OER in the third sector


Accessing and creating Open Educational Resources (OER) is now something within reach of everyone, bringing great benefits to those who work within the third sector and adult learning communities.

Here’s how our expertise in the creation, management and storage of OERs, has led to a strong and mutually beneficial partnership with one particular charity, through an essential online learning project.

In the beginning

OER is a term that has become familiar amongst the academic community and concerns such as, ‘Why should I share my resources?’ or ‘My materials are not good enough to share’ are fading. There is still some way to go, but programmes such as the HEFCE-funded UKOER programme and events such as Open Education Week and OER13 have instilled confidence in the fact that sharing is good.

But what about those who need to transfer knowledge outside of the educational arena? Those for instance who work in the third sector?

OER for all

Most of us have benefitted from, or received support from some type of charity. Their work often continues under the radar as they offer help and support to millions of people and animals in need, but with public-sector cuts on the rise, it is crucial they find ways of reaching target audiences through online tools to ensure the continuation of crucial funding. Cue the creation of OERs.

An unlikely partnership?

Our partnership with Cats Protection began almost two years ago, prompted by their need to train more of their several thousand volunteers.

For Cats Protection, training the majority of their 8000 volunteers and every cat owner in the UK was a rather unachievable goal. Their small training team could not sustain such targets, yet it was vital to continue to reach stakeholders.

Laura Skilton, our Jorum Business Development Manager and Lisa Barry, Learning and Development Manager at Cats Protection, began working together to find out how our expertise and experience in OER could help the charity to reach out to its staff, volunteers and the public.

Pioneering steps

Laura’s pioneering work with the Cats Protection Veterinary team resulted in the release of an openly licensed online course called Understanding Feline Origins (UFO) and the setting up of a Virtual Learning Environment, Cats Protection LearnOnline (based on Moodle). UFO provides authoritative advice to cat owners, 600 staff and 9,000 volunteers, following a pedagogically sound and user-tested approach. Laura’s work has established a model for Cats Protection, and other charities, to develop and release further courses as OER.

This is a new area for the third sector; other charities have shown interest in the work and can, as a result of this work, now replicate this model.

Lisa Barry, Learning and Development Manager, Cats Protection explains:

“Online learning is a very new area for CP and Laura’s knowledge and experience – as well as her very practical and pragmatic approach – in this field has meant that the charity is in the enviable position of having not only our own bespoke professional e-learning package to improve our staff and volunteers’ knowledge of our work in cat welfare, but a package that we will be able to deliver to the general public in the future.”

As a result of hard work and collaboration with the IT team, the team went on to win a prestigious Charity Learning Consortium award for innovation in November 2012 , ‘impressing judges with their use of eLearning as part of a blended learning approach to L&D’.

Transferring this knowledge to the wider sector

There has been some work already undertaken in how using OER can enhance offerings from third sector organisations. Notably, Tony Coughlan’s blog about collaboratively developing OERs highlighted the thought process behind using resources in the voluntary sector.

Support from others such as The Open University, means it is encouraging to hear how our work surrounding the value of OER is now being used effectively in other sectors.

Dr Chris Pegler, Senior Lecturer, Institute of Educational Technology, The Open University says:

“The potential for open resources to assist our under-resourced 3rd sector is an important area of activity for any public repository. It is part of the essence of open educational resources that they can reach beyond the institution, discipline or purpose for which they were initially created. The limits and operational considerations in delivering on this promise are however little explored. While Tony Coughlan (Open University) has explored the potential of OER activity with regional voluntary sector staff in his SCORE fellowship case study, Laura, through Mimas has taken the idea of using OER to help charitable organisations into effective practice. This has required considerable commitment and determined negotiation. The end product, and the process that has been developed, has the potential to help others better understand how the benefits of OER within charities can be sustainably addressed.”

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