Open Learning Websites and Systems

Paul G. West
Creative Commons: We Like to Share
3 min readJun 13, 2021



We often hear about open learning these days with varying meanings as new entrants move into the world of Open Educational Resources (OER) and Open Learning (OL). This blog provides examples of what users, or online clients may expect from open learning websites and open learning systems.

Open Learning Websites

Open learning websites have been emerging over many years. Based on the OER movement that started at the beginning of the 2000s and had its roots much earlier than this, a website that proclaims to be an open learning website should at least provide:

  • Free access to course materials, without requiring a login. This means that you should not have to ‘trade’ your personal information to gain access to the course materials.
  • An open learning website will allow you to download course materials in formats that you can use and adapt to your own needs (or the needs of your learners). Typical formats include docx, odt, and txt. View and print-ready files will be available in ePub, Mobi and pdf formats.
  • Should you wish to undertake a course on the website, including its automated assessments, you might expect to provide basic information to create a login. This might include an email address (which could be a disposable or temporary email address) and a password. If the system issues a certificate of participation for having passed online assessments, you are likely to be asked for the name you wish to have included on the certificate.
  • Once you have completed the free course, the website may offer you a learning path into another course that would require payment if you wish to proceed. Moving from a free course to a paying one is the choice of the learner.
  • Open learning websites typically use learning management systems such as Moodle and Canvas.

A example of an open learning website is the Open University’s OpenLearn website, which states that it offers:

  • thousands of free open learning courses;
  • free access to OER courseware without parting with your personal information or having to log in;
  • free statements of participation if you follow the course online;
  • that you may download the entire course in multiple formats (like doc, pdf, mobi, ePub);
  • that you may customise the course and use it for students in courses you teach.

Remember that true OER course materials carry Creative Commons open licenses to allow you to download, store, adapt, reuse and share them.

Open Learning Systems

As open learning progresses, Open Learning Systems may develop across countries or regions of the world. Uses of these systems will gain far greater value than the more simple learning management systems used for open learning websites:

  • integrate many other important aspects for educator and learner support;
  • facilitate materials development and online publishing;
  • ensure access at the lowest possible technological common denominator;
  • provide encrypted ledger technology to capture digital badges and credits;
  • ensure integration with major qualification frameworks and pathways;
  • enable Open Learners to continue to formal education.

Project or business targets for a major Open Learning Systems may include: measurably reducing unemployment and reducing poverty.

Regional or national open learning systems need to serve the needs of their intended audiences and provide high levels of service. Because something is provided at no cost to the end user does not indicate that users or clients should expect poor quality. The services have been paid for, possibly by donors or taxpayers’ funds and so the services should be ‘assessed’ against that background. As a taxpayer, do you think the service has appropriately used your tax contributions? If you were the senior manager of the donor organisation, would you be proud to use the services of the website or system?

Learn about Creative Commons open licenses

See a great example of an open learning website

By Paul G. West
Chapter Lead, Creative Commons South Africa Chapter

CC-BY 4.0,

Disclaimer: The content of this post does not constitute legal advice nor does it refer to any particular or specific situation. If you have any doubts about your specific situation, you should consult with a lawyer.


Open Learning Websites and Systems, by Paul G. West,, CC-BY.
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Ver: 13 June 2021