Open education

What is open education?

Open access is also important for higher education. The open access movement believes that everyone worldwide should have free online access to high-quality educational material. The movement is supported by a growing number of research universities and universities of applied sciences, which are making their teaching materials and courses available online and free of charge. Lots of educational results themselves, in the form of academic Master theses or materials of the HBO Knowledge Base are available online.

What kinds of educational resources are there?

There is an extensive and varied range of ‘open’ educational resources. A brief overview follows below. For more comprehensive information, you can consult the SURF glossary (available in Dutch only).

1. Web lectures

Web lectures are video clips of presentations, lectures, addresses, etc. These recordings are sometimes enriched with additional material such as PowerPoint presentations, websites and publications.

2. Open content

Open content refers to creative works, such as texts, images, sound or video, that are published under an open licence (e.g. Creative Commons), which explicitly permits copying, adapting and distribution.

3. Open educational resources (OER)

Open educational resources (OER) are free lesson materials that are freely available for use and/or re-use. The material may be copied, adapted and distributed under certain conditions by way of an open licence, such as Creative Commons.

4. Open courseware

Open courseware involves a free complete course comprising open lesson materials, which is freely available for use or re-use. The material may be copied, adapted and distributed under certain conditions by way of an open licence, such as Creative Commons. With open courseware, the emphasis is the lesson material; students do not receive any supervision and there is no opportunity to gain credits.


A massive open online course (MOOC) is an online course for an unlimited number of participants. A MOOC is freely accessible and free of charge, unless participants want a verified certificate. MOOCs give students access to lesson materials, as well as providing a complete course experience. Students are not awarded any formal credits.

Where can you find open educational resources?

There are various searchable websites that bring together open educational resources. The most relevant ones are:

1. Open Education Europa

Set up by the European Commission in 2013, Open Education Europa aims to bring together all existing European open educational resources. The portal has an extensive search functionality with the option of filtering search results by institution, language and subject, etc.

2. OER Commons

OER Commons was launched in 2007 by the Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education (ISKME). This portal, too, has an extensive database and a sophisticated search function. People who register with OER Commons are able to evaluate and review the open educational resources.

3. Community College Consortium for Open Educational Resources (CCCOER).

CCCOER is an American consortium of educational institutions that aims to develop and use open educational resources, open textbooks and open courseware. It has compiled a comprehensive list of websites where you can find these resources.

Developing and sharing open educational resources

As well as using existing open educational resources, institutions can decide to develop these materials themselves and to share them online.

What are the advantages?

It takes time and money for institutions to develop open educational resources themselves, but it brings many benefits, too. SURF lists some of these benefits:

  • An institution can boost its profile by making teaching material openly available.

  • Open education helps prospective students choose the right programme.

  • Open lesson materials improve student success rates.

  • Open educational resources make it possible to differentiate the teaching on offer and to tailor it to students.

  • Making lesson materials publicly available has been shown to boost their quality.

  • Open education improves educational innovation.

  • Open education helps with lifelong learning. It serves ‘self learners’ – those wishing to acquire high-quality knowledge without enrolling in a mainstream programme.

Dutch government supports the development of open education. Each year from 2015 to 2018 the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science will make funds available for projects that promote open education. SURF will play a coordinating role.


Legal issues are important when it comes to developing and sharing open educational resources. For lesson materials to be shared, they need to be published under an open licence. The SURF website has a list (in Dutch) of publications and online sources about open education and copyright.

Best practices for the development of open education

Institutions with experience in developing and sharing open educational resources are keen to share their experiences with others. The SURF special interest group Open Education facilitates and promotes knowledge sharing, cooperation and vision development regarding open education within Dutch higher education.

Hundreds of higher educational institutions from all over the world have joined forces within the Open Education Consortium, which aims to exchange information about open education. The consortium’s website features an index of people with experience and expertise in open education.

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Dutch National website providing information for academics about the advantages of open access to publicly financed research

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