The term open educational resources (OER) was coined at UNESCO’s 2002 Forum on Open Courseware. In 2012, the Paris OER Declaration was released during the first OER World OER Congress held in France. Marking the 15th anniversary of OER, the 2nd World OER Congress was held in Slovenia in 2017. The Ljubljana Action Plan defines OER as
“teaching, learning and research materials in any medium – digital or otherwise – that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions. Open licensing is built within the framework of intellectual property rights as defined by relevant international conventions to respect the authorship of work. OER are a strategic opportunity to improve knowledge sharing, capacity building and universal access to quality learning and teaching resources” (UNESCO Ljubljana Action Plan, 2017).
Education systems around the world are facing pressure to increase access to education and training, while also ensuring it is affordable and meets high quality standards. While governments have signed on to international agreements in support of education as a fundamental human right and as a sustainable development goal (SDG), many are finding that cost and quality factors are making it difficult for them to meet their obligations. To this end, COL’s Kuala Lumpur Declaration (Commonwealth of Learning, 2016) recommends the mainstreaming of OER use by developing strategies and policies at governmental and institutional levels to enhance quality while potentially reducing the cost of education.
Access to relevant learning resources is an important aspect of lifelong learning and the ability to provide that access at the necessary scale is proving a challenge. Addressing this challenge is essential to ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning opportunities for all, as outlined in SDG4, as well as supporting citizens in gaining sustainable livelihoods.
COL has identified the development of OER as a potential answer to these challenges. OER provide governments, institutions, organizations and individuals with access to some of the best materials available globally, allow them to adapt the materials to fit the local context and reduce the costs associated with materials and course development.
OER for Skills Development
The OER for Skills Development is a three-year project funded by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, USA. Over the course of the project (July 2015 – June2018), COL has worked with approximately 80 institutions at different levels of the educational spectrum to support capacity building in OER, the integration of information and communication technology (ICT) in teaching and learning, policy development for OER and the development of relevant courses by repurposing OER to be made available as OER. Further, COL has supported several institutions to mainstream OER at a systemic level.
In the three years of operation, the project has supported the development of 29 provincial OER policies and guidelines in three countries, developed 53 institutional OER policies in the higher education and TVET sectors, trained approximately 300 teachers in over 100 institutions on the use of OER teaching and learning, sensitized over 650 policymakers on the benefits of OER for education, and developed 26 courses and toolkits contributing to the propagation of OER. Further, the OERFAQ.info community of practice, which answers over 100 peer-reviewed FAQs, has become a main go-to place for all things OER.
COL’s long-term vision is for institutions and organisations across the Commonwealth to develop and use OER-based courses and materials to provide access to quality education and training and support the development of sustainable livelihoods for all Commonwealth citizens.