One learning environment for teacher and student

By Arjan van Venrooy

A typical university consists of a building where, as a student, you sit down behind one of the many computers, attend lectures and talk to lecturers in the corridors. The Open University is an odd duck in this respect, as there is no physical campus. Distance learning is a USP of the Open University (OU), but at the same time a pain point. Because how do you make sure the learning environment meets all the requirements and wishes of teachers and students?

Een Highberg klantverhaal: Eén leeromgeving voor docent en student

"Until 2013, we worked with multiple learning environments side by side, such as Moodle and Blackboard," says Sander van den Eijnden, chairman of the Open University's Executive Board. "Lecturers were satisfied with that, because they were used to this way of working. For students, it was too complicated because they had to learn and work in different environments all the time. It was too fragmented. That image did not match what we as OU had in mind."

It had to be different, it had to be better

The desire of the Executive Board was the creation and implementation of a single learning environment in which both faculty and students could work. This would put an end once and for all to issues such as non-working links and roaming student accounts. This learning environment would be developed on the basis of the existing portal technology by the Open University, because the expertise and skill for this was in-house.

On the one hand an advantage, on the other a disadvantage. Because if all employees know about educational technology, publish about it and do research on it, that also means they all have an opinion about it Van den Eijnden: "Education is the heart of the OU. Pure emotion. The idea of a new learning environment narrowly avoided leading to a bloody tribal battle. With the main issue being: can we manage such a big project like this ourselves?"

I was on the user council, so I experienced the implementation of yOulearn closer than other teachers. It was neatly done with workshops you could attend, although that wasn't really necessary for our teachers. yOUlearn works very intuitively. If you are not afraid of new systems, you work with it very easily. It also looks good: pleasant and clean. All master's courses run on yOUlearn, but I also have one undergraduate course for which I work with Blackboard. Every time I open that, I really long for yOUlearn again.

Step by step

This is where Highberg came around the corner. They were appointed for the program management of the new learning system to be developed, yOUlearn. Their task: to organize the construction and implementation process in a controlled way in cooperation with a steering committee. Van den Eijnden: "By making the process professional and systematic, we hoped to create more support among the employees. Highberg played an important role in this."

Highberg drew up a program plan to phase out the old learning environments and implement the new learning environment within the faculties. "Highberg did that step by step," Van den Eijnden explains. "Meanwhile, Highberg was very clear why something was done or not done, which demands of employees could be met and which could not. That is substantively my responsibility, but I had to be helped with that. Highberg did that extremely competently."

Place- and time-independent

Highberg conducted professional discussions with the top of the organization as well as with faculty and staff, which resulted in the initial skepticism about yOUlearn diminishing over the past three years. "By now, yOUlearn has largely been implemented," Van den Eijnden says. "It has become the system we wanted: a digital campus in which both teachers and students can perform all educational activities independent of time and place." 

The new learning and working environment is a lot more user-friendly simpler and clearer than the old environments that existed side by side. "That makes learning more fun and effective," Van den Eijnden said. "Also, thanks in part to Highberg’s efforts, most OU employees have become enthusiastic about yOUlearn and are actively working to make it a success. Of course there are still little things that can be improved or adjusted, but for us this feels like a victory we can be proud of." 

If you want to know more, contact Arjan van Venrooy.