By being adaptable and accessible, OERs have the potential to solve the global education crisis and contribute to sustainable economic growth - if governments are prepared to act.
OERs can be used to create a better trained, more flexible global workforce for the 21st century. Photograph: Tom Bible / Alamy/Alamy
In the Guardian Professional Sir John Daniel, knighted for his contribution to education, served as president and CEO of the Commonwealth of Learning from 2004 to 2012 and as Unesco's assistant director-general for education from 2001 to 2004 and David Killion is the US ambassador to Unesco. He led the US delegation to the World OER Congress
commented that Open Educational Resources (OER) as the key not only to solving the global education crisis but to unlocking sustainable global growth in the 21st century- that is, if governments are ready to seize on their potential.
OERs are learning materials that can be accessed, used, and transformed by anyone, anywhere.
Though the concept is simple, the economic potential is tremendous and the advantages are two-fold: First, OERs can lower education costs substantially. OERs can also help universities reduce their marketing costs. Open resources have been a boon for recruitment: 35% of MIT applicants tell their admissions office that they chose MIT after they looked at its OpenCourseWare. Open resources can also help bolster a school's global reputation: 91% of visitors to Open University's page on iTunes U are from outside the UK.
But what was crystallised at the Unesco Congress are the larger economic implications of the OER movement and its potential to dramatically expand the global knowledge economy. By making education more accessible and adaptable to the changing needs of the global economy.
Alredy there is mounting evidence that learners can be trained more quickly using OER. A recent study conducted by scholars associated with Carnegie Mellon University's Open Learning Initiative demonstrated that students who use OERs can obtain the same or better learning outcomes in half the time compared with students using traditional methods. This means that OERs can be used to create a better trained, more flexible global workforce for the 21st century.
The OER movement has been steadily gaining momentum since its inception, as more and more individuals and institutions discover its extraordinary potential. Over 400,000 teachers have benefited from the Teacher Education in Sub-Saharan Africa program, whilst the Open University's OpenLearn website has had more than 21 million visits since its launch in 2006. One by one, the world's most prestigious universities are launching new OER initiatives. In May, Harvard University announced it would join forces with the MIT to create edX, a platform that provides free access to rigorous online courses to students anywhere in the world. Stanford University is planning a similar venture.
Initiatives like these are remarkable, but higher education activities can only go so far. Governments are by far the biggest suppliers of education worldwide. They have the most to contribute to the OER movement and the most to gain in terms of cost savings and economic growth.
The first Unesco World OER Congress concluded with a declaration that urged governments to play a more active role in supporting this movement, which has, to date, been largely funded by a few supportive foundations. This call to action is about more than education. It is about widening the circle of those able to contribute to renewed economic growth. Governments around the world would do well to heed that call.
I wrote about the declaration in my blogpsot