Best Practice Report on Widening Participation in Higher Education Study through Open Educational Resources

Lane, Andrew (2011). Best Practice Report on Widening Participation in Higher Education Study through Open Educational Resources. European Association of Distance Teaching Universities, Heerlen, Netherlands.


This document provides an overview of the literature and includes the full set of case studies provided by partners describing how OER can or might influence participation in higher education in different states across Europe.

Executive summary

1. The level of participation and achievement within higher education is viewed as crucial for social and economic development. While widening participation in higher education is a goal of all 46 countries within the European Higher Education Area there is no common or simple definition of what widening participation means in practice. In principle it is a variable mix between how many people, what type of people and what type of achievement those people gain through engaging in higher education level study.
2. Whether from the perspective of the learner or a higher education institution it is possible to consider the availability, accessibility, affordability and acceptability of taught educational provision and educational resources. A large number of physical, social, economic, cultural and psychological factors or barriers influence how many and what types of people participate and what achievements they gain.
3. There has been a growth in interest in open education and open educational resources. This interest in openness both builds upon the pioneering work of open and distance learning institutions to address widening participation, many of which participated in this study, and also extends the concept of what it means to participate or engage in higher education level study.
4. Open educational resources come in many forms and their availability, accessibility, affordability and acceptability vary depending on the licence used and the technology employed to create and deliver them. As with participation in higher education there are a number of multi-faceted and multi-layered reasons why people may be excluded from using open educational resources.
5. The evidence from the pioneering work of the partners in this study is that open and distance learning offers great scope to expand the availability and accessibility of higher education study where traditional campus based institutions cannot take on many more students as quickly or where students wish to ‘learn why they earn’ as life long learners. It can also be more affordable and acceptable although this depends on individual contexts in individual countries. The modular nature of their programmes also provides more flexibility for there to be higher education study achievement below a first cycle Bachelors qualification.
6. The partners’ work with publishing open educational resources indicate that this can also greatly increase the opportunities for people to engage with informal (self-organised and non credit bearing) or non-formal (peer group or employer organised and non credit bearing) higher education study. Such opportunities are able to provide better bridges into formal study for those groups currently excluded from higher education study and better bridges with employers and voluntary organisations seeking more customised educational experiences for their employees or members.
7. These developments around openness and in particular open educational resources are leading the partners in this study to closely examine their business models and modes of operation in terms of how many people they recruit and teach, what type of people they recruit and teach, the modes by which they provide educational resources and structure educational experiences and what constitutes successful engagement or participation.
8. New policies and practices are required at all levels in the higher education system to address issues of openness and open educational resources in higher education study and the role that both can play in increasing and widening engagement and participation.

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