As it stands at the time of writing, further and adult education and training in the UK is expensive and demands serious time commitments that many people simply cannot afford. Understandably, this can deter many from pursuing education and learning, which in turn can deny continued personal development and potential opportunities.
Fortunately, there is a way to continue with learning and education that does not carry the risk of debt, the considerable time constraints, or the inevitable stress that accompanies them: open learning.
Open learning is an educational system that combines education with the open source model. Before we examine open learning in more detail, let's take a quick look at open source in general, for anyone unfamiliar with the concept.
What is Open Source?
Open source is a system of development and distribution that can be applied to many different projects, initiatives, communities and industries. Open source is typically free to access, open to everyone, free to distribute, and encourages people with expertise to join in with development in the community, as well as feedback from general users.
Open source as a term originally began with open source software, which is developed by the programming and software development community online and distributed for free to computer users around the world. In fact, this blog post was written using free software developed by the open source community. With proprietary software (such as that produced by Microsoft, Apple, etc.) being so expensive, this allows people who cannot afford the cost the opportunity to use computers and access the internet.
Today, open source as a concept has grown beyond the software development and programming community. As previously mentioned, it now covers many different communities, industries, and so on. These can include farming, engineering, community projects, and of course, education.
Open Source Learning
Open learning initiatives are free to access, open to anyone, and are often created by and contributed to by established education communities and institutions. Styles vary, with some organisations creating short video courses, some running more interactive learning, and others simply making course materials for paid courses available online.
This system provides an opportunity to explore a subject of interest without the risk of losing money or going into debt, coupled with flexible study times. Additionally, the online nature of many open learning initiatives allow for learning from any location.
Open learning courses are not accredited, so don't expect to earn yourself a PhD for free! You can however often gain a real basic understanding in a subject, which can possibly lead to further learning or increased employment opportunities. Although unaccredited, such courses can be listed on a CV, and some open learning groups offer certificates of completion once you finish a course. Some employers view their presence as a sign that they are dealing with someone who is committed to continued personal development.
It should be noted that there is a difference between online learning and open learning. There are plenty of organisations online who offer courses that you have to pay for, and as mentioned earlier, many open learning initiatives are run by commercial educational institutions. It is therefore common to see online open learning in the same place as online paid learning, and if you decide to pursue open learning, take care that you're accessing the right courses.
Self-Discovery, Benefits and Opportunity
As previously mentioned, open learning provides a free and safe path to continued learning and self-development. This in turn can lead to greater personal prosperity and improved wellbeing, with new skills and knowledge helping to increase confidence and to generate potential opportunities.
On a personal note, my first venture into open learning happened through the now disbanded Open2Study, an online initiative created by Open Universities Australia. At the time, I was doing research into presentation skills, and stumbled across some courses aimed at those working in adult education. In the process of completing these courses, I discovered an interest in education and educational psychology, something that I hadn't even considered exploring previously. Even if I had, I would have felt restricted by cost.
This new-found interest gave me a desire and focus to learn more about adult education and to pursue further learning in the subject. It helped me take advantage of opportunities that came my way, as I could speak with knowledge on the subject and demonstrate at least a small measure of skill. I also found that work I had already undertaken benefited, as my adaptability, communication skills, and confidence had all grown. I felt that I now had more to offer going forward, and that the work I did made more of a positive impact.
As you can imagine, this contributed well to my overall sense of wellbeing. If you decide to explore open source learning online, you may find that it benefits you in this manner as well.
Examples of Open Learning Initiatives
Below are a few examples of open learning initiatives that you can explore, along with a brief description of the education provided. This list is by no means complete, so keep looking if you can't find anything here that takes your interest.
- OpenLearn is the open learning initiative from the Open University in the UK, and has a wide array of courses and subjects to choose from.
- Alison offers courses focused on developing workplace skills. Courses are free to take, and you can download your learning record as proof of completion, but official certificates must be purchased.
- W3Schools provide education on a wide range of internet technologies, and allow you to try your hand at creating web pages and the like without any risk.
- Khan Academy provides education in maths, science and engineering, computing, and more.
- Formerly known as The Saylor Foundation, Saylor Academy has a wide range of free online courses to choose from.
- MIT's OpenCourseWare (OCW) initiative is an online publication of the materials from virtually all of MIT's courses, free to access.
- Udacity focuses on courses in computer science and technology. Be sure to use the filter in the course catalogue to separate the free courses from the paid ones.