Making educational materials freely available on the web is not only a noble enterprise, but also fits the call of helping people to become lifelong learners; a call which gets louder and louder every day. The world is rapidly changing, requiring us to continuously update our knowledge and skills. A problem with this approach to lifelong learning is that the materials that are made available are often both incomplete and unsuitable for independent learning in an online setting. The OpenER (Open Educational Resources) project at the Open Universiteit Nederland makes more than 20 short courses, originally developed for independent-study, freely available from the website www.opener.ou.nl. For our research we start from an envisioned online learning environment now under development. We use backcasting to select research topics that form steps from the current to the ultimate situation. The two experiments we report on here are an extension to standard forum software and the use of student notes to annotate learning materials: two small steps towards our ultimate open learning environment.