50 things you never knew about OpenLearn

Copyright: Cherriesjd via Dreamstime.

About OpenLearn

1. OpenLearn was born in 2006, the same year Bernard Matthews discontinued Turkey Twizzlers (thanks Jamie Oliver) and Pluto got declassed as a planet.

2. We’ve had 60 million visitors to OpenLearn since 2006. That’s more than the population of Italy, Spain or the population of Canada and Australia combined.

3. Why do we give out content for free? The queen told us to! It’s written in our Royal Charter ‘Advancement and dissemination of learning and knowledge… to promote the general wellbeing of the community’.

4. 7.8 million people visited our website last year — that’s more than the number of people who visited the UK’s most popular tourist attraction, The British Museum.

5. A little piece of every module offered by The Open University is placed on OpenLearn for free.

6. Learning on OpenLearn can count towards your Open University formal study — check out this free course, Making Your Learning Count.

7. It would take you two and a half years to finish all of our free courses. Or you can complete one course in just one hour like our free course, Does Prison Work, or watch a minute-long video on 60 Second Adventures in Microgravity (see the animation below).

8. Operating as a four nation university, OpenLearn has free resources representing all of our nations including an interactive on Welsh language and culture and a free course, Discovering Wales and Welsh: First Steps; a timeline on the history of Ireland taken from our OU/BBC co-production Ireland with Simon Reeve, and a free course on Gaelic in Modern Scotland as well as articles on how Brexit will affect Scotland.


9. Open University students who use OpenLearn are 5–10% more likely to pass and progress to their next module, than those who do not. Interested in our full course catalogue now?

10. We understand studying after a number of years can be daunting so every new student about to take on an OU module studies a Badged Open Course as part of their induction; take a look at Being An OU Student.

11. 21% of our informal learners don’t speak English as a first language, luckily we have a course for that, English: Skills for Learning.

12. 25% of learners on OpenLearn have a disability. We’re big on accessibility as a result of this.

13. We’re advocates of employability and have a range of free courses for the workplace to give you the additional skills employers increasingly value.

14. Studying making you stressed? We can help you get ‘zen’ in our article, Five Reasons Why You should Care About Mindfulness, and a video on student mental health (see below).

Syndication and other sites

15. We have our sister site OpenLearn Create, which is more international with 48% of users from India and another large chunk from Tanzania and Nigeria.

16. Our YouTube channel has a whopping 183,000 subscribers — the most on any UK university YouTube account.

17. We have a Facebook and Twitter account with over 15K followers — come and say hi!

18. Ever fancied making your own online course (whether it’s on dark matter or your favourite book)? We’ve made an open online course entitled, How To Make an Open Online Course. It’s free course ‘Inception’!

Copyright: Bryan Mathers

The popular/award-winning

19. Our most popular broadcast page last year was Blue Planet Two with almost 700,000 page visits. The site actually crashed on the first night of broadcast!

20. We condensed Homer’s enormous poems The Iliad and The Odyssey into two award-winning animations. Brad Pitt doesn’t feature, but the dulcet tones of Don Warrington do (see the video below).

21. Our most popular course over the years has been, Start Writing Fiction.

22. We won an award for our digital badges and since their creation in 2015 12,042 digital badges have been awarded to learners.

23. Our most popular interactive over the years is our Choose your own Philosophy Adventure.

24. Hate maths? Conquer your fears with our most popular badged open course, Succeed with Maths.

25. Our most popular article (every year) is a timeline on the rise and fall of Hitler.

26. Our Facebook followers love our free course Forensic Psychology — it’s their favourite…

27. While the Twittersphere seizes the day (carpe diem) by engaging most with our Getting Started in Classical Latin free course.

28. We’ve tapped into the sofa psychologist trend and have a range of interactives to help you become the next Sherlock from Are you a Super Recogniser? for those of you who think you can spot a criminal offender, to Detecting Deception (our most popular interactive on Facebook) where you’re asked to sniff out the liar.

About the team

29. Some of the OpenLearn team can’t function without a morning coffee. We love it so much we made a free course on it, The Value of Coffee.

30. We’re obsessed with emoji and love exploring the educational purposes of the little pictures. We even did an animation voiced by the wonderful Lauren Laverne.

31. We practise what we preach. The OpenLearn team went on a volunteering day to the wonderful Bletchley Park (home of the World War 2 codebreakers) and got our hands dirty sanding and painting benches, digging a path and gardening. You can find out more about volunteering in this badged free course, Introducing the Voluntary Sector.

32. Like most of the UK, the OpenLearn team are BIG fans of The Great British Bake Off and we have an interactive on the language and culture of baking throughout Europe. Baklava, anyone?

33. We’re potty about Harry Potter (and so are some of our OU academics). Can you guess which Hogwarts house translates as Pouffesouffle in French? Take a look at this article, Harry Potter and the Translator’s Challenge to find out.

34. We’re suckers for a bad pun. Check out Star Wars: The Class Jedi (formerly Star Wars: The Course Returns). Notice how Darth Vader has taken over our logo (but thankfully not the galaxy)?

35. OK, so it’s not a Hollywood blockbuster but the OpenLearn team have made special cameo appearances in some of our site’s videos — including this video which will be included in our upcoming ‘Science of Alcohol’ badged open course.

The inspirational

36. The OU’s Chancellor Martha Lane Fox (and the founder of LastMinute.com) actually introduces our free course, Digital Literacy: Succeeding in a Digital World.

37. We have some inspiring people included in some of our free courses. Take a look at this one, Exploring Coaching and Psychology, introduced by ACTUAL OLYMPIAN and gold medal winner team GB’s Alex Danson.

38. We’re championing Women in STEM and have an interactive, Reboot your STEM Career, and free course, Return to Stem, to help women return to their science, technology, engineering or maths career after a break.

39. We know personal finance can be baffling and not necessarily taught in schools, which is why we created a free course, Managing my Money for Young Adults, with the wonderful Bobby Seagull from University Challenge.

40. We’ve partnered with some well-known companies to deliver top-notch learning such as CISCO in our Internet of Everything free course.

Copyright: Bryan Mathers

The weird and wonderful

41. Did you know the OU turns 50 a few months before the 50th anniversary of the moon landings? To mark this event in July 2019 we have some out of this world content planned including an article about how bra manufacturers won the job to design the Apollo mission spacesuits because they had the best designers and seamstresses. In the words of Beyoncé (almost) “Who runs the world (and space)? Girls”. Check out our free course, Moons of our Solar System, in the meantime…

42. Some of our content would make Queen Victoria turn in her grave — check out our animations on Sperm 101 below.

43. We also touch on important subjects people find morbid like death and dying. See this free course An Introduction to Death, Dying and Grief

44. Would you believe us when we say that one of our philosophy courses includes a Guns n Roses tribute act? Head over to Exploring Philosophy: Faking Nature to see the fake Axel and the gang!

45. Are you a parent? To create an account on our site you must be 13+, but we have these fantastic Wild Weather Kitchen Experiments if you’re looking to entertain your younger kids in an educational way. We apologise in advance if your children get flour all over your kitchen.

46. We’ve gone to some lengths to prove that chocolate isn’t as bad for you as we initially thought (hurrah!) Dig into this article on the science of chocolate.

47. We’ve proved that time travel is really possible. Marty McFly, eat your heart out…

48. We’ve gone a bit overboard on content related to the bard. Check out this page (or should that be shrine) for Shakespeare. We’ve got videos, academics insights, free courses and more.

49. We’ve got a naughty streak and some of our content has an ‘explicit’ button (mainly for our classical studies content). Check out our game Hadrian: The Roamin’ Emperor for a scene with this famous Roman in the nude!

50. …And finally, for those of you with a dirty mind, we’ll let you know our free course with the most hilarious title. Who says toilet humour isn’t funny?! May we introduce you to Analysing Skid Marks!?

This article was previously published on OpenLearn in January 2019, by the OpenLearn team.

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