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Executive Summary:  Education is the key to economic, social and environmental progress, and governments around the world are looking to improve their education systems. The future of education in the 21st century is not simply about reaching more people, but about improving the quality and diversity of educational opportunities. How to best organise and support teaching and learning requires imagination, creativity and innovation.

Open educational resources (OER) are teaching, learning and research materials that make use of tools such as open licensing to permit their free reuse, continuous improvement and repurposing by others for educational purposes. The OER community has grown considerably over the past ten years and the impact of OER on educational systems has become an issue of public policy. This report aims to highlight state of the art developments and practice in OER, but also to serve as a basis for exchanges and discussions that lead to cross-country peer learning on how to improve teaching and learning.

Key potentials of OER

Three key potentials of OER have been highlighted in this report:

  • Digital technologies have become ubiquitous in daily life and OER can harness the new possibility afforded by digital technology to address common educational challenges.
  • OER are a catalyst for social innovation, which can facilitate changed forms of interaction between teachers, learners and knowledge.
  • OER have an extended lifecycle beyond their original design and purpose. The process of distribution, adaptation and iteration can improve access to high-quality, context-appropriate educational materials for all.

OER contribute to key educational challenges

This report focuses on the contribution of OER to six key educational challenges that concern education systems today. The challenges concern teaching and learning, cost containment, the distribution of high-quality educational resources and reducing the barriers to learning opportunities, which together can improve the quality and accessibility of teaching and learning provision.

Fostering the use of new forms of learning for the 21st century

New forms of learning are required to provide learners with a learning experience that better facilitates personal development and success in a knowledge society. These include the use of approaches to learning, which involve learners as a community in the development of their own learning materials and the support of other learners. The possibility to easily  adapt and share OER supports this objective

Fosteing teachers’ professional development and engagement

Teacher development and engagement has been shown to be key to effective learning. The adaptability of OER allows teachers to revise and tailor their educational resources to provide a better fit to the educational environment in which they are teaching. It is also expected that this opportunity can lead to a higher level of collaboration between teachers.

Containing public and private costs of education

Higher levels of participation in education systems across the world lead to a challenge for cost sharing between public budgets and private households to cover the costs of high-quality learning materials. OER offer the possibility of reducing these costs through developing, sharing and updating resources more cost effectively.

Continually improving the quality of educational resources

The dynamics of a knowledge society lead to three challenges for educational resources: they must reflect new developments in the subject area they cover, they must reflect new learning theories in order to better support high-quality learning, and they must be fit for purpose for the expected learning outcomes and the heterogeneous group of learners who are using them. The adaptability of OER offers the possibility for keeping educational resources at pace with these dynamics.

Widening the distribution of high-quality educational resources

High-quality resources for education are being produced and used in some educational institutions, for some groups of learners and in some countries. The ability to share OER offers the possibility of breaking down boundaries to high-quality provision by ensuring a more even distribution of high-quality educational resources. This can build bridges between countries, between informal learning and formal education and facilitate lifelong learning.

Reducing barriers to learning opportunities

Many learners are excluded from high-quality learning opportunities because of the requirements of place, time and pace of learning. OER offered as digital resources enable the extension of educational resources beyond a set place and time of provision, and allow provision at an appropriate pace for the learners

What policy can do

This report argues that policy support is necessary for OER to reach their full potential as a social innovation. To this aim, policy makers should focus on the following four areas for activity:

Existence and discoverability of OER

Policy can support OER use through mandating or encouraging its production. If there is currently no OER, or not enough, governments may change the funding of educational resources or change the regulations for their production and use. One way of centralising and focusing efforts on the use and sharing of OER is to provide a central repository for openly licensed educational materials or to support efforts to make existing OER more discoverable. Nevertheless, making OER available does not ensure that they are used.

New role of teachers

Flexible access to high-quality educational materials is positive for learners, but they will require new support services to fully benefit from the use of OER. This leads to a new role for they develop new skills and overcome motivational and organisational barriers to sharing or collaborating through OER. These changes should be reflected in teacher training and continual professional development courses.

New quality assurance procedures

Policy makers can change the framework conditions of formal educational settings by modifying rules, promoting new tools and reassigning the division of labour for the production of high-quality educational resources. OER provide flexibility and adaptability, which enable educational resources to change over time and in different contexts. However, this flexibility presents a challenge for many existing quality assurance procedures, which assume a hierarchical structure of quality control and relatively static educational materials. New systems of quality assurance are necessary.

More research necessary

There are gaps in research on use and adaptation of OER. Policy makers should promote and fund evidence-based research for policy and practice on how OER are produced and how they are used in certain contexts and by certain actors in the education system (teachers, instructors and learners).