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Advancing Social Justice for Asylum Seekers and Refugees in the UK: An Open Education Approach to Strengthening Capacity through Refugee Action’s Frontline Immigration Advice Project



Britain’s asylum system fails the most vulnerable; it cannot ensure that people who are least able to protect themselves are provided with the legal assistance that they require to cope with the challenges with which they are inevitably faced. Against this background, the charity Refugee Action developed the Frontline Immigration Advice Programme (FIAP), a technology-supported capacity strengthening programme that aims to increase access to justice for those going through the asylum system in the UK. This paper is concerned with the design and implementation of the FIAP as a free digitally enabled programme that provides learning opportunities for organisations and frontline workers in the refugee sector and supports them in developing new forms of legal practice. It provides empirical data from interviews with members of staff from six participating organisations in the FIAP, and from Refugee Action and the Office of the UK’s Immigration Services Commissioner1 (n = 21). The paper adopts a view on social justice, which according to Fraser (2005) is understood as ‘parity of participation’. We draw on Fraser’s work, as well as work of other scholars such as Lambert (2018) and Hodgkinson-Williams and Trotter (2018) to explore the relationship between social justice and open education by taking into consideration the context within which organisations and professionals operate. The analysis highlights six dimensions for social justice approaches for professional learning as demonstrated through the case of the FIAP: i. deliberate iterative design; ii. access to provision; iii. flexibility of provision; iv. development of resources; v. support and vi. advancing knowledge and skills whilst adapting the workplace. All these dimensions are discussed in the paper in relation to the concept of openness and are critical in developing open socially just programmes that aim to change work practice and address the needs of the most vulnerable.
Charitonos, K, et al. 2020. Advancing Social Justice for Asylum Seekers and Refugees in
the UK: An Open Education Approach to Strengthening Capacity through Refugee Action’s
Frontline Immigration Advice Project.
Journal of Interactive Media in Education,
11, pp. 1–11. DOI:
Advancing Social Justice for Asylum Seekers and
Refugees in the UK: An Open Education Approach to
Strengthening Capacity through Refugee Action’s
Frontline Immigration Advice Project
Koula Charitonos*
, Carolina Albuerne Rodriguez, Gabi Witthaus and Carina Bossu*
Britain’s asylum system fails the most vulnerable; it cannot ensure that people who are least able to
protect themselves are provided with the legal assistance that they require to cope with the challenges
with which they are inevitably faced. Against this background, the charity Refugee Action developed the
Frontline Immigration Advice Programme (FIAP), a technology-supported capacity strengthening programme
that aims to increase access to justice for those going through the asylum system in the UK. This paper
is concerned with the design and implementation of the FIAP as a free digitally enabled programme that
provides learning opportunities for organisations and frontline workers in the refugee sector and supports
them in developing new forms of legal practice. It provides empirical data from interviews with members
of staff from six participating organisations in the FIAP, and from Refugee Action and the Office of
the UK’s Immigration Services Commissioner1 (n = 21). The paper adopts a view on social justice, which
according to Fraser (2005) is understood as ‘parity of participation’. We draw on Fraser’s work, as well
as work of other scholars such as Lambert (2018) and Hodgkinson-Williams and Trotter (2018) to explore
the relationship between social justice and open education by taking into consideration the context within
which organisations and professionals operate. The analysis highlights six dimensions for social justice
approaches for professional learning as demonstrated through the case of the FIAP: i. deliberate iterative
design; ii. access to provision; iii. flexibility of provision; iv. development of resources; v. support and
vi. advancing knowledge and skills whilst adapting the workplace. All these dimensions are discussed in the
paper in relation to the concept of openness and are critical in developing open socially just programmes
that aim to change work practice and address the needs of the most vulnerable.
Keywords: refugee sector; access to justice; professional learning; Refugee Action; technology-enhanced
learning; open education; social justice
The UK asylum and immigration system is extremely com-
plex and hostile. People seeking asylum require expert
legal advice and support to successfully navigate this sys-
tem and they often turn to non-legal specialist organisa-
tions in the Voluntary and Community sector for help.
According to UK Law, immigration advice provision must
be regulated. However, changes in the political and legal
landscape, and the strict regulatory regime, alongside
major cuts in funding (Morris & Barr 2013), have severely
impacted on these organisations’ abilities to provide the
legal services needed, resulting in fewer legal providers
and increased ‘advice deserts’ in the country (Legal Aid
Practitioners Group LAPG 2015).
Against this background, strengthening organisational
capabilities to provide good quality immigration advice
is based on a vision for social justice. This vision calls for
creating environments that “empower historically margin-
alised people, that challenge inequitable social arrange-
ments and institutions, and that offer strategies and
visions for creating a more just world” (Hytten & Bettez
2011: 8). For this to be effective a practical orientation is
necessary, which has to be accompanied by operational
developments around key areas within organisations,
where change will have greatest impact. One of these
areas is changing professional practice, through targeted
professional learning for people working in the Voluntary
and Community sector. At the heart of this is the inten-
tion to provide affordable access to relevant and good
quality education to all, which aligns well with the open
education movement.
* The Open University, GB
Refugee Action, GB
University of Birmingham, GB
Corresponding author: Koula Charitonos
Charitonos et al: Advancing Social Justice for Asylum Seekers and Refugees in the UKArt. 11, page 2 of 11
Open education is not a new approach to learning and
education. It was adopted by Open Universities worldwide
to represent “learning ‘anywhere, anytime’, open entry and
[alternative exit points], which were the foundations of
Open Universities and their correspondence and distance
education models” (James & Bossu 2014: 81). Currently,
there are a wide range of approaches and strategies to
open up education and access to learning, including
open content and open practices, open access (research
and data), open learning design, open technologies, open
policies, and also open governance. Open education has
been playing an important role in assisting the Higher
Education sector and governments worldwide to meet
educational targets in widening participation, lowering
costs, improving the quality of learning and teaching,
and promoting social inclusion and participatory democ-
racy (Bossu & Stagg 2018). However, recent research on
open education has challenged the implicit philosophy
of open education, which is to reduce barriers so as to
increase access to formal and informal education, and has
called for a more explicit approach to promoting social
inclusion, and to reaching the minority and marginalised
groups (Bossu & Stagg 2018). We, similar to other schol-
ars (Jhangiani 2019; Lambert 2018; Hodgkinson-Williams
& Trotter 2018), argue for a social-justice orientation in
open education to shift the debate “from what openness
might look like, to whom we want our openness to ulti-
mately serve and how our openness might achieve greater
educational and societal equality” (Lambert 2018: 239).
The study reported on in this paper was prompted by
the urgency to tackle the complex issue of strengthen-
ing capacity of frontline workers in the Voluntary and
Community sector who provide advice to immigrants
and refugees in the UK. It is concerned with the design
and implementation of a digitally-enabled professional
programme for organisations and frontline workers in
the refugee sector in the UK to support them in devel-
oping new forms of legal practice, called the Frontline
Immigration Advice Programme (FIAP). Organisations
in the sector range in scale, organisational structure and
culture, size of membership and mission. The frontline
workers usually consist of groups of people with differ-
ent motives, backgrounds and skills, who are employed
in a wide range of roles (e.g. caseworkers, advisors,
volunteers), and often have little or no formalised career
path or opportunities for development. In the context
of the FIAP programme, the primary beneficiaries are
the frontline workers themselves, whilst the secondary
beneficiaries are refugees and people seeking asylum.
In our work both groups are viewed as being by circum-
stance vulnerable – they are marginalised in education,
workplaces and more broadly in society.
Considering the rise in forms of inequality in contem-
porary societies, the paper builds on the work of others
in articulating a critical turn to the concept of open edu-
cation (e.g. Cronin, 2016) by considering the potential of
open education as a “force of equity” (Jhangiani 2019),
whilst being mindful of its pitfalls. It thus goes beyond
issues around affordances of the technology, accessibility
or licensing of content (Watters 2017), though it accepts
that these are well-established aspects of openness.
Instead, the paper responds to the challenges described
above and makes a compelling case for approaches to
open education that encompass access-oriented com-
mitment and learner-driven education and share deep
commitments to, and understanding of, social justice.
The paper further promotes the idea of design and pro-
fessional practice that enable overcoming injustices by
dismantling institutionalised obstacles that prevent some
people from participating on a par with others, as full
partners in social interaction” (Fraser 2010: 16).
In this paper we endorse Fraser’s (2005) view of social
justice as both an outcome where “all the relevant social
actors […] participate as peers in social life” and a process in
which procedural standards are followed “in fair and open
processes of deliberation” (p. 87). Fraser provides a foun-
dational framework for the work presented in this paper.
We follow in the footsteps of scholars such as Hodgkinson-
Williams and Trotter (2018) and Lambert (2018) who have
built on Fraser’s work (as well as on the work of Keddie
(2012) and Young (1997) to situate open education as a
social justice concern. For Lambert (2018) social justice is
a ‘process’ and a ‘goal’ to achieve a fairer society, which
“involves actions guided by the principles of redistribu-
tive justice, recognitive justice or representational justice”
(p. 227). Redistributive justice involves allocation of mate-
rial or human resources towards those who by circum-
stance have less. Recognitive justice involves recognition
and respect for cultural and gender difference, and repre-
sentational justice involves equitable representation and
political voice (Fraser 1995; Keddie 2012; Young 1997;
cited in Lambert 2018, p. 227). Making the link between
open education and social justice clear, Lambert proposes
an explicit alignment between open education and social
justice when arguing for:
the development of free digitally enabled learning
materials and experiences primarily by and for the
benefit and empowerment of non-privileged learn-
ers who may be under-represented in education
systems or marginalised in their global context.
Success of social justice aligned programs can be
measured not by any particular technical feature
or format, but instead by the extent to which they
enact redistributive justice, recognitive justice
and/or representational justice (p. 239).
We draw on this definition to describe the FIAP, a capac-
ity-strengthening programme for organisations and
individuals working within the UK asylum and immigra-
tion system. The FIAP was developed and implemented
by Refugee Action,2 an independent national charity that
provides advice and support to refugees and people seek-
ing asylum in the UK and campaigns for a fairer asylum
system. The FIAP offers a tailored professional programme,
including online training on immigration and asylum sys-
tems, to organisations and frontline workers, with the aim
of improving access to good quality, regulated immigration
advice and support to vulnerable people.
The study presented in the paper aims to i. synthe-
sise evidence of the impact the FIAP has had on advice
organisations as well as the people using their services,
Charitonos et al: Advancing Social Justice for Asylum Seekers and Refugees in the UK Art. 11, page 3 of 11
by considering the wider community-based legal advice
context within which the FIAP is operating; and ii. pro-
vide insights to Refugee Action to improve the design and
delivery of the programme. It aims to address the follow-
ing question: How does a social justice lens help us develop
a better understanding of the affordances of open education
in the Voluntary and Community sector?
Using the FIAP programme as a case study, we build on
the linkage Lambert (2018) and Hodgkinson-Williams and
Trotter (2018) have made between social justice and open
education to illustrate how a range of systemic, political
and historical barriers can be removed in order to assist
those marginalised and in disadvantaged circumstances.
In doing this, we highlight the necessity of centring
social justice in both our understanding of and engage-
ment with open education. The focus of the paper is on
empirical evidence generated through interviews with
advisors/trainees and senior members of staff in six par-
ticipating advice organisations in the FIAP, as well as with
members of staff in Refugee Action and the Office of the
UK’s Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC) (total
n = 21). Importantly it provides an example of what an
open socially just programme can look like.
The paper is structured as follows: first, we outline Access
to Justice as a national challenge in the UK. Following this
we reflect on the need for organisational capabilities and
professional practices to expand to tackle this challenge.
The case of the FIAP is then presented, followed by the
research methodology and context. This is followed by the
discussion drawing on evidence collected in the study and
examples that illustrate the context of the implemented
programme and associated challenges. The principles of
redistributive justice, recognitive justice and represen-
tational justice are used to frame the discussion around
the design of the learning experience and the impact it
had. These are examined in relation to implications for
the openness of the programme. The paper concludes by
presenting six dimensions for social justice approaches for
professional learning.
Background: Access to Justice in the UK
Legal aid in the UK was first established via the 1949 Legal
Advice and Assistance Act. It provides assistance to people
who would otherwise not be able to afford legal represen-
tation or access to the court system and, therefore, safe-
guards equality before the law and the right to a fair trial.
The legal aid landscape changed drastically in April 2013
with the enforcement of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and
Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO), one of the
most significant reforms to the welfare state since legal
aid was first introduced. The LASPO Act abolished legal
aid for most social welfare matters (including divorce,
welfare benefits and others) and removed legal aid from
all immigration cases apart from asylum, and from a range
of housing and benefit cases.
The effect of the cuts on the organisations delivering
legal aid services has been catastrophic. Recent figures
show that since 2005, there has been a 56% drop in the
number of providers offering legal aid representation
for Immigration and Asylum law. The number of not-
for-profit providers saw an even greater reduction, with
only 36% remaining in 2018 as compared with 2005
levels (NACCOM & Refugee Action 2018). The closure of
many advice services and the reduction in staff numbers
resulted in many people no longer trying to launch legal
challenges: the number of civil legal aid matters initiated
has reduced by 84% from 2009–10 to 2016–17, whilst
the percentage of households eligible for legal aid has
fallen from 80% to 29% (The Bach Commission on Access
to Justice 2016). There is also some evidence to suggest
that provision does not match need in certain parts of the
country (NACCOM & Refugee Action 2018). Gaps are evi-
dent in several areas of the country – effectively meaning
that there are parts of the country that are “advice deserts”
(Wilding 2019). This led one of Britain’s most senior judges
to argue that “our justice system has become unaffordable
to most” (Lord Chief Justice Thomas of Cwmgiedd, result
quoted in The Bach Commission on Access to Justice
2016), whilst a recent review by the Law Society stated
that “[in] reality, the Government’s reforms have resulted
in vulnerable groups finding themselves excluded from
free legal advice” (Law Society 2017).
Recent statistics by leading organisations in the sector
reflect the levels of challenge faced by the most vulner-
able (Refugee Council 2019). In 2018 the number of
applications for asylum in the UK, excluding depend-
ants (29,504), was 11% higher than in 2017 (26,547). It
is very difficult for people seeking asylum to provide the
evidence required to be granted protection, resulting in
many claims being rejected. In the year ending September
2019, 48% of initial decisions resulted in a grant of asylum
or other form of protection. This percentage was the low-
est in the past five years, whilst the proportion of asylum
appeals allowed in the year ending Sept 2019 was only
43%. More than 20,000 asylum applications had been
waiting for longer than six months for an initial decision,
and in this period applicants are not allowed to work and
are forced to rely on state support, which can be as little
as £5 a day to live on. Even when an application is suc-
cessful, most people recognised as refugees are only given
permission to stay in the UK for five years and this makes
it difficult for them to make plans for their life in the UK.
Given the changing landscape and increasing demand
for legal advice, strengthening organisational and indi-
vidual capabilities to provide high quality immigration
advice is essential. In the next section we review literature
on professional/vocational learning and consider how
this is related to the FIAP.
Professional Learning and the Frontline
Immigration Advice Project
Professionals in non-legal specialist advice organisations
in the Voluntary and Community sector need to con-
tinually expand their practice and make sure they have
up-to-date knowledge about Immigration Law, that is
constantly changing with new rules. Professional learning
is becoming an increasingly important element of work,
as a core element of career progression, promotion and
workplace strategies. It needs to be continuous and per-
sonalised, because each individual’s learning needs are
unique and are influenced by factors that are associated
with the workplace, his/her role and the individual’s prior
Charitonos et al: Advancing Social Justice for Asylum Seekers and Refugees in the UKArt. 11, page 4 of 11
knowledge, skills and attitudes (Hager 2004). Continuous
professional learning and capacity-building are important
and influential instruments to empower professionals
to embrace and participate in change within their sector
(Healey, Bradford, Roberts, & Knight 2013; Smyth 2003).
Dominant forms of professional learning, such as formal
training, allow a large number of people to reach a specific
level of competency. However, a one-size-fits-all approach
might not address the needs of professionals in contem-
porary work contexts (Tynjälä 2008), whilst research in
the area of adult learning shows that access to information
does not per se lead to learning. People learn by making
sense of information and acting upon this in relation to
their own practice. This could be through guided reflec-
tion, by deliberate practice, by emulating other people, by
giving and receiving feedback, by participating in formal
training as well as through self-study, self-monitoring and
introspection (e.g. Billett 2014; Eraut 2007; Ericsson et al.
2006; Malloch et al. 2011). Learning and development
opportunities are situated within the workplace as a site
for learning (Boud & Garrick 1999). However, although
the way that work is organised sets the conditions for
learning, it is the interaction of the learner with the envi-
ronment that determines learning (Tynjälä 2008).
The role of technological tools to support learning at
the workplace has been considered in the literature.
Littlejohn and Margaryan (2014) argue that a way to
advance professional learning is to integrate three criti-
cal dimensions – work practices, learning processes and
technologies. Of these three dimensions, no one is more
important than the other. The tendency to focus primarily
on the use of technological tools to plan learning activity
should be avoided. Instead, attention towards work prac-
tices and learning process is required before mapping the
technologies to support the learning (also see Littlejohn,
Charitonos & Kaatrakoski 2019).
According to UK Law, immigration advice provision
must be regulated and accredited. The process of register-
ing an organisation through a regulatory body such as the
OISC is not yet well established within the Voluntary and
Community sector. Organisations lack awareness about
the requirement placed upon them by law and the pro-
cess they need to adhere to, and often perceive these as
daunting and unhelpful. The FIAP was set up to address
this and to support organisations to strengthen their ser-
vice capability in a way that is sustainable and integrated
into their existing provision. The FIAP was also designed
to take advantage of the multiple ways in which people
and resources can be brought together by technology to
enhance learning in order to support refugees and people
seeking asylum.
The next section includes a description of the FIAP,
followed by a section on the research context and field-
work which details the methodological approach used to
generate data to answer the research question.
The Design and Delivery of the FIAP Programme
The opening statement on the FIAP website3 stands
out for its clear social justice alignment: Vulnerable
migrants need accurate, high quality advice. Without it
they face injustice and destitution. Since 2016, Refugee
Action’s Frontline Immigration Advice Project (FIAP) has
been helping organisations … to provide that advice. The
study reported here focuses on Phase 1 of the FIAP (April
2016 – March 2019).4
Since its launch in 2016, the FIAP’s aims have been to:
increase the immigration advice capacity of non-legal
specialist organisations in the Voluntary and Community
sector; highlight the importance of regulation – overseen
by the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner
(OISC)5 – as a benchmark of good service for non-legal
specialist organisations; and tackle unintentional poor
practice in offering immigration advice. As of March
2019, the FIAP had reached a high number of organisa-
tions and frontline workers across the UK: 139 organisa-
tions and 620 trainees had received support or attended
events offered through the FIAP programme respectively.
The FIAP is managed by a dedicated team within Refugee
Action, the Good Practice & Partnerships team.
In Phase 1 of the implementation of the FIAP, an
approach of working with organisations was established:
following an expression of interest by an organisation,
a needs assessment was initially conducted by Refugee
Action, followed by the development of a tailored action
plan for the organisation, which could consist of three
key elements:
i. Organisations – directors, key operational leads –
received expert service development support by
the Frontline Partner Development Project
Manager to develop and establish their models of
legal advice according to their needs and situation.
Organisations were also supported through the
OISC registration process as well as through
auditing and further development of their models
of legal advice.
ii. Organisations – staff and volunteers – had access
to training online, coaching, and peer-led learning
events to enable them to register with OISC to
provide Level 1 or Level 2 Immigration Advice.6
Refugee Action further provided support through
online awareness training for those not ready to
engage in the OISC regulation scheme.
iii. Professional communities (online and offline)
were created to enhance the professional
development of frontline workers and prevent
isolation, encourage peer-learning and facilitate
collaborative approaches between organisations.
Google Groups was used in this.
Depending on the organisation, the action plan could
include all the three elements, although not all organisa-
tions benefitted from all three. Reasons for this included
limited capacity in the Refugee Action team, lack of
funding, diverse needs among organisations involved,
and developmental challenges (i.e. how to scale-up the
Regarding online training, this was only available to
workers who had the support of their organisations. Six
types of courses were available in the FIAP: OISC Level
Charitonos et al: Advancing Social Justice for Asylum Seekers and Refugees in the UK Art. 11, page 5 of 11
1 and 2 (Immigration), OISC Level 1 and 2 (Asylum
& Protection), Immigration Advice – Awareness and
Boundaries, and Refresher and Revision. The courses
covered the OISC syllabus for the various levels and their
duration varied from one to five days in total. The online
training took place via a platform which was developed in-
house by Refugee Action7 in January 2018. Courses were
available at various times of the year, primarily offered as
live (or recorded) webinars and delivered by legal trainers.
Attendance on the courses did not automatically lead to
registration with the OISC, instead trainees were responsi-
ble for submitting their application for registration to the
OISC, and for attending and passing the OISC examina-
tions. Refugee Action was providing support to trainees
through this process.
Since the launch of the FIAP, Refugee Action has been
engaged in deliberate iterative design – i.e. iterative
and adaptive cycles in the design that change the for-
mat and the duration of the delivery of the training to
meet the needs of the participants. For example, some
online training has been offered as five-day sessions over
a week, whilst other formats included a full day once a
week or once a fortnight. Refugee Action encouraged
self-directed/independent learning by offering record-
ings of materials and access to the platform to registered
Method and Context of Study
Data generation took place between July 2018 and March
2019. Data was generated from key stakeholders at the
individual level (staff and volunteers at participating
organisations); at the local/organisational level (senior
managers or lead members of staff at participating
organisations); and at the national level (where Refugee
Action and OISC operate).
Data was generated through an online survey, semi-
structured interviews (online and face-to-face), participant
observation of the Level 1 online training and two work-
shops with organisation leads organised by Refugee
Action. For the purposes of this paper, we draw on quali-
tative evidence generated between November 2018 and
March 2019 through in-depth interviews with the leaders
of participating organisations and frontline workers in
these organisations (n = 16). Interviews were also con-
ducted with members of staff responsible for the FIAP at
Refugee Action (n = 3), with an external legal trainer on
the FIAP online programme (n = 1), and finally with the
OISC’s Operational Manager (in total 21 interviews).
Organisations were selected on the basis of four crite-
ria: i. engagement with the FIAP (e.g. needs assessed or
not); ii. location, size and type of service provision of the
organisation; iii. number of students who registered and
completed the FIAP training, and/or passed the OISC
assessment; and iv. progression (or not) in OISC regula-
tion level advice-giving activities after engagement with
the FIAP. Twelve organisations were shortlisted and were
invited to get involved in the study. The six organisations
that responded positively are diverse in terms of size, rang-
ing for example, from an organisation with only five mem-
bers of staff and 30 volunteers to an organisation with 20
members of staff and 150 volunteers. One organisation is
based in the Greater London area, one in South England,
three in North England and one in West England. Their
service provision varied; four organisations only work
with refugees and people seeking asylum, whereas two
serve a wider constituency. Despite our efforts to include
a representation across the four nations in the UK, it is
noted that the six participating organisations are all based
in England.
In each of the six organisations, a senior manager or
lead member of staff was invited to an interview and was
also asked to identify two or three additional members of
staff and volunteers who had taken part in the FIAP, for
further interviews. The interviews lasted 40 to 80 minutes
and were guided by a semi-structured instrument that had
previously been used in studies of professional learning
(Littlejohn et al. 2016). All interviews were audio recorded
and full transcripts were generated. It is noted that one
interview from a FIAP participant had to be discounted
from the analysis as the recording was of insufficient qual-
ity to generate a transcript. Therefore, the analysis consid-
ers 20 interviews out of the 21 conducted.
The study was carried out by a small team of researchers
based at The Open University UK and received favourable
response from the university’s research ethics committee.
The aim of the analysis was to address the question: How
does a social justice lens help us develop a better under-
standing of the affordances of open education in the
Voluntary and Community sector? Analytical attention
was placed on tracing the challenges and revealing the
tensions that emerged as organisations and advisors in
the Voluntary and Community sector participated in the
FIAP and adapted their work practice to fit with the new
knowledge they had gained.
The interviews were analysed using the software appli-
cation, NVivo 11. A thematic analysis was carried out by
two authors (Charitonos and Witthaus), using both induc-
tive and deductive processes, following Elo & Kyngäs
(2008). The researchers sought both to identify themes
emerging from the transcripts (inductive), whilst also
specifically looking for examples of challenges associated
with the interviewees’ work context and practice (deduc-
tive). The researchers had regular discussions about the
analysis to ensure consistency of coding. Below we outline
the key findings.
The FIAP in contexts of severe complexity and
resource constraints
All interviewees referred to the urgent and increasing
demand for good quality immigration advice – “It’s such
a big need, and there’s very, very little provision. There’s
very, very strained provision for […] immigration advice…
So, the demand is so high.” [P13]. Similarly, a few par-
ticipants reported that they “have to turn a lot of people
away because we just don’t have the capacity to see eve-
ryone who comes [to our organisation]” [P9]. There were
references to the UK government’s ‘hostile environment’
policy, the rigid regulation of immigration, a benefits
Charitonos et al: Advancing Social Justice for Asylum Seekers and Refugees in the UKArt. 11, page 6 of 11
system that is difficult to navigate, a shrinking legal aid
system, and Brexit as key features of the wider political
environment that contributed to the difficulties faced by
the most vulnerable. Throughout all the interviews, the
enormous scale of the need for support by refugees and
people seeking asylum in the UK, coupled with the lack of
provision of appropriate, specialised advice services, was a
recurring theme.
Further to the high demand for immigration advice,
organisations also operate in an environment where there
is “just constant, endless change” [P20] in immigration
law. Immigration and asylum are very complex areas of
law – “it’s a big responsibility too, if you get this wrong – it
has a great impact on somebody’s life” [P17].
Good quality immigration advice also requires time
commitment and dedication – “you’re working with the
client for hours and hours over several days, possibly sev-
eral months” [P18], often because refugees and people
seeking asylum require assistance with multiple, complex
issues. Overall, people using the services of the organisa-
tions in the study were described as being widely diverse,
coming from a range of geographical locations and cul-
tural backgrounds. Their lives are often characterised by
extreme trauma, arising not only out of their experience
of fleeing their home countries, but also as a result of fall-
ing into destitution, or surviving trafficking or domestic
violence. The needs of refugees and people seeking asy-
lum include English language training, cultural aware-
ness, mental health support, and help in navigating local
services, dealing with social workers, paying bills and fill-
ing in online forms. Many suffer from trauma and live in
precarious or vulnerable circumstances.
A recurrent theme was the need to assist people in gath-
ering appropriate evidence to support their asylum claims
or to reactivate a failed claim. This is a complex process
which is subject to the regulatory regime and there is a
“lack of specialist advice to help them build that fresh
claim and understand that their evidence is valid and that
it represents their case fairly and that’s going to get a good
outcome from the home office… And that means that you
have people who are living in destitution” [P4, lead].
Against this background, refugees and people seeking
asylum often require support with issues that the front-
line workers in advice organisations are not qualified to
advise on. Hence registering with the OISC and/or main-
taining regulation levels was deemed important for all the
organisations in the study as a critical element in helping
people to resolve their problems, especially considering
that one’s immigration status is essential to accessing key
services in the UK (e.g. housing, health, education, work).
However, becoming OISC regulated can be complex and
resource-intensive for organisations. Upon satisfactory
assessment of an initial application to the OISC, a licence
will be issued. Thereafter, an organisation is required to
maintain or upgrade the regulation level, go through an
OISC audit process regularly and re-apply annually for re-
registration. For some advice organisations, “just the pros-
pect of having to produce all these policies and procedures
[to comply with OISC] when they’re first starting out is a bit
daunting” [P21, OISC]. Through the FIAP, Refugee Action
has raised awareness about the requirements placed upon
advice organisations by the law and supported organisa-
tions to consider whether or not to register with OISC and
if so, at which level. Furthermore, it held quarterly meet-
ings with the OISC to raise issues brought by the partici-
pants in the project and make suggestions and co-author
information to bring concerns around regulation to the
people who have the most power to address them.
Finally, a major challenge for all the organisations in
the study was a concern about ongoing and future fund-
ing. The fact that the FIAP programme was offered free of
charge was therefore greatly appreciated.
The FIAP in contexts of limited opportunities for
capacity development
Many interviewees referred to limited opportunities in
the Voluntary and Community sector to develop new
skills or knowledge in the area of immigration advice,
noting that, where it exists, it is usually offered by for-
profit organisations at a prohibitive cost. ‘Training’, usu-
ally in the form of a member of staff going somewhere
for a few hours or days, seems to be the dominant vehicle
for building capacity in the sector. The FIAP programme
offers an alternative model for developing capacity by
remote participation and at no cost, enabling increased
access to specialised knowledge and skills.
A further consideration for training providers is that
frontline workers need effective supervision once they are
qualified to give immigration advice; otherwise, the new
practice that one has developed during training remains
one isolated aspect of your experience, where the rest of
the time, you’re just doing the same things over and over”
[P20, trainer]. A lack of available networks of support for
immigration advisors was noted in the interviews.
This might contribute to the high turnover of staff
observed in the sector. As a result, unless there are sys-
tems and processes in place in an organisation to support
new work activities their staff are newly qualified to do,
training alone is inadequate. Concerns by at least two
organisations were expressed regarding the delivery of
immigration advice, post-training and after having been
granted OISC regulation: “How do we actually turn these
people from having that Level 2 into being experienced
advisors that can actually deliver casework?” [P1, lead].
A few interviewees referred to supervision arrange-
ments as a way to support newly qualified members of
staff within an organisation to develop their practice
further – even though this arrangement would be chal-
lenging for small organisations. Another way for organisa-
tions to develop capacity is through partnership work in
their local areas. Examples of partnerships with law clinics
based in local universities or with other advice organisa-
tions were reported. However, despite these solutions, the
demand is often seen to outstrip the supply.
The FIAP as a framework to engage with the challenge
of access to justice
According to one of the trainers, the FIAP “enables training
to take place where people would have much less access
if the project didn’t exist” [P20, trainer]. A great major-
ity of the interviewees from the six organisations were
highly positive about the FIAP and expressed that their
Charitonos et al: Advancing Social Justice for Asylum Seekers and Refugees in the UK Art. 11, page 7 of 11
expectations of the FIAP had been met, or even exceeded.
Having access to expert trainers (who were experienced
legal advisors) was particularly valued. Some interviewees
also commented on the benefits of learning together with
colleagues during their participation in the webinars, and
also of the ongoing network for peer support that the pro-
gramme offered.
The FIAP was also seen as a good preparation for the
OISC examination. Examinations were a cause of anxi-
ety for some (“pretty nerve-wracking actually” [P14]).
Furthermore, it was observed that, whilst many trainees
attended the training, only a small proportion registered
for the OISC examination. A fear of failure might be the
reason, which might also raise concerns around the future
of trainees’ posts in their organisation. In response to this,
Refugee Action introduced short, online revision courses
to support assessment preparation, which several inter-
viewees appreciated.
The primary mode of delivery of the training was
through live webinars; this was seen to be a practical way
of enabling all participants to participate from different
locations, especially as it allowed for small groups to carry
out breakout activities. The option to study asynchro-
nously and independently was also offered, and this was
seen by a few participants as a viable flexible alternative
to the live webinar. The FIAP training materials, in keep-
ing with the OISC syllabus, received praise for being well
organised, clear and understandable to a lay person: “I
think without that, that I couldn’t possibly have [passed
the exam]” [P3].
The five organisational leads and managers interviewed
were also appreciative of the support they had received
through the FIAP. Despite evidence that the process of
registering with OISC had felt intimidating at first, these
individuals felt that they had overcome this stumbling
block through the support by Refugee Action.
While most of the feedback on the FIAP programme was
resoundingly positive, concerns about the amount and
complexity of information to process came up repeatedly,
especially for people with a non-legal background and
who had not engaged in formal studies for some time. It
was suggested that some learners might benefit from a
more basic introductory course, whilst another sugges-
tion was to break down the content into smaller pieces
of learning (micro-content). Interviewees also wanted to
work through more scenarios and examples from their
own practice and suggested that more opportunities for
interaction between participants would make the train-
ing more engaging. A number of participants found the
requirement for synchronous participation at specific
times to be restrictive and would appreciate more options
for asynchronous participation. Furthermore, whilst inter-
viewees felt that the information gained was useful, some
felt there was inadequate preparation for applying their
newly gained knowledge in practice. This would require
engagement by senior management and organisational
leads to consider how newly trained staff could benefit
the organisation. The organisational leads also expressed
a desire for support in doing this.
A few participants wished for face-to-face events to be
organised locally or regionally as follow-up to the FIAP,
even though they recognised the difficulties involved,
whilst several participants requested support for network-
ing with other organisations in their local areas.
The FIAP as an Open Education Initiative for
Social Justice
The study presented in this paper is concerned with the
design and implementation of a digitally enabled profes-
sional programme that provided learning opportunities
for frontline workers in the refugee sector in the UK to
support them in developing new forms of legal practice. A
lens on social justice was adopted (Fraser 2005) that lent a
distinctive shape to argue the case for social justice being
foregrounded in open education.
At the outset of this paper there was a recognition that
there is an “explicit social justice intent” within open
education (Hodgkinson-Williams 2019), which builds on
the belief that everyone should be able to access and partici-
pate in good quality education. For this to happen, specific
arrangements need to be made; otherwise “participatory
parity” in Nancy Fraser’s (2005) terms will not prevail.
The paper drew on the FIAP programme and considered
this as one such arrangement within the Voluntary and
Community Sector. It offered empirical evidence from a
study that examined its design and implementation.
At the core of the FIAP is a deliberate iterative design,
intending to respond and be relevant to the needs of
organisations and frontline workers in the sector. As
described in earlier sections, the resources used in the
various online training sessions, as well as tools developed
(e.g. online platform), were designed from scratch to serve
this purpose. Deliberate iterative design is a characteristic
of recognitive justice, as it takes into account the contex-
tual constraints for beneficiaries. The FIAP resources took
into consideration characteristics of the system within
which the FIAP is situated. These included, among oth-
ers, challenges with the regulatory system, dispersed
organisations across the country, increasing need for legal
advice and lack of opportunities for professional develop-
ment for frontline workers. The programme underwent
various iterations throughout the first phase as a result
of Refugee Action’s engagement with organisations and
workers, which might signal a move from recognitive to
representational justice. However, the programme was
predominantly designed by members of staff in Refugee
Action, and the co-creation of resources with trainees,
where for example they could bring their own cases, and
their own histories and knowledge into the training, was
not integral to the design decisions of Phase 1. This might
have been a missed opportunity, as it would be considered
an act of representational justice. Refugee Action is con-
sidering including this into future iterations of the FIAP.
Furthermore, the FIAP integrated a system of sup-
port for organisations and workers into a context,
which as shown in the analysis, is of severe complexity
and resource constraints. Support was operationalised
through dedicated team roles within the team at Refugee
Action, tasked with this responsibility (e.g. responding
to queries, visits to organisations, organisational devel-
opment support), whereas the training always provided
human interaction delivered through trainers/tutors
Charitonos et al: Advancing Social Justice for Asylum Seekers and Refugees in the UKArt. 11, page 8 of 11
and peers, which remains core “to assure the delivery
of personalised support at a distance” (Tait 2018: 109).
Additional resources were created over the course of the
programme (e.g. refresher and revision courses), and
Refugee Action encouraged wider participation through
virtual networks. Enabling and facilitating interactions
and offering advice and support are seen as a characteris-
tic of redistributive justice.
Another point that emerges from the analysis is the
access to, and flexibility of provision, in that frontline work-
ers could take part in the training from anywhere in the
country given its mode of delivery as live webinars. This
is linked to the principle of recognitive justice as it rec-
ognises that location may restrict access to opportunities.
Furthermore providing, as well as supporting/encourag-
ing, access to free resources to workers who traditionally
suffer from lack of opportunities is redistributive justice
in action (Lambert 2018; Hodgkinson-Williams & Trotter
2018). It minimises the cost for accessing educational
opportunities and increases the chance for these work-
ers to succeed in the exams and become OISC accredited,
which as shown in the analysis is a cause of anxiety for
many. Redistributive justice can be also linked to another
unique characteristic of the programme, namely that it
was offered to frontline workers in the advice sector (staff
and volunteers), independent of roles they had in their
organisation or background.
The extent to which the FIAP is able to be open, in the
sense of being openly accessible to all, is necessarily lim-
ited by the broader political context in which the FIAP
is operating. In Phase 1, the FIAP resources and training
courses were made available, for free, to selected organi-
sations that Refugee Action had an agreement with, and
to frontline workers identified by senior members of staff
in those organisations. This feature marks a distinction
from the traditional concept of open education, which
assumes open access to all. Refugee Action deliberately
opted for this due to the strict regulation of immigra-
tion advice in the sector, thus mitigating any unintended
consequences that fully open access might lead to; for
example, individuals offering legal advice to refugees
and people seeking asylum without being supported by a
knowledgeable agency, potentially resulting in the provi-
sion of poor advice and thus exacerbating the very social
injustice that Refugee Action aims to counter. Whilst rec-
ognising the legitimacy of this approach, some readers
might inevitably have concerns about who benefits from
the programme. Decisions about who was to participate
in the training were made by senior management in each
of the enrolled organisations, and the criteria for who to
include, and on what basis, did not seem to be clearly
established. Therefore, certain professionals might have
been excluded, whilst others who are already empowered
and privileged might have benefitted. There is no obvious
solution for Refugee Action here, but they are considering
offering some fully open-access resources in the future,
starting with an open Awareness Raising course.
Related to this, another important characteristic of the
FIAP is its focus on learning that is ultimately enabled and
also structured by the workplace. For learning to be effec-
tive, the FIAP places attention on two interconnected
areas: first, a programme that advances knowledge and
skills and second adapting the workplace (Littlejohn,
Charitonos & Kaatrakoski 2019). Refugee Action took the
position that developing skills and knowledge in itself is
not sufficient to tackle poor legal advice. Instead, train-
ing has to be accompanied by support to organisations
to review and reorganise the work environment, which
according to Tynjälä (2008) sets the conditions for learn-
ing. The analysis showed that applying newly gained
knowledge in practice is a challenge for organisations
and professionals. So, in order for learning from the
training to be put into practice, an advisor should prac-
tise within an environment that, for example, promotes
peer-learning and support (e.g. through supervision) and
is supported to give advice in a sustainable way which is
well incorporated into an organisation’s model of service
delivery. Alongside this, Refugee Action also engages with
the OISC to ensure that it raises the voice of the sector
to the regulator. These elements can be seen as a move
across redistributive to recognitive justice and represen-
tational practice. However, this poses a challenge for
Refugee Action in relation to the open nature and the
scalability and sustainability of the programme. This
challenge emerged because of Refugee Action’s decision
to restrict access to the FIAP programme in Phase 1, as
explained above. In this case, demonstrating care for the
consequences that may occur when releasing resources
related to an area of knowledge work such as immigration
law that may have such potentially negative life-changing
consequences for secondary beneficiaries, can be seen as
itself a powerful act of social justice.
In conclusion, the FIAP was used as a case in the paper
to show how open education and social justice principles
combined can be applied in a programme that is not situ-
ated within traditional educational settings. As discussed
in the paper, the ‘hostile environment’ that has been
created in recent years in the UK is a potent instrument
of injustice, which operates at the expense of vulner-
able groups such as refugees and people seeking asylum.
Under these circumstances, the political aspect of justice
is hard to ignore. For those individuals who are affected
by a reduced number of advice centres and are denied the
opportunity to access good quality advice, the FIAP offers
a tool to mitigate this injustice. Although the programme
does not directly involve refugees and people seeking
asylum in its design and delivery, it maintains a view of
their needs, enables a range of outcomes that will benefit
them in the long term and projects an interest in their
self-determination and equitable representation, which is
well aligned with representational justice.
Access to justice is a key part of a functioning asylum
system. It is essential that all those who need it are able
to turn to experts and receive good quality legal repre-
sentation. Frontline workers are positioned at the heart
of this complex situation, bound by a professional ethos
to operate as intermediaries, who are tasked with solv-
ing problems and safeguarding collective and individual
interests. There is an urgent need in the refugee sector
to develop good professional practice around legal advice.
Charitonos et al: Advancing Social Justice for Asylum Seekers and Refugees in the UK Art. 11, page 9 of 11
This paper provided an empirical study that was con-
cerned with a digitally enabled professional programme
in the UK Voluntary and Community sector. It has high-
lighted the importance of adopting a social justice lens
to develop a better understanding of open education
within such programmes. The key contribution of this
paper is that it proposes six dimensions for social jus-
tice approaches to professional learning as demonstrated
through the case of the FIAP: i. deliberate iterative
design; ii. access to provision; iii. flexibility of provision;
iv. development of resources; v. support and vi. advanc-
ing knowledge and skills whilst adapting the workplace.
All these dimensions should be carefully considered in
order to create spaces for practice and care for the most
vulnerable, as well as for those involved in the provision
of services. Such an approach will help to address some
of the systemic issues affecting the refugee sector and
will also support empowering, enhancing legal literacy
and self-agency for professionals in the sector.
There are three limitations of this study. First, the
study reflects the views of a relatively small number
of professionals in specific contexts, and therefore
any generalisation to wider professional communities
should take this into consideration. Second, the six par-
ticipating organisations are based in England, hence
their views might not be representative of organisations
in the other three nations of the UK. Finally, it could
be seen as a limitation that the study was funded by
Refugee Action. Despite this, it was developed as a part-
nership, where staff members and researchers worked
closely together in all phases of the study, including in
its dissemination, as is reflected in the authorship of
this paper.
As with many complex problems, there is no simple
solution to ensuring a socially just way of meeting the
need for frontline workers to be equipped to give immi-
gration advice to vulnerable refugees and people seek-
ing asylum, in a constantly changing and highly-charged
political environment. The case of the FIAP, as analysed
here, demonstrates a framework for working with organi-
sations to provide holistic support for professional
learning across an entire sector, with a longer-term aim
to increase impact through openness. This is particu-
larly important, given that the use of digital and online
technologies for learning in sectors other than traditional
educational settings is currently expanding.
1 The Office of the UK’s Immigration Services Commis-
sioner (OISC) is the UK’s regulatory body for non-legal
organisations and professionals
4 A second ‘follow-on’ phase of the FIAP was launched
in May 2019 for 3 years.
The OISC regulates organisations and within regu-
lated organisations it authorises advisors to practise
at three different Levels (Levels 1–3). The Levels at
which advisors are authorised depends on the nature
and complexity of the work their organisations wish to
The authors wish to thank all the participants of this
study. Thanks also to Refugee Action for funding this
study as well as the staff in the Good Partnerships Team,
especially James Conyers, for the support they provided
during the study. We are also grateful to Dr Stamatina
Anastopoulou, Researcher at University of Leicester, for
her work in initial stages of the design of this study and
data collection. Finally, many thanks also go to Moragh
Paxton at the University of Cape Town (UCT) for providing
feedback on earlier versions of this paper, and to the two
blind reviewers for their very helpful feedback.
Funding Information
The Frontline Immigration Advice Project was funded
by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, the Legal Education
Foundation and Unbound Philanthropy. The study
presented in the paper was funded by Refugee Action
through these funds.
Competing Interests
KC and CB are employed by The Open University, which
received payment from Refugee Action for the research
that informed this study. CA is employed by Refugee
Action. GW completed paid consultancy work from The
Open University as part of the data acquisition for this
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How to cite this article: Charitonos, K, Rodriguez, CA, Witthaus, G and Bossu, C. 2020. Advancing Social Justice for Asylum
Seekers and Refugees in the UK: An Open Education Approach to Strengthening Capacity through Refugee Action’s Frontline
Immigration Advice Project.
Journal of Interactive Media in Education,
2020(1): 11, pp. 1–11. DOI:
Submitted: 07 December 2019 Accepted: 25 February 2020 Published: 11 May 2020
Copyright: © 2020 The Author(s). This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons
Attribution 4.0 International License (CC-BY 4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium,
provided the original author and source are credited. See
Journal of Interactive Media in Education
is a peer-reviewed open access journal published
by Ubiquity Press.
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Report on the supply side of the immigration and asylum legal aid market, based on case studies of peer-recognised high quality providers across the ranches of the legal profession in England and Wales - solicitors firms, not-for-profits and barristers. Investigates the relationships between quality, financial viability, client access, demand and supply. Based on PhD thesis. Includes recommendations for policy changes.
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At the heart of the open educational resources (OER) movement is the intention to provide affordable access to culturally relevant education to all. This imperative could be described as a desire to provide education in a manner consistent with social justice which, according to Fraser (2005), is understood as "parity of participation". Drawing on her concept of social justice, we suggest a slight modification of Fraser's framework for critically analysing ways in which the adoption and impact of OER and their undergirding open educational practices (OEP) might be considered socially just. We then provide illustrative examples from the cross-regional Research on Open Educational Resources for Development (ROER4D) project (2014-2017) to show how this framework can assist in determining in what ways, if at all, the adoption of OER and enactment of OEP have responded to economic inequalities, cultural inequities and political exclusions in education. Furthermore, we employ Fraser's (2005) concepts to identify whether these social changes are either "affirmative" (i.e., ameliorative) or "transformative" in their economic, cultural and political effects in the Global South education context.
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Open Educational Practices (OEP) have played an important role in assisting educational institutions and governments worldwide to meet their current and future educational targets in widening participation, lowering costs, improving the quality of learning and teaching and promoting social inclusion and participatory democracy. There have been some important OEP developments in Australia, but unfortunately the potential of OEP to meet some of the national educational targets has not been fully realised and acknowledged yet, in ways that many countries around the world have. This paper will gather, discuss, and analyse some key national and international policies and documentation available as an attempt to provide a solid foundation for a call to action for OEP in Australia, which will hopefully be an instrument to assist and connect practitioners and policy makers in higher education.
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This chapter outlines what constitutes mimesis and mimetic learning and sets out a rationale for its consideration at this point in time and for the purposes of understanding how people learn in and through their work and across their working lives. It defines what constitutes mimesis and why it is important to consider a broader conception entitled mimetic learning. In doing so, it commences by discussing its utility to learning through work and then offering a number of premises by which both that learning and the process of mimetic learning need to be understood to offer a more comprehensive and strongly founded accounts of how people learn through their work. This includes the concurrence of learning and the remaking of culture through engaging work, setting aside unhelpful dichotomies between the individual and the social, emphasising the way that the social origins of knowledge need to accommodate individuals’ mediation of and engagement with that knowledge, and critiquing the discourse of education and school societies in understanding learning more broadly.
This paper investigates the degree to which recent digital Open Education literature is aligned to social justice principles, starting with the first UNESCO definition of Open Educational Resources (OER). A critical analysis of 19 texts was undertaken to track dominant and alternative ideas shaping the development of Open Education since 2002 as it broadened and developed from OER to Open Educational Practices (OEP). The paper begins by outlining the method of texts selection, including defining the three principles of social justice (redistributive, recognitive and representational justice) used as an analytical lens. Next the paper sets out findings which show where and how the principles of social justice became lost within the details of texts, or in other digital agendas and technological determinist debates. Finally, a new social justice aligned definition for Open Education is offered. The aim of the new definition is to provide new language and a strong theoretical framework for equitable education, as well as to clearly distinguish the field of Open Education from mainstream constructivist eLearning.
This paper sets out the ways in which technologies for learning have been at the heart of education for development for millennia, not as is sometimes thought only in the last 30 years of the digital revolution. Short case studies of the University of London External System and the Open University UK set out the development outcomes of these major distance education innovations. The context of widening access to Higher Education is acknowledged, in particular from the perspectives of student success and dropout. The major dimensions of open education enabled by digital affordances are elaborated, and their contribution to development acknowledged. Finally, the article suggests that the move to mass Higher Education systems in an overall majority of countries over the period of the UN Sustainable Development Goals will see the distinctions between online and campus based modes diminished.
This Handbook provides a state-of –the art overview of the field of workplace learning from a global perspective. The authors are all well-placed theoreticians, researchers, and practitioners in this burgeoning field, which cuts across higher education, vocational education and training, post-compulsory secondary schooling, and lifelong education. The volume provides a broad–based, yet incisive analysis of the range of theory, research, and practical developments in workplace learning. The SAGE Handbook of Workplace Learning draws together a wide range of views, theoretical dispositions, and assertions and provides a leading-edge presentation by key writers and researchers with insight into the field and its current state. © Margaret Malloch, Len Cairns, Karen Evans and Bridget N. O’Connor 2011.
Massive open online courses (MOOCs) require individual learners to be able to self-regulate their learning, determining when and how they engage. However, MOOCs attract a diverse range of learners, each with different motivations and prior experience. This study investigates the self-regulated learning (SRL) learners apply in a MOOC, in particular focusing on how learners' motivations for taking a MOOC influence their behaviour and employment of SRL strategies. Following a quantitative investigation of the learning behaviours of 788 MOOC participants, follow-up interviews were conducted with 32 learners. The study compares the narrative descriptions of behaviour between learners with self-reported high and low SRL scores. Substantial differences were detected between the self-described learning behaviours of these two groups in five of the sub-processes examined. Learners' motivations and goals were found to shape how they conceptualised the purpose of the MOOC, which in turn affected their perception of the learning process.