Transforming education requires pedagogical, organisational and technological innovation. Increasing use of the Internet brought in a new era in course design and delivery to the mainstream model of traditional education. That is particularly so for open educational resources.
Open educational resources (OERs) first appeared within the wider ‘Openness’ movement in the mid 1980s, based on the assumption that knowledge should be disseminated and shared freely through the Internet for the benefit of society as a whole. OERs consist of teaching, learning or research materials that are in the public domain or released with an intellectual property licence that allows for free use, adaptation, and distribution. OERs range from textbooks to curricula, syllabi, lecture notes, assignments, tests, projects, audio, video and animation. UNESCO underlines the importance of OERs for both students and teachers. The former benefit from free or low-cost access to courses and even degree programmes, while the latter can adapt those courses to local languages and build on them. However, while open course material is free, the cost of its creation is very high. Press sources indicate that the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the principal financial backer of the open educational movement, has spent more than €80 million over the past decade. There are also some concerns linked to OERs, including quality assurance, accreditation, and sustainability.
New technologies and OERs in the EU
Skills and qualifications are one of the key factors determining the economic success of the EU. Yet more than half of EU countries reduced their investment in education and training between 2008 and 2011. At the same time, it has been estimated that by 2015, 90% of all jobs will need at least basic computer skills, but 49% of EU citizens have no or low computer skills.Even though a majority of EU households – 79% – has Internet access at home, the so-called digital divide is still not closed and there is a persistent gap between northern and southern parts of the EU, and between eastern and western parts (see figure 1).Opening up education, an EU initiative launched in 2013, aims to bridge both the digital divide and the skills gap by bringing the digital revolution into education. In February 2014, the EU ministers responsible for education confirmed this strategy, encouraging Member States to exploit the potential of new technologies and digital content to complement traditional educational approaches.
European Parliament views
In its recently adopted report on new technologies and OERs (rapporteur Cătălin Sorin Ivan, S&D, Romania), Parliament’s Culture Committee encouraged Member States to use the funding available through the EU Structural Funds to improve digital infrastructure, in particular in rural and remote regions. In addition, MEPs highlighted the key role of teachers in facilitating access to online learning. While recognising the importance of traditional ways of teaching and learning, MEPs invited the Commission to further analyse whether and how OERs can enhance learning outcomes in addition to traditional methods.