Data Report 2013-2015: Informal Learners

In 2013 the Hewlett-funded OER Research Hub Project created a bank of survey questions to test eleven hypotheses related to the impact of OER use on teaching and learning. In the two years that followed, a number of bespoke surveys were designed and administered in collaboration with the Flipped Learning Network, Vital Signs, the Community Colleges Consortium for Open Educational Resources, OpenLearn, Saylor Academy, OpenStax, BCcampus, Siyavula, School of Open-P2PU and CoPILOT. Responses from each survey were then combined into a larger dataset to allow for comparison and in-depth examination. The final dataset is comprised of 7,498 cases –44.4% informal learners, 28.4% formal learners, 24.3% educators and 2.9% librarians.

The current report, first in a series of three, presents a frequencies analysis of responses from informal learners, i.e. those learners not registered on a course of study at an educational institution.

Some key findings:

  • A majority of informal learners using OER are full-time employed and already hold an educational qualification
  • Cost is the most important factor driving adoption of OER by informal learners
  • Relevance to one’s particular needs and clear learning objectives guide informal learners’ selection of open content
  • Few (13.9%) informal learners are mindful of open licenses allowing adaptation when selecting OER
  • Discoverability of resources, quality and subject coverage are the most pressing challenges faced by informal learners using OER
  • 91.5% of informal learners are likely to continue using OER
  • A quarter of respondents declare their inclination to go into formal education after using OER


The full dataset has been anonymised and is available for download under a CC BY license here.

We hope these findings and this format will be useful and of interest to those in the OER field, and would welcome any feedback. Similar reports on formal learners and educators use of OER will follow.

Featured Image by janneke staaks CC BY-NC 2.0

5 thoughts on “Data Report 2013-2015: Informal Learners

  1. I am slightly envious of this study, as I have tried to do the same (with a focus on video OERs) and asked similar questions and found similar results, but only managed to get very small sample sizes.

    But I am also very suspicious of the effects of sample bias in this study.

    I can’t believe that for most people there is such a focus on academic topics in the material used. My experience and that of my friends is that we use the Internet to get to all sorts of open resources to meet our needs for education and/or information. And a lot of that has little to do with academic courses and lots to do with our living and leisure learning needs.

    It depends what you mean by an informal learner. At the moment I am not registered for any formal course, but at least once a week I use the Internet to learn how to do something. For instance in the last week, how to bake a cake, how to mend a broken smoke alarm, how to fix a bug in the operating system of my new computer, how to use my camera. All of these used open resources (some with CC licence) and quite a few were video resources.

    Then I noticed that at least one of the charts in the report is based on respondents using OpenLearn resources (i.e. Open University derived materials). So at least 2701 of the 3329 informal learners were using OpenLearn materials. This might explain the distribution of subjects studied as well as the anglophone bias in users. So where did the sample of informal users come from? Your dataset statistics suggest that educators are not informal learners. Clearly wrong, as I, for one, am both. Besides, formal learners can also use OERs to address their informal learning needs (doing a course in pharmacy but need to know how to change pedals on a cycle). So I am left puzzled as to what the sampling strategy was and what is meant by an informal learner.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Graham.
    With some of our collaborations, we targeted a particular group of people. For instance, we worked with Siyavula to find out about teachers’ perceptions of open textbooks and other OER; the survey was administered via their newsletter and thus quite contained in terms of sampling. When this was not the case, respondents identified themselves in one of the three roles, as they answered whether they used OER primarily in connection with their teaching, formal studies or as informal learners.
    Your assumption that at least 2701 of the 3329 informal learners were using OpenLearn materials is not correct. The graph shows OpenLearn in square brackets as an example, but different versions of the survey would have said Saylor Academy, iTunesU and so on.
    I’m not as surprised as you are about the academic focus of materials. Note that a high percentage say that their decision to use OER comes from a desire to study a course/have a learning experience, while few say they use OER to find information (i.e. how to bake a cake). In my opinion, MOOCs have a lot to do with this, maybe?
    These findings merit further investigation, of course, which is partly why we are sharing with you all.

  3. I am a third year PhD student at the University of Georgia located in the state of Georgia in the U.S. First, I truly appreciate all your work and meaningful data. I enjoyed reading this report and also journal articles published based on the data. I am planning to re-use the whole data set to test my own hypotheses on. Hopefully, I can share my research in the near future. Before I start working on it, I would like your favor. Could you send me a description of how the questions were developed based on what prior research?

    Thank you!


  4. Pingback: Data Reports OER Research Hub | Open Education

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