Photograph of a large group of people celebrating

Happy 10th birthday OpenLearn

This year, the OU’s free learning portal OpenLearn celebrates its 10th anniversary, hot on the heels of welcoming its 40 millionth visitors. We explore OpenLearn’s continuing success and take a look at the changing popularity of courses.

In 2006 The Open University was the first UK university to make course materials freely available online in the form of an educational resource website called OpenLearn. OpenLearn allowed the OU to both harness its expertise using web technologies and to extend its mission of making education accessible to everyone. By the end of its first year, OpenLearn had attracted more than 1 million visitors, 90% of whom were new to the OU with 50% being international visitors.

Such was the belief in OpenLearn that it received praise from both figures in the educational and political arena. In particular the project was highly commended by MP Sarah Teather, who at the time was Liberal Democrat’s Education spokeswoman. She said,

“Politicians may talk about tearing down barriers to education - this really achieves it. I applaud the OU for being the first in the UK to make their teaching material available in this way. I hope that this encourages other institutions to do the same, ensuring our country is firmly on the cutting edge of these new developments in learning”.

Today, OpenLearn includes much more in the way of media-rich, interactive features. It also plays a key role in continuing the learning journey started by many of the Open University broadcast programmes, such as The Bottom Line, Genius of the Ancient World and Secret Life of Books. It attracts almost 5 million visitors a year from more than 230 counties and offers 835 courses in the form of 9,000 hours of free content.

OpenLearn (1)

Accessing free OpenLearn material on a mobile device

Originally intended as a resource to support skills development, the most popular courses originally focused on law, fiction writing, study skills, business and plate tectonics. In 2015, changes in the business and social environments mean that computing, languages and finance all now feature in the top ten most popular courses:

1. Introduction to cyber security

2. English: skills for learning

3. Introduction to bookkeeping and accounting

4. Start writing fiction

5. Succeed with maths – Part 1

6. Getting started on Classical Latin

7. Managing my money

8. Learning to teach: becoming a reflective practitioner

9. Essay and report writing skills

10. Understanding operations management