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What is open education?

Open education refers to a philosophy on the way people must produce, share and build upon knowledge. Followers of this philosophy think that everyone in the world must have access to high-quality educative experiences and resources. This notion argues that any barrier that hinders collaboration among academics and educators must be eliminated. The main feature of open education is the sharing of knowledge, ideas and information with others to the point of creating new knowledge, skills and concepts[1].

Likewise, “open education encompasses resources, tools and practices that employ a framework of open exchange to improve educational access and effectiveness worldwide”[2]. Open education combines traditional ways to exchange knowledge with the use of new technologies to create a great spectrum of open, shared and collaborative educational resources where educational approaches that truly respond to students’ needs can be developed.

One of the main features of open education is that by working with equally open content and technologies, there is an ability to modify materials and, therefore, customize the learning experience[3].

Principles of open education

  • Accessible education: Everything can be done through digital tools such as LMS, with no need for face-to-face courses.
  • Democratization: It is affordable. Anybody from any social, cultural or economic level can access it.
  • Learning at the individual’s own pace: The learning process is independent and without deadlines.
  • Free knowledge: Information can be freely used, modified and distributed.
  • Discipline: Students are responsible for their own progress.

What is the importance of open education?

Thanks to open education and to the digital revolution today, it is easier than ever to access free, high-quality educational resources for academic experiences. The main feature of open education lies in the fact that students can gain additional information, compare points of view, and choose the materials that will lead them towards success. Workers have resources that help them with their work; professors can find new ways to support and help their students; and people in general can connect with others to share information and ideas. Additionally, educational material can be treated, modified and shared according to specific needs. Thus, one of open education’s benefits is making everyone capable of accessing educative resources and giving them the freedom to use them in accordance with their personal objectives[4].

Open education Resources (OER) 

To understand OERs, it is necessary to first understand open education Practices (OEP). OEPs represent the practice of creating a learning environment where OERs are used[5].

OEPs stem from the creation and implementation of OERs and hinges on their management in accordance with the involved interest groups. These usually are:

  • Politically Responsible Parties
  • Administrators, Managers, Rectors
  • Professors, Instructional Designers, Pedagogical Counsellors
  • Students

Undoubtedly, OEPs go beyond merely creating access to OERs; they are about analyzing, describing, and documenting these practices in such a manner that quality and innovation becomes their inherent characteristics. Education has become a social, reflective, and participative practice where the student can generate content that can be validated via interaction with their peers or professors[6]

Now… what are Open Education Resources (OER)?

According to UNESCO, Open Education Resources (OER) are any kind of educational materials in public domain or which can be accessed with an open license. The very nature of these materials implies that anyone can legally and freely copy, use, adapt, modify or share them.

Open education Resources (OER) can include textbooks, tasks, tests, projects, audio, video, and animation[7].

OERs function within four activities, also known as the “4Rs”[8]:

  • Review: To adapt and improve OERs so they fulfill their purpose.
  • Remix: To combine different types of OERs to produce new materials.
  • Reuse: The original OER or the new version to broaden the possible contexts for use.
  • Redistribute: To copy and share the original OER or the new version with others.

 How Is an Open Education Resource composed?

  • Ecosystem: the tools and software that ease the delivery, access and use of knowledge. It includes learning and knowledge management systems such as LMS.
  • Educational Content: a whole course, multimedia materials, publications, etc.
  • Implementation Resources: intellectual property and right of use copyright that promote free access to resources. (Creative Commons).

Open education in the World

Education is different in each part of the world. Similarly, the state of open education depends of the social, economic, and cultural context of each region. However, there is a global awareness of the importance of promoting education as a vehicle for development, which is why there are open education initiatives in every region of the planet. 

Open education in North America: In the United States, many institutional, state, and national OERs policies have arisen, ranging from the Public Library of Open Resources of Washington State to a training program by the US Department of Labor[9]. A notable case is the MIT’s (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) with the “OpenCourseWare” project that began 15 years ago, with the idea to publish all course materials online an make them available to everyone[10]. Another six universities from the US have large-scale OER programs: Rice, Johns Hopkins, Tufts, Carnegie Mellon and the Utah State University.

Open education in Latin America: In 1976, Ecuador became the first country to introduce Open and Distance Education in Latin America via the Particular Technical University of Loja (UTPL). Other countries such as Mexico and Colombia stand out for their open education initiatives. In Mexico, the Autonomous National University of Mexico (UNAM) has the Open University and Distance Education University System (SUAyED in Spanish), which offers a wide array of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. In Colombia, there is the Santo Tomás University and the National Open and Distance University (UNAD). In Brazil, the open education system is a program financially supported by the federal government so that public institutions offer undergraduate and postgraduate studies based on digital tools and materials[11].

Open education in Europe: The European Union created the “Opening Up Education” initiative, which promotes OERs as a pillar for educational policies and acts as a reference framework for their development. This initiative includes the portal “open education Europa”, which aims to catalogue and allow access to all existing quality OER databanks in the different European languages to make them accessible to students, professors, and researchers, with the goal of:

  1. Encouraging the widespread use and creation of OERs in different languages for all educational sectors, levels, and disciplines.
  2. Helping to overcome the current fragmentation of the localization and use of OERs[12].

Additionally, Europe houses one of the most notable cases of open education worldwide: the United Kingdom’s Open University, known for its extremely high educational quality and an enrollment rate of over 50,000 students. 

Open education in Asia: There is the Asian Association of Open Universities (AAOU), a non-profit organization that includes several higher education institutions that mainly deal with open and distance education. It works towards broadening the educational opportunities available to all Asians and improving the institutions’ quality regarding their learning, teaching and research management. The AAOU also promotes education via distance-based learning systems, as well as professional and ethical regulations. It develops the potential for open and distance education and cooperates directly and indirectly with official organisms regarding distance education. It also facilitates cooperation with similar regional and international organisms[13]. 

Open education in Africa: In Africa, an innovative initiative called “OER Africa” was created by the South African Institute of Distance Education (SAIDE). The OER Africa is a regional leader in supporting higher education institutions and in the development and use of open education Resources (OERs) for the improvement of teaching and learning. This organization focuses its efforts in supporting African educational institutions to develop content and materials that support the teaching and learning processes in accordance with the African context[14].

Open education in Oceania: New Zealand is a world leader in the open education movement. Both in schools and universities, kiwi professors share their high-quality and open work for anyone in the world to use it. Many universities in New Zealand belong to the “open educational Resources Universitas”, an independent, non-profit network that offers free online courses for students all over the world[15].

Openness is the path to make education, information, and knowledge accessible for everyone by removing any barriers that inhibit growth and development.



[1] What is open education? (n.d.). Retrieved November 9, 2016, from

[2]  About The Open Education Consortium. (n.d.). Retrieved November 9, 2016, from

[3]  About The Open Education Consortium. (n.d.). Retrieved November 9, 2016, from

[4]  About The Open Education Consortium. (n.d.). Retrieved November 15, 2016, from

[5]Conole, G. C., & Ehlers, U. (2010). Open Educational Practices: Unleashing the power of OER. Http:// Retrieved November 16, 2016, from

[6] Conole, G. C., & Ehlers, U. (2010). Open Educational Practices: Unleashing the power of OER. Http:// Retrieved November 16, 2016, from

[7] What are Open Educational Resources (OERs) (n.d.). Retrieved November 17, 2016, from

[8] Wiley, D., & Green, C. (2012, May 2). Chapter 6: Why Openness in Education? EDUCAUSE .Retrieved November 17, 2016, from Chapter from Game Changers: Education and Information Technologies Chapter is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License

[9] Allen, N., & Tarkowski, A. (2016, November 18). OER Policy in North America and Europe. Lecture presented at Open Education 2014, Richmond.

[10] MITOpenCourseWare. Retrieved November 17, 2016, from:

[11] Higher education in Hispanic America and Spain. In: Consulted on November 18, 2016.

[12] Iglesias, L. (n.d.). Open Education Europe, Open Educational Resources (OER) in Europe and Spain. Retrieved November 18, 2016, from

[13] About Asian Association of Open Universities. (n.d.). Retrieved November 18, 2016, from

[14] OER Africa Building African higher education capacity through openness. (n.d.). Retrieved November 18, 2016, from broc2013 FINAL.pdf

[15] Open Education. (n.d.). Retrieved November 18, 2016, from

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