Improving the discoverability of learning materials with Linked Data


Sarah Brown

The STELLAR (Semantic Technologies Enhancing the Lifecycle of Learning Resources) project, led by the Open University (OU) and funded by JISC*, seeks to explore the extent to which the use of semantic technologies in a digital library environment can add value, as perceived and defined by academic users, to the sustainability of legacy learning resources.

As one of the earliest digital learning providers the OU has a rich heritage of archived learning materials. This unique collection also provides a comprehensive history of distance learning. Whilst some of these materials have been converted into Open Educational Resources (OERs) the wider archive of learning materials has been largely unexploited to date.

This presentation will discuss how this experimental project approached the transformation of old course materials through the application of linked data and semantic indexing, in order to make them more discoverable, flexible and reusable. The content selected included print, audio and video materials from non-current courses which were digitised and stored in the Fedora-based OU Digital Library (OUDL).

The project uses linked data to recommend legacy content to academic users who are writing new course materials.  The presentation demonstrates how semantic analysis allows the retrieval of material which matches the meaning of their work in progress. Rather than spending time searching and often not finding content to reuse or reference, academics will be delivered relevant assets and data; perhaps from sources they would not previously have considered.   In addition, new views of course materials can be provided; for example providing access to the “history” of a collection of learning materials or enabling comparison of how learning design evolves over time.

The presentation will describe how the project went about understanding the perceived value of legacy learning materials and determining if  this value can be enhanced though the use of semantic technologies. It will describe the approach taken and whether improvements were successfully delivered by transforming the materials. Finally it will conclude by offering some thoughts on the sustainability implications of using semantic technologies in this context and how the project findings might influence digital preservation policies within the university.

*A registered charity which works on behalf of UK higher education, further education and skills to champion the use of digital technologies (

Sarah Brown is STELLAR Project Manager, Library Services, The Open University

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