“Learnovate does a terrific job in fostering the collaboration between research and practice in a way that you just don’t see in education very often.”

Bob Regan, Sr. Director of Education, Gates Ventures

Project Duration: March - September 2020


About OER Project

As part of this effort, the OER Project has developed a number of full courses for use in schools and looked to enable teachers in the successful delivery and tools to improve student outcomes.

About Gates Ventures

Gates Ventures is the private office of Bill Gates. The OER Project is an initiative within Gates Ventures looking at best practice and innovation around the development of Open Educational Resources (OER) and teacher professional development for schools.

The Problem

The OER Project has found that 55% of teachers in the US spend between 5 to 10 hours of their time every week looking for free, online resources. Too often, these resources are disconnected and incomplete. The OER Project aims to address this need by providing a complete, unified learning programme for particular subject areas and not simply a collection of resources put together using a variety of learning theories and design principles.

Bob Regan, Sr. Director for education at Gates Ventures had previously worked with Trinity College Dublin and this provided the introduction to the Learnovate Centre. At the beginning of the Covid pandemic, the OER Project wanted to meet the tremendous needs of teachers suddenly moving from in person to online instruction. They asked the Learnovate team to help them formulate a set of evidence-based guidelines to share with teachers around the design and delivery of online learning.

OER Project shared these guidelines with the more than 10,000 teachers OER Project online teacher community. They quickly saw that Learnovate were a uniquely multi-disciplinary team comprised of experts in Learning Design, User Experience Design, Learning Technologies and, also, Innovation and Design Thinking. As Bob describes it, the Learnovate team is “fluent in multiple languages”. Learnovate also functions in a very agile, iterative manner that enables it to produce research outputs in shorter cycles than traditional academic research teams.

The Research 

In the midst of a crisis (the COVID pandemic), OER Project needed research outputs in a matter of weeks and months (and not years, as can sometimes be the case). With its breadth of experience and lean processes the Learnovate team were able to deliver and even exceed the expectations of the OER Project team. The ability of Learnovate to produce quality research in ‘short cycles’ has meant that OER Project has been able to go back to their online teaching community and provide them with insights and recommendations backed up by clear evidence.

Another advantage that has particularly impressed the OER Project team during its collaboration with the Learnovate Centre, is the fact that, on each project, the Learnovate team focuses on real-world problems which means that the academic research subsequently produced resonates strongly with the target audience faced with real-world problems.

Additionally, the recommendations from the Learnovate research act less as prescriptive rules to follow and more as insights to review, discuss and apply. In the words of Bob Regan, “Learnovate does a terrific job in fostering the collaboration between research and practice in a way that you just don’t see in education very often”.

The Result

The OER Project is coming up on its ten-year anniversary. To celebrate, they are creating a resource detailing what they have learned about creating great courses that have a positive impact on students. Learnovate has been an essential partner in this project, rapidly producing literature reviews in support of key topics covered in the retrospective. One such topic is what makes for a healthy online Community of Practice.

When OER Project presented the research to its community of teachers, it was less about telling them “this is what you have to do” and more about stimulating a conversation based on what the research was saying. This has been largely possible because of the way Learnovate strikes a unique balance between research and practice.

As Bob Regan explains: “We’ve done multiple projects with Learnovate and got the results in front of people on a short cycle”.

The Benefits of being part of the Learnovate Community

 For OER Project, being a member of Learnovate has some crucial benefits:

  • Access to evidence-based research in a range of areas across all areas of Learning & Development 
  • The ability to commission research into a problem that can be quickly produced by a team of learning experts 
  • The opportunity to engage with and gain knowledge from the wide range of people and organisations that form the membership of Learnovate

 According to Bob “having a research base to underpin practice in education is crucial and, in becoming a member of Learnovate, OER Project has been able to achieve this goal.”