What is the Open Learning Unit

The Open Learning Unit (OLU) is a specialist distance education unit within the Department of Information Studies (DIS). It aims to develop, support and promote best practice and high quality provision in Open, Distance and E-learning. The activities of the Unit include:

  • learner support
  • developing educational materials
  • training & consultancy
  • teaching
  • e-learning
  • developing management information systems

Learner support

One of the Unit's main areas of work is distance learner support. Advice and support is provided to prospective students considering our courses and this is followed through right up to graduation. Unit staff are trained and experienced in supporting distance learners and are personal tutors for students. Staff also act as advocates for distance learners within the University, e.g. we represent the interests and needs of distance learners at Committees, Boards and working parties within the institution.

We offer IT and Study Skills support. As part of our support to distance learners we organise annual study schools, which, in addition to module teaching sessions, contain social events and our study skills programme.

Educational resources

The Open Learning Unit staff work with academic staff & external subject experts to produce learning resources for our distance learning programmes. Unit staff:

  • advise on the style, design, pacing, illustration and delivery
  • perform an editing and quality control role
  • use a variety of professional publishing tools to produce interactive and innovative learning resources for distance learners

To maintain the high quality and consistency of our learning resources, OLU staff are trained and experienced in the principles and practice of open, distance and e-learning.

Training & consultancy

For over 20 years, the Unit has offered consultancy & training for individuals, departments and organisations interested in developing distance learning - both within the University and with external organisations and individuals. 

The Unit has also worked in partnership with external organisations and individuals on innovative open distance and e-learning projects.

Training workshops have been offered through the University’s Staff Development & Teaching in Higher Education programmes. The Unit trains University staff in writing open and distance learning resources, and can advise (or collaborate) in the development of individual modules, short courses, or full programmes. Training workshops can include:

  • set-up of flexible distance learning courses
  • development of effective distance learning resources
  • support for distance learners
  • e-learning tools, and design of VLEs and management information systems for distance learners


Unit staff include qualified and experienced teachers, who teach and personal tutor across programmes for both on-campus and distance learning students.
Unit staff have also developed a study skills programme (SkIP: Skills Induction Programme) that they teach with both on-campus and distance learning students.


Over the years we have developed, customised, and maintained several VLE (virtual learning environment) platforms, which we use to keep distance learners in contact with each other and with staff.

We also use a range of e-learning tools and packages develop online learning resources, and advise staff on the use of e-learning tools to deliver content for distance learners and to support distance learners.

Management information systems

The Unit maintains and develops two information systems specifically to manage non-traditional and flexible programme delivery:

  • distance learning database – a student tracking database that is used to record all distance learning student work. It tracks student module payments, students’ progress and study school attendance. It generates progress reports for students, mark reports for examination boards, an FTE report for the Registry, automates all the processes involved in the receipt of assignments, and the management of marking dates. It also manages all the copyright agreements for our learning resources.

  • master’s dissertation database - the dissertation database is used to track all our master’s students working on their dissertations. It reminds students and staff of deadlines via automated emails, and records all the stages of dissertation supervision and marking.