Informal learning at The Open University

The Open University's approach to learning

Providing equitable, inclusive, free and open learning is in our DNA

  • We specialise in delivering effective learning experiences for adults which fit around their lives, whether it’s a busy mum in London working toward her degree, or a primary school teacher in a remote area in Kenya, improving her classroom practice. Over 70% of our students remain at work while studying.
  • We use appropriate technology to break down barriers – for those with disabilities, isolated or economically challenged. 
  • We are open – we aim to remove all barriers to education and set no entry qualifications. 
  • We use a mixture of business models (free, fee, and donor support) to provide scalable and sustainable solutions.
  • We deliver quality learning experiences on scale to almost 170,000 students. Of the UK learners, 60% are eligible for financial support and 44% start undergraduate study without the entry qualifications they would need at a conventional university.

Advancement and dissemination of learning and knowledge … to promote the general wellbeing of the community

How we do this

The OU is unique – it is the world leader in providing distance online education, supporting over 170,000 students studying with us. We do this by using appropriate technology to break down barriers – for those with disabilities, isolated or economically challenged.  For example we have over 27,000 disabled students studying with us, who are able to do so due to our prioritised accessibility standards in our content and delivery systems.

The Open University's approach to free learning

Free learning resources are core to our social mission, but we are also aware that the return on investment in this area is a very important by-product in terms of reputation building, brand recognition, new market opportunities, technology innovation, partnership formation and, most significantly triggering new student registrations. We have aligned the systems that we use for core student provision with those for our public OER provision. Therefore, as we invest and develop our student systems, the public systems also benefit (and vice versa).

We aim to ensure this mutual benefit approach is also applied in our work in developing and delivering systems to support others in free learning. We are also keen to ensure that any software or hardware systems have support communities that will remain at available, affordable, at scale and resilient.