Indicators for selecting OER – an informal learner’s perspective

According to the Terminology of Vocational Training Policy (Tissot 2004), informal learning is: “Learning resulting from daily activities related to work, family or leisure. It is not organised or structured (in terms of objectives, time or learning support). IL (informal learning) is in most cases unintentional from the learner’s perspective. It typically does not lead to certification.”

Similarly, the European Commission (2000) describes: “Informal learning is learning that is not organised or structured in terms of goals, time or instruction. This covers skills acquired (sometimes unintentionally) through life and work experience”.

This unstructured, informal approach has resulted in informal learning being a scarcely-investigated area of OER impact.

Our project has identified the ‘informal sector’ as one of its four key sectors of study. We have been taking a close look at informal learners and their use of OER: in her Blog Can OER breakdown barriers to participation in education?, OERRH researcher Leigh-Anne Perryman discusses increased access to education for informal learners with disabilities; one of our research hypotheses (hypothesis H) looks at informal learners in relation to the variety of techniques used to compensate for the lack of formal support – initial research findings have been discussed in OERRH researcher Rob Farrow’s blog post Supporting Informal Learners Openly. Another OERRH research hypothesis (hypothesis G) poses the question: Informal learners use a variety of indicators when selecting OER.

Our Hub spent a week in July compiling evidence around Hypothesis G. Thus far, OERRH survey results show that ‘description of learning objectives’ of an OER is the most influential factor for informal learners.  Clements and Pawlowski’s (2012) survey-based study of ICT and Math secondary school teachers’ attitudes towards OER quality identifies ‘trust’ as an important indicator involved in respondents’ choice of OER, and a core component of judgements around OER quality during the search phase of the re-use process.  Initial analysis of OER Research Hub data from an OpenLearn survey of informal learners’ use of OER highlighted that ‘trust’  is certainly a factor influencing the decisions of informal learners – 53.12% of survey respondents agree that resources being created/uploaded by a reputable/trusted institution/person is indeed important. However, a greater percentage of informal learners were influenced by the availability of a description of learning objectives or outcomes being provided by the resource. This, to 60.5% of our survey respondents, is key in their decision-making process. For 54.98%, the ease of downloading material is another crucial factor influencing use of resources.

On the other hand, the OER Research Hub survey suggests that a ‘catchy title’ or ‘attractive images’ bear less (8.23%) sway over learners’ choice.

Other influencing factors include: the length/complexity of the resource; user ratings; evidence of interest in a particular resource and; personal recommendation.

Our OpenLearn survey is still live so results could prove different once closed. Other OERRH surveys of informal learners are in the pipeline and results will be shared soon.