We’ve had an impressive – if not overwhelming – response for our survey of Saylor.org learners who have been completing our ‘informal learners’ survey. We have now closed the survey but we received 3,101 responses in just under six weeks! Truly this surpassed my wildest expectation, and reflects the kind of scale we can achieve through effective collaboration.
Very similar OER Research Hub surveys have been conducted with other repositories of OER including iTunesU, OpenLearn and Connexions, so we should be in a position to make some interesting comparisons once our main analysis phase begins in early 2014. In the meantime, though, I thought it was worth trying to draw out some of the headlines and major trends in this dataset. Saylor users were prompted to complete the survey upon logging in to their learning environment. (Some of the captures look a bit small but you can click through to expand them.)
Users who responded to the survey tended to be between 19 and 44 with the majority falling into the 25-34 age bracket. 53% of respondents were male, 45% female with 2% transgendered.
Most users (n=1,299) were from the United States but there were also significant numbers of responses from the UK (n=217); India (n=184); Canada (n=130); France (n=70); Australia (n=68); South Africa (n=51); Spain (n=46); Brazil (n=37); The Netherlands (n=33); The Philippines (n=31); Italy (n=31); Nigeria (n=30); Russia (n=29); Pakistan (n=26); Germany (n=26); China (n=24); and Japan (n=23). Many other countries were also represented in smaller numbers. We saw a wide geographical distribution across the USA with California (n=159) being the most common state of residence. Every US territory was represented with the exception of the Virgin Islands. We also saw a good spread across areas of study.
61% (n=1,866) said that English was their first language which means that more than 1/3 of users are studying in a foreign language. (Saylor currently only offers courses in English.) 7.75% of respondents (n=235) declared a disability with mobility impairments, mental health issues and chronic illnesses being the most common responses.
Interestingly, roughly half (49%) of respondents (n=1,470) said that they were in full-time employment with a further 15% (n=436) in part time work. Some of these part time workers no doubt are included in the 17% (n=518) of responses who said they were in full-time education or the 6% (n=190) who study part time. 9% (n=279) said they were actively looking for work while 3.4% (n=101) were retired. Taken in conjunction with the age profile information it would seem that the majority of Saylor users are full time workers who fit study in around their jobs although there is a strong contingent of formal students who are making uses of these resources.
We asked people about ways in which they have recently accessed the internet and the kinds of technologies they use. 82% of respondents said they use broadband on a home desktop (n=2,454) and 64% (n=1,906) said they use an internet-enabled mobile device. 49% (n=1,438) said that they use a tablet and 47% (n=1,407) said they use computers at work. 23% (n=678) said that they computers at an educational institution at an educational facility – which would align with the numbers that said they were in formal education. Almost 100% of the sample had used email and word processing software. Roughly 1/3 of the respondents had blogged (n=883), microblogged (n-936) or used a torrent client (n=1,085). Roughly 2/3 had used video conferencing services (n=1,717) or used cloud storage (n=1,815). Approximately 3/4 of the sample had shopped online (n=2,244) or contributed to a social network (n=2,258). Interestingly, 16% (n=470) said that they had contributed to a Wiki and 8% (n=227) had uploaded a podcast.
Most users reported that they found the site through Google or internet search, though there is some nuance in the full textual descriptions.
72% of those who responses said that this was their first use of Saylor.org or other OER but there was a core of users who have been using OER for longer.
Here are the reasons people gave for using Saylor.org.
Low cost was obviously the most reported factor, but flexibility in the manner of access and the way the materials can be used are major factors. With respect to our hypothesis I it is interesting to note that almost 29% said that they were trying out study content with a view to entering formal (paid-for) education. It is also noteworthy that three quarters (76%) expressed the desire to learn as an important factor.
The most significant factors appear to be:
- Perceived relevance (70%)
- A description of learning outcomes (64%)
- The reputation of the institution/person that created the resource (57%)
- Ease of download/access (51%)
- Use of multimedia content (48%)
- Evidence of interest from others (39%)
With respect to our hypothesis B it seems significant that Creative Commons licensing of a resource was a factor of importance for 18%.
As might be expected of a user base that is predominantly informal learners, the vast majority (83%) of the sample have not used OER in connection with formal study. There seemed to be twice as many people who had reported using non-Saylor OER for formal study as those who have used Saylor OER for formal study which might be taken to indicate that Saylor is not the first choice for formal students wishing to supplement their study with OER.
However, as the next table shows, there were a lot of formal learners within this cohort who were studying with Saylor in order to gain credit towards further study.
While three quarters of learners said that they were studying for personal development, more than half (60%) said they were studying for professional development or to improve career prospects (38%). Most (62%) of those who said that they were in formal education were in higher education (n=298) with 20% being in school (n=93) and 17% in further education or college (n=80). Around a third (31%, n=150)) of those who were in formal study said that they had studied the subject using Saylor materials prior to registration – another finding relevant to hypothesis I). Around the same proportion (31%, n=143) said that using Saylor had directly influenced their decision to register for their current course of study. Here is some of the impact that students reported OER has had on their formal education:
- Increased enthusiasm for study (59%, n=244)
- Increased interest in subject (58%, n=240)
- Increased satisfaction with the learning experience (53%, n=218)
- Becoming interested in a wider range of subjects (50%, n=208)
- Gaining confidence (50%, n=208)
- Increased independence and self-reliance (48%, n=199)
- Increased experimentation with ways of learning (48%, n=199)
- Being more likely to complete a course of study (41%, n=167)
- Grades improving (32%, n=131)
- Increased participation in class discussions (29%, n=123)
One the whole these are obviously fairly encouraging proportions of students reporting a positive effect on their studies as a result of using these OER. It will be interesting to see how these relate back to the range of study support techniques that this cohort reports using (including study notes, forums, diaries, face-to-face discussion and blogging). Interestingly, 66% (n=201) of the ‘formal learners’ cohort reported adapting OER to fit their own needs so it will also be interesting to see how their patterns for the impact of OER on their study. 24% (n=73) also reported creating OER while 8% (n=22) had created OER and then published them under a CC licence.
Moving on to Saylor users who are also teachers: as the following table shows, they seem much ‘more likely’ (83%, n=321) to engage in more free study than to take a paid for course (16%, n=53). However, this does not seem to reflect a lack of quality in the materials or the learning experience since 85% (n=288) said they were ‘more likely’ to do further research in the subject. 31% (n=101) actually said they were less likely to take a paid-for course, perhaps because they were satisfied with the quality of OER instruction.
Here is how the same question was answered by informal learners, with 21% (n=371) indicating that they would be more likely to enter formal study.
A number of teachers (n=330) also took the survey – almost 10% of the entire sample are currently teaching, and most (28%, n=125) of this group had been teaching for at least 10 years. They covered all the educational sectors and were mostly working in full-time or part-time face-to-face teaching (an even split) with a smaller number of professional trainers. There were very few distance educators in the sample, suggesting that Saylor is not widely used by teachers with this profile. The main challenges teachers identified with using OER were finding resources in a particular subject area (43%, n=127); finding resources of sufficient quality (40%, n=116); knowing where to find resources (33%, n=96) and finding up-to-date resources (33%, n=96). Most teachers were using the site for inspiration (72%, n=253); to learn a new topic (55%, n=193); for professional development (53%, n=186) or to supplement lesson material (51%, n=177). Here is what they thought about the impact on their teaching.
And here’s what they thought about the impact on their students:
For the sample as a whole, open textbooks were the most used feature of the site (73%, n=1,128) followed by videos (66%, n=1,019) tutorials (60%, n=919) whole courses (52%, n=805) and quizzes (50%, n=770).
There is much more that can be said about this mass of data – I have barely scratched the surface here and I would advise anyone against quoting these result which are simply a first pass at a big dataset. Obviously these are just headline figures and there is much more we can tell from filtering samples and looking at the qualitative data that has been provided. But there seems to be much food for thought here, and contrasting these results with other surveys will no doubt raise some interesting questions in the new year. Thanks again to Saylor for helping to make it happen!
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