Freeing up access to learning: the role for Open Educational Resources

Mendonca, Murilo Matos; McAndrew, Patrick and Santos, Andreia (2011). Freeing up access to learning: the role for Open Educational Resources. In: Baldazzi, Anna; Ricci, Laura and Baros, Valentina Valle eds. E-Learning quality assurance: a multi-perspective approach. GUIDE Association. Rome, Italy: Gangemi Editore spa, pp. 121–138.



The internet revolution of the last few years has had an impact on how we all live our lives. So it is not surprising that this is also a time of change in attitudes towards how we learn. Free access to information through computer networks has expanded, and part of that information flow are materials designed to help people learn. In addition there are many further online resources that help the learning process, even if that was not the original aim. However, there are risks in this evolution in access to information both for the end user, who can be confused by the options available to them, and to those involved in providing education, who may see their traditional role changing and becoming harder to perform. This situation provides the background for a growing movement to directly consider how education can be provided in a freer and more open way. This has been termed “Open Educational Resources” (OER). The exact definition of the term depends on interpretation, however a useful statement was provided as an outcome from an event organized by UNESCO in 2002 as:
“OER are teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use or re-purposing by others. Open educational resources include full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials, or techniques used to support access to knowledge (Atkins, Brown and Hammond, 2007, p4).”
Arguably the only difference between an online learning object and an open educational resource is the declaration that it is open. This may be true but that turns out to be a powerful difference. By being open the content can be accessed by any learner who can do so, it can be taken and run in new contexts, it can be reworked by others and adapted for local needs (with the result shared back if desired), it can be made part of shared pool of resources, it can be the shared point of reference for collaboration, and it can be the key to building policies that work in different domain.

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