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The BBC Learning Zone is an educational strand run by the BBC as an overnight service on BBC Two. It shows programming aimed at students in Primary, Secondary and Higher Education and to adult learners. Viewers are encouraged to watch programmes after the original broadcast via the use of, originally VHS, currently DVD.
The BBC Learning Zone was launched in October 1995 as an extension service of BBC Two, to free up more of their schedule. Previously, these educational programmes had been based on the channel in mornings and often until the early afternoon on weekdays. However, following the channel's rebranding to the '2' idents and the increased viewer perception that resulted from it, the channel was anxious to use more of their daytime for different programming. The Learning Zone was the solution to this problem.
The idea had been around for a while: by 1995 both ITV and Channel 4 were operating as 24 hour channels, freeing up their prime time and daytime schedules. The BBC had also had a go at producing specialist television overnight by launching BBC Select. This service played out encrypted programming for the professions (Doctors, Lawyers etc.) overnight between 1992 and 1994.
In 1997, when the BBC rebranded, The Learning Zone became a separate strand of programming in its own right and became independent of BBC Two. The service would begin after BBC Two's closedown and transfer to Pages from Ceefax, with the service beginning at 12.30am until 7.00am (3.00-5.00am Fridays and Saturdays). In 2004 the service started at 2am every day and continuing until approximately 6am when programming on BBC Two would begin, however this was not always the case. The service currently runs between 4am and 6am, usually it will take a break when schools are not open (Summer, Easter Holidays etc.).
The service, upon launch, was used for the transfer of programming, including the bulk of Open University programming, secondary school programming previously from the BBC Schools strand as well as other programming.
Programming was divided up into segments, as seen below:
These segments ran on alternate days and for only certain times of the year. The segments and programming may be changed during exam seasons, so programming is revision orientated, with the programme Bitesize being a staple of the schedule.
On 15 December 2006, the last Open University programme was broadcast on the service, following which the strand was removed from the service. The service now only contains Schools and languages programming. In 2010, the remaining primary schools programmes, previously shown at 11am for one hour during weekdays (except Wednesday), were transferred to the Learning Zone from BBC Two.
During the summer months, the Learning Zone may not be broadcast, due to the restricted nature of programming, with BBC Two instead showing rolling previews under the brand 'This is BBC Two'.
Unusual among BBC services, few to no programme shown on the BBC Learning Zone is available to be watched again on the BBC iPlayer, due to rights restrictions on the programmes. As compensation, the BBC have launched a section called Learning Zone Broadband, or more simply Class Clips which includes segments from Learning Zone as well as clips taken from other relevant BBC programmes. These clips are available to watch on demand over the internet for free. This service provides teachers and students with a range of resources, including case studies and experiments, to use in class or elsewhere.
Upon launch in 1995, the strand was introduced with a variation of the '2' idents and had a logo featuring an orange stylised Learning Zone logo.
In October 1997, when the strand became separate, the stations current identification was created, showing an oak tree and an acorn. The acorn falls from a tree, while a number of identification processes take place, including a thermal image, a database match on computer, measurements taken, newspaper archives, aerodynamic investigation, cross section, 3D image and the name in different languages before the acorn finally falls to the ground and seeds to become an oak sapling. The ident is accompanied by an updated logo featuring the BBC logo and 'Learning Zone' written after in capital letters. The identification was generally only used at the beginning of the strand. Links between programmes were made using programme menus and continuity voice overs. Programme menus and static information slides were made using the logo at the bottom, and an image related to the identification featuring in the background. Very few Programme slides and promotions were used.
In 2004, four supplementary idents were introduced to link into the programmes themselves. They still featured the 1997 presentational style and were based around the theme of the seasons, with one used each season. They featured the oak tree in the background and people at rest and play around it. The 1997 ident was still used to open the strand. Also introduced in 2004, were opening films to introduce the programme menu. These featured clips showing on screen of the programmes in the Learning Zone and of the acorn falling, before a version of the logo with back-lighting moving from left to right, accompanied by the music 'Wired' by Atmosphere Music Ltd. The programme menu was also redesigned with falling acorns as the background. Both new devices were colour-coded to the strand: blue for Open University, green for languages and red for schools.
Unusually for a terrestrial BBC channel, the strand is accompanied by a BBC Two DOG in the top left corner of the screen. Other DOG's accompany the programmes, some lengthy educational programmes include a timer in the top right corner to make it easier to scan and find the section the viewer wants.