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Sustainable Relationships between Universities and Vocational OER Users


Aim of the project: To create a sustainable long-term relationship between the Open University in the South West and the regional voluntary sector network South West Forum in developing vocational open educational resources (OERs) for the UK voluntary sector.


This project supported the cultivation of a Community of Practice between end-users, policy makers and academics, with stakeholders from each group improving, updating and creating educational resources for the voluntary sector. Wikipedia and other successful open-source software communities demonstrated that ‘openness’ is achievable if stakeholders buy-in to the idea. The operation of these open-source communities provided the basis of some of the characteristics identified as beneficial in creating this Community of Practice amongst stakeholders.


  • Ten OpenLearn study units were mapped against elements of the National Occupational Standards (NOS), adapted for charity trustees and released through a dedicated website.

  • Entered negotiations with the sector skills body about using open educational resources and practices as part of the new model for voluntary sector training.

  • Collaborated with three national voluntary sector organisations to design a survey. This survey aimed to collect information about voluntary and community sector trainers’ awareness of, attitudes towards and current use of open educational resources.

  • Obtained ethical approval from the OU’s Ethics Committee.

  • Collaborated with the same three national voluntary organisations to promote the survey amongst their members nationwide.

  • Responses were analysed and indicated interest in the potential benefits of open educational resources for the voluntary sector.

  • Appraised open educational resources that would be useful to trainers and academics in childhood and youth studies.

  • Designed and conducted a quantitative research study in collaboration with a colleague. Undertook peer review training with California State University MERLOT.

  • Reviewed two resources on MERLOT (http://www.merlot.org).


This Fellowship project resulted in a variety of different outputs related to the work undertaken. They included:

  • Ten Open University OpenLearn study units, adapted for leaders and managers of small charities, voluntary and community organisations and available at http://labspace.open.ac.uk/mod/resource/view.php?id=449912&direct=1

  • Development of a website called CharityWise

  • Tagging of 63 OpenLearn study units that might be useful to trustees with a Trustee_Development tag (http://openlearn.open.ac.uk/tag/index.php?id=16439), to aid discoverability

  • Tagging of 130 OpenLearn study units of more general use to the voluntary sector with a CharityWise tag (http://openlearn.open.ac.uk/tag/index.php?id=16432), to aid discoverability

  • Invited to join sector skills negotiations

  • Published paper: Coughlan, T and Perryman, L-A. (2011). Something for everyone? The different approaches of academic disciplines to Open Educational Resources and the effect on widening participation. In the Journal of Open, Flexible and Distance Learning (15(2), pp. 11–27), available at: http://oro.open.ac.uk/31071/ on the different approaches of academic disciplines to open educational resources.

  • Publication of a collection of OERs suitable for trainers and academics in the childhood and youth segment at http://opencollection.wordpress.com

  • Peer reviewed two resources on MERLOT

    Outcomes and conclusions

The key outcomes from this project highlighted the benefits in bringing together stakeholders to achieve common goals. They showed a mixed response of scepticism and enthusiasm amongst stakeholders. Findings worthy of particular mention include:

  • Open educational resources could potentially be used to streamline and integrate a currently fragmented education system for voluntary sector workers.

  • Open educational resources are recognisably ethical and resonate well with the coalition government’s transparency agenda.

  • The cost effectiveness of using open educational resources is attractive in a shrinking economy.

  • There is a view that publicly funded resources should remain in the public sector, and open educational resource repositories encourage opportunities for using and re-using resources rather than just archiving them.

  • There is a significant quantity of learning content which is old and out of date littering the voluntary sector.

  • It is very labour intensive to evaluate the resources available and convert them into suitable open educational resources.

  • Exploration of what motivated contributors to participate in the project needs to be explored, as does how their efforts can be rewarded.

  • Open educational resources and open educational practices are not well established outside the university environment, nor do these names provide clarity on what they are and why one would use them.

  • Assessment and accreditation remain areas of discussion within the open education movement and options and outcomes will be of key interest to stakeholders within the voluntary sector as much as for the open education movement.

  • There is an issue around digital literacy skills and the use of open educational resources. Most open educational resources are online resources. They are not necessarily intuitive, and require a certain amount of digital literacy to use.

As people began to understand what open educational resources were there was some suspicion, skepticism and hostility, particularly where job security was perceived to be threatened by the open education movement. There was, however, an equal amount of enthusiasm for the movement, and UK voluntary sector trainers, managers and policy makers are increasingly including open educational resources as part of their strategy and training delivery.

More information on this project can be found at http://www8.open.ac.uk/score/fellows/tony-coughlan

Case study by Tony Coughlan, published online at https://web.archive.org/web/20130510173046/http://www.open.ac.uk/score/sustainable-relationships-between-universities-and-vocational-oer-users-0 under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

Tony Coughlan, Sustainable Relationships between Universities and Vocational OER Users, Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.