Open learning gives the learner flexibility and choice over what, when, at what pace, where, and how they learn. It is normally associated with self-study, using a variety of media including books, workbooks, CD-ROMs and online materials. Much open learning is carried out at a distance, in many cases from home, but can also be based in a learning centre at a college or on an employer’s premises.
Open learning materials are typically structured into courses, but are included here under the non-formal learning heading because they are very often just dipped into, rather than studied in any formal sense. Perhaps the key distinction here is that, although open learning resources may well be made available by the employer, the decision to use them is entirely the employee’s. He or she determines what they will study, if anything at all, and to what extent.
Open learning resources are funded by employers because they provide a simple and inexpensive way to encourage and support employee self-development. Libraries of off-the-shelf self-study materials can typically be purchased or licensed at relatively low per-user prices and require little in the way of back up. However, if the open learning is seen as no more than a peripheral employee benefit, there is a good chance that the facility will not be used to anything near its capacity.
Open learning is:
- at its best when it forms an integral part of the l&d strategy, is supported by line managers, is available as short modules, is lightly structured, uses high-quality materials;
- best avoided when peripheral, unsupported, low in quality.