou McGill, Isobel Falconer, Helen Beetham and I, are   collecting together ideas for a Grand Challenge in the areas of Open Education or Open Learning. This is following on from my work  with the EU-funded STELLAR  Network for Excellence in TEL in developing ‘Grand Challenges’. 

A Grand Challenge is about taking the areas of Open Education and/or Open Learning to a new level. It’s about focusing global attention on a specific problem – a problem that is important but has not been solved. Through a Grand Challenge, we identify a problem, link  people and disciplines to build new concepts  and  innovative solutions. Each Grand Challenge should be defined by a problem state­ment, rather than a solution, which is stated simply, measurable and time bound.

Identifying how realistic and desirable a Grand Challenges might be is complex. Every Grand Challenge brings together ideas and concepts from different disciplines to help solve some of the biggest problems associated with Open Education and Open Learning. The likely impact of each on human learning is governed by a complex interplay of factors including:

Contextualisation – Groups of people directly involved with each Grand Challenge will bring to the project their practices, cultures and values, grounding emerging ideas and solutions in known ways of learning and working. A high degree of contextualization embeds the research and outputs within specific settings, reducing the risk of solutions not being taken up. Conversely, a high degree of contexualisation makes the abstraction and diffusion of concepts to other settings more complex.

Interdiciplinarity – Inclusion of a wide range of disciplinary groups within a Grand Challenge enriches the outputs and solutions generated through the project. At the same time, the knowledge generated through the project is likely to be more abstract and less easy to apply directly to solutions across a range of different contexts. Consequently, projects with a greater the number of disciplines tend to be more complex and incur a higher the risk that the outputs will not be adopted widely.

Timescale  – The timeframe for the impact of concepts and solution on human learning is proportional to the complexity of the Grand Challenge. Complex, interdisciplinary projects will require a longer timeframe for the adoption of solutions, as knowledge is diffused across and interpreted by different stakeholder groups.

Let me know your ideas for a Grand Challenge in Open Education or Open Learning by writing a short problem statement. Outline the context, disciplines required to seek solutions, timescale and measures (ie how we will know the Grand Challenges has been completed). 

For example:

By 2022 learners will be able to use and contribute to all knowledge from publicly funded projects. The project will include researchers from  information, organisational, social and learning sciences, computer and material scientists as well as research funding bosdies, schools, colleges, universities, health services, museums, NGOs, legal entities  and government agencies. By 2012 all public projects will be asked to identify how learners can have access to and can contribute to the project knowledge prior as a condition of a funding agreement.






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