Free, credit-bearing online learning has become accessible for students worldwide. The Open Educational Resource university, or OERu – a project of the UNESCO-Commonwealth of Learning OER Chair network – was unveiled on 1 November, promising to “revolutionise tertiary learning”.
The new initiative would appear to be the open educational resource movement’s answer to MOOCs, massive open online courses, offering somewhat more structured, credit-bearing learning in partnership with a university network and including mOOCs, or micro-open online courses.
Coordinated by the New Zealand-based not-for-profit network Open Education Resource Foundation and launched by open learning guru Sir John Daniel, OERu will provide more affordable ways for students to gain academic credits towards qualifications from recognised institutions.
“The OERu makes affordable education accessible to everyone,” said Dr Wayne Mackintosh, director of the OER Foundation. “All you need is an internet connection and you can study independently from home, with access to world-class courses from recognised institutions around the globe.
“We are first and foremost a philanthropic collaboration. What we want to do is to widen educational opportunity through the agendas of social inclusion or the missions of community service of our individual partners, and that is central to what we are doing.
“It’s about sharing knowledge and the sustainability of education.”
How OERu will work
OERu’s primary point of difference, it said in a launch statement, was that students worldwide could study for free “using courses based on OER, with pathways to gain credible credentials”.
Users could pay reduced fees if they wanted to notch up academic credits – and would pay for assessment only if and when they were ready.
“All the course material is taught online, based on OER, and openly accessible materials on the internet. This means you won’t need to buy any textbooks,” said Mackintosh.
With the courses designed for independent study, users would get peer support from fellow learners, while in some OERu courses users would study with full-time registered students at one or more of OERu’s anchor partners – a network of academic institutions on five continents.
The initiative’s anchoring partner is the committedly open access Otago Polytechnic in New Zealand, which is also home to the Open Education Resource Foundation.
Courses currently available through the OERu include resourcing a small enterprise; understanding culture in Asia and the Pacific; tourism in Asia and the Pacific; developing a business plan, and regional economics in Asia and the Pacific.
Programmes can be distinguished between a full course and a micro-open online course, or mOOC. “A micro-course allows the user flexibility to manage learning around their personal commitments and learning interests,” said Mackintosh.
The mOOC represented a sub-component of a full course and would usually be offered over a two- to three-week period. This would qualify people to gain full course credits through recognition of prior learning systems available at various OERu partners. A full course can be between 10 and 15 weeks long.
Mackintosh said there was no reason for students to be denied access to the OER university network in cases where, within that country, there were not any institutional OERu members.
“At the same time, any accredited national institution is welcome to join the OER university network, and we would encourage institutions from other countries to join us in our mission to widen access to education.”
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