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The Role of Open Educational Resources (OER) in Catalysing and Advancing Lifelong Learning Opportunities

Reflections from the Network of Open Organisations (NOO) Members

by Juliane Granly (ICDE & The ENCORE+ Network, Norway), Igor Lesko (Open Education Global, South Africa), Ebba Ossiannilsson (ICDE OER Advocacy Committee & ICDE Board, Swedish Association for Open, Flexible and Distance Education, Sweden), and Paola Corti (SPARC Europe, Netherlands)

From left: Ebba Ossiannilsson, Juliane Granly, Paola Corti, and Igor Lesko

The Network of Open Organisations was formed in 2019 when UNESCO adopted the Recommendation on OER, which is the only standard-setting instrument on OER adopted by an IGO. The Network was initiated and coordinated by Open Education Global with the primary objective of supporting the implementation of the UNESCO OER Recommendation. The Network is a Community of organisations and leaders in open education, including Open Education Global, CCCOER-Open Education Global, OER Africa, Open Education Policy Hub-Lab, Creative Commons, Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education (ISKME), ENCORE+ (ICDE‘s Erasmus+ project), ICDE, ICDE OERAC, SPARC, SPARC Europe, eLC and ICORE, Centrum Cyfrowe, Wikimedia Foundation, MERLOT-SkillsCommons, representatives from HEIs and also IGOs such as COL and UNESCO.

The Lillehammer Lifelong Learning ICDE Conference 2023 took place from 15th until 17th February 2023 in Lillehammer, Norway. Organised jointly by the International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE) and the Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences (INN), the conference attracted nearly 400 participants from 30 different countries. The programme consisted of plenary keynote sessions and more than 30 parallel sessions. Conference attendees exchanged knowledge and best practices regarding current trends and future directions in lifelong learning strategies.

During the conference, representatives from four Network of Open Organization (NOO) member organisations, Open Education Global, ICDE, SPARC Europe, and the Swedish Association for Open, Flexible and Distance Education organised a panel discussion entitled: OER: A Facilitator for Lifelong Learning. After an introduction to OER, OER-enabled Open Education Practices and the Network of Open Organisations, the panellists focused on establishing the link between OER, Open Education and Lifelong learning (LLL) strategies. Collectively, they shared examples of international initiatives that utilise OER and Open Education practices to support different LLL goals/strategies.

Discussed examples during the session included the following:

Open Education Global (OEG)

The Open for Antiracism Program (OFAR) – The Program has been facilitated by the Community College Consortium for OER (CCCOER/OEG) and supported by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation – currently in its third year. It is a professional development opportunity for faculty to learn how OER and Open Pedagogy can be used to support antiracist pedagogy:

During the year, faculty members:

  • Explore how to use OER and open pedagogy to make instructional materials and teaching more antiracist.
  • Learn about Antiracist Pedagogy, OER, and Open Pedagogy in a facilitated online course.
  • Develop and implement an action plan that is culturally responsive and learner-centred in collaboration with students. Examples include curation and updating of existing course materials, creating additional OER content, and developing assignments together with students.
  • Benefit from peer connections, monthly webinars, coaching, and administrative support. 

OFAR provides an example of a program that utilises “Open Education” to make curricular changes that improve outcomes for learners, particularly those from marginalised communities. More information about the programme is also available here.  


The ICDE OER Advocacy Committee (OERAC) works towards increasing global recognition of Open Educational Resources (OER) and providing policy support for the uptake, use and reuse of OER. All members of the ICDE OERAC are appointed as Ambassadors for OER for the period 2023-2024, and their work is aligned with the ICDE Strategic Plan 2021-2024 and the ICDE Activity Plan 2023-2024. The UNESCO OER Recommendation from 2019 is, of course, the foundation for the work done by ICDE OERAC. The OERAC is a special task Force on OER with the ICDE Global Advocacy Campaign 

Swedish Association for Open, Flexible, and Distance Education

Two Nordplus Adult projects funded by the Nordic Council of Ministers were presented:

  • NPAD-2020/10169: How do seniors in the Nordic and Baltic countries learn digital skills?
  • NPAD-2021/10187: DIGITAL SUPPORT: Guidelines for training the trainers to help seniors facilitate daily life in the digital world. 

The first project was organized from 20.09.2020 to 20.08.2021, and the second is 2021 – 2023. The Summer College of Jyvaeskylä, Finland coordinated both projects. The projects aim to strengthen and develop cooperation between the Nordic countries and the Baltic Sea Region in the field of lifelong learning for seniors and to learn and exchange ideas on how to teach digital competencies to seniors in different countries. During the first project, the focus was on sharing successful national initiatives for teaching digital competencies to seniors, as well as continuous learning and lifelong learning in general for seniors in the Nordic and Baltic countries. Best practices were adapted to the partners’ own work at the national and local levels. During the second project, the partners will set up an online portal to share best practices for teaching digital skills to seniors. This free and easily accessible portal is aimed at all stakeholders in the Nordic and Baltic countries working in the field of adult education (for seniors). All developed materials are leased as OER. The project work involves both pedagogical staff and representatives of adult students or volunteers (seniors) from each organization.

NVL Digital Inclusion. The network is funded by the Nordic Council of Ministers and works to bridge the digital divide and improve adults’ understanding of digital participation. Especially the Sustainable Development Goals 4, 10 and 16 are addressed. By supporting working solutions in adult education and making recommendations to decision-makers, the network contributes to increasing opportunities for the adult population in the Nordic countries to use digital community services, participate in lifelong learning, become active and critical citizens and users of technology, and be better able to manage an increasingly digital work life. The network contributes to the implementation of lifelong learning strategies in Nordic countries and to the development of adults’ digital competencies. The network contributes to personal development and democratic participation and cooperates with civil society and the working life sector. In recent research by the network on the role of lifelong learning in digital transformation, five recommendations to reach the hard-to-reach citizens were outlined:

  • recognizing the ubiquity of digitalization 
  • recognizing how digitalization intervenes in everyday life 
  • creating many and flexible opportunities for participation 
  • looking at chains of relationships 
  • connecting to relevance 

SPARC Europe

SPARC Europe’s European Network of Open Education Librarians (ENOEL) is a community of academics from across Europe who share educational values and advocate for Open Education (OE), encourage and facilitate the exchange of ideas with peers, and value learning from one another to drive Open Education possibilities forward. Librarians connect researchers and educators with content in new ways; they are also highly service-oriented. During the year, ENOEL members work together, share knowledge, co-create OE content and implement projects at different levels contributing to the implementation of the UNESCO OER Recommendation in many ways. Few examples:

All these activities and many more contribute to creating a sharing knowledge context that facilitates professional exchanges and upskilling through informal learning opportunities for librarians who embrace the challenges of working together across timezone and languages.

The ENOEL members’ approach is non-judgmental, broad, inclusive, and transformative in many ways. That’s why the sharing opportunities often become the starting point to ignite change at the institutional and interinstitutional level, and contribute to consideration about the role of open education as a viable path for the advanced acquisition of key professional skills, either formally or informally. One of our best examples is the great work done by Ukrainian librarians at USUST during wartime.

Following the overview of the different initiatives, the panellists engaged session participants in a discussion regarding the strategies that would help accelerate the adoption of OER and related Open Education Practices in LLL strategies. In this context, the panellist and the participants emphasised, in particular, the importance of enabling policy frameworks (institutional and governmental), awareness-raising and advocacy campaigns and capacity-building activities.         

Following the overview of the different initiatives, the panellists engaged session participants in a discussion regarding strategies and enabling factors that would help accelerate OERs impact on LLL.

Activities of the Network of Open Organisations (NOO)

The Network meets monthly and also works on projects collaboratively, including the following:

  • The OER Recommendation Actions Matrix was developed in response to the adoption of the UNESCO OER Recommendation in November 2019. It outlines pragmatic activities that governments and educational institutions can consider operationalizing under the five Recommendation actions areas to support its implementation. In so doing, the Matrix contributes to the efforts of mainstreaming OER and related practices worldwide.
  • Case studies of successful, large-scale implementations of OER initiatives which was led by the OER Africa team. Seven (7) projects were selected to write up as case studies demonstrating how OER have been used to increase access, improve learner outcomes, and/or reduce costs or facilitate professional development opportunities.

For more information about NOO or to join, please send an email to

About Open Education Global

Open Education Global (OEG) is a global, member-based, non-profit organization supporting the development and use of open education around the world.  We are uniquely positioned as a global steward of open education. For more than a decade, we have been bringing together the global open education community. Our activities, events, and convenings provide a forum for open education advocacy and awareness raising, sharing best practices between global practitioners, and understanding open education impact and its associated evidence base. OEGlobal is the one organization focused exclusively on open education worldwide. Read more in OEG’s Strategic Plan 2021-2030.

About ICDE

The International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE) is the leading, global membership organisation that works towards bringing accessible, quality education to all through open, flexible and distance learning. ICDE has 320+ members and partners in over 70 countries in all world regions, impacting over 15 million students across every continent. ICDE’s global community of members and partners engage in a wide range of activities, initiatives and events focused on open, flexible and distance learning, such as: 

  • High level, international events: ICDE member, UNED Costa Rica, is hosting the 29th ICDE World Conference (6-10th November 2023), a leading international conference on flexible education, bringing together members, partners and other stakeholders in discussions on the future of education.
  • Through the Global Advocacy Campaign, ICDE supports members in advocating for Open, Flexible and Distance Learning (OFDL) on the international stage. 
  • The ICDE OER Advocacy Committee (OERAC), an ICDE expert task force with ambassadors in all world regions, works towards increasing global recognition of Open Educational Resources (OER), and provides policy support for the uptake, use and reuse of OER. 
  • The ENCORE+ Network (The European Network for Catalysing Open Resources in Education) is a meeting place, bringing together stakeholders around Europe in discussions, events, and research, moving towards an open future for learning. The ENCORE+ network supports the uptake of Open Educational Resources for education and business, focused on innovation, policy, technology and quality. The ENCORE+ Network is coordinated by ICDE, and is an open community to anyone interested in OER. 

About SPARC Europe

SPARC Europe is a Dutch foundation committed to delivering on the promise of open access, open science, open scholarship and open education. In 2018, SPARC Europe funded the European Network of Open Education Librarians (ENOEL), a community of academics from across Europe who share educational values and advocate for Open Education (OE). The 2021-2023 Strategic Plan identifies librarians as key stakeholders who are in a unique position to advance Open Education by bringing experience in both publishing and facilitating access to knowledge to creators and consumers. Librarians are taking an important role in advancing Open Education in Europe: as reported in the 2022 edition of the SPARC Europe Open Education Survey amongst Higher Education libraries in Europe, the evidence shows that libraries are playing to their strengths as open information and knowledge managers, facilitators, and disseminators. Some libraries are taking the lead to drive OE forward in their institutions and are working from the control rooms of teaching and learning or scholarly communication with a range of institutional departments to further OE and OER, although such work clearly needs to be increased. Libraries could do more to support co-creation and other knowledge activities scaffolding Open Education, with innovative work here the exception rather than the rule. The ENOEL members work to make this happen.


The authors of the article would like to express their gratitude to the Network of Open Organisations members for their contributions. 

The Role of Open Educational Resources (OER) in Catalysing and Advancing Lifelong Learning Opportunities by The Network of Open Organisations is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.