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The Concept of Open Learning – Lessons from The Open University

GBSN Member, The Open University Business School hosted two faculty fellows from Strathmore University and the Asian Institute of Management. The fellows were Dr. Wilfred Manuela, Asian Institute of Management and Ian Wairua, Strathmore University. The two of them stayed at the university for 6 weeks during November and December of 2017. This is a guest blog from fellow Ian Wairua.

 width=Ian Wairua is a Lecturer at Strathmore University in Nairobi, Kenya. Ian Wairua is a master’s holder in Information Systems, and a Bachelors owner of Education in science. He is the Current Vice- Chairman and Founding Secretary-General of the Association of Japanese Language Teachers in Kenya (JALTAK) and a member of the Administration Committee for the JLPT Examination in Kenya. He is an Associate Member of the eLearning Guild, and also the Current Head of Oriental-languages sub-department of School of Humanities and Social Sciences. He is also the Faculty Representative of the Learning and Teaching Services- Strathmore University, and a board member of Synonyms- and organization of language experts. He also belongs to the Japan Foundation-trained Japanese language educator and the former education and information officer, Embassy of Japan in Kenya.

The Concept of Open Learning

By: Ian Wairua

Modern structures, extensive facilities, seminar rooms, studios and wide open spaces. That was definitely not my image of an ‘open’ university. Of course my mind had told me there was going to be a building or two, perhaps with cramped offices and a meeting room upstairs. I am not sure now whether my presuppositions were stereotypical or simply ignorant. What I know is that the scene that met my eyes was very far from the idea I carried in my head. There, in front of me was a rolling ultra-modern facility, having everything that any decent twenty-first century campus should have, except Ð students.

Actually, there were a few students around, mainly those on doctoral studies. But for a university with a current portfolio of about 170,000 students, the absence of lecture halls and classrooms but at the same time the ubiquity of all manner of other learning-related installations was simply confusing.

Mid-November 2017. I arrived at Milton Keynes, 50 km North of London, and checked into an apartment close to the campus of the Open University. Arriving from Nairobi, Kenya on a GBSN Fellowship I knew I was going to learn a lot from my six-week stay. Assumptions about higher learning gathered over eight-years of working at an African University were about to be given a thorough shaking.

Late November 2017 became rather chilly. Then December came and temperatures plunged to below zero. Then it snowed. Heavily. I was told that heavy snow wasn’t a regular annual feature. After one weekend of a particularly unpleasant deluge the town was overwhelmed and even local schools stayed shut. Perhaps it was psychologically helpful to know I wasn’t alone in finding such weather a challenge. But my GBSN sponsorship afforded me a comfortable stay in a nice warm apartment in Central Milton Keynes, right next to Sainsbury’s Supermarket and a network of affordable restaurants and shops. I also extracted, from the mental shelves of my past, memories of a bitter winter in Kanazawa, Western Japan. I survived. So there was absolutely nothing for me to worry about the freak UK weather of December 2017.

I was in very capable hands. The staff of OUBS went way beyond their duty to ensure I was alright. I cannot thank them enough. And for having me share my apartment with Prof. Wilfred Manuela from the Asian Institute of Management, with whom I had many hours of useful discussions and conversations.

The Open University Business School. The future right here, today. I had read before about the concept of open learning. Of course even in African universities we have related approaches like online courses, numerous African universities run e-learning platforms, online courses are mounted regularlyÉ all these have been part of the university fare for at least a decade all over campuses from Nairobi to Lagos to Mbabane. As connectivity becomes rapidly available across the continent thousands of Africans are enrolling for MOOCs on the popular platforms. Even then these remain curious side-shows in a continent where the traditional face-to-face lecture reigns as undisputed king of the jungle.

My GBSN Fellowship enabled me to observe and study at close hand the workings of one of the world’s leading and successful open universities. I had opportunity to meet, interview and discuss with OUBS leading professors and academics, observe and learn the key processes and set-ups, all of which no amount of browser clicks could ever teach me. Most importantly, I made new networks for future academic and university collaboration.