1 The Open University (UNITED KINGDOM)
2 European Association of Distance Teaching Universities (NETHERLANDS)
About this paper:
Appears in: EDULEARN11 Proceedings
Publication year: 2011
Pages: 1353-1363
ISBN: 978-84-615-0441-1
ISSN: 2340-1117
Conference name: 3rd International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies
Dates: 4-6 July, 2011
Location: Barcelona, Spain
All countries in the European Higher Education Area aspire to widen access to and participation in higher education, but there are varying policies and practices to support this aspiration. Open universities have long played a part in widening access and participation by offering alternative modes to study through open and distance learning; modes that are often less constrained by physical capacity as in conventional universities. Part of the openness of open universities has been through making access to educational materials and formal learning experiences as flexible as possible through specially designed courses and programmes.

More recently European open universities have also played a central role in the development of the open educational resources movement whereby they are providing even greater access to self study materials that can support independent and informal self study; that can enable the mediated study of the materials in non-formal settings; and that can provide a bridge between such informal and non-formal study into formal study as a registered student. Through a number of projects these open universities, members of the European Association of Distance Teaching Universities, have been sharing emergent ideas and best practices to foster innovation in the use of open educational resources.

This paper, which references a European Lifelong Learning project under the Erasmus Virtual Campus programme, briefly reviews the history of open educational resources, open and distance learning and widening participation within European higher education before examining and analysing particular projects and practices that various European open universities have undertaken which use open educational resources to widen the audience for higher education knowledge, increase engagement with higher education materials and improve participation in formal access higher education courses and programmes. It then presents a conceptual framework for understanding the role of open educational resources and open and distance learning in widening participation based on their availability, accessibility, affordability and acceptability. The paper concludes that open educational resources are beginning to influence educational opportunities in Europe, but that new policies and practices are required at all levels in the higher education system to address issues of openness and open educational resources in higher education study and the role that can play in increasing and widening engagement and participation. There needs to be better collaboration between the stakeholders if OER are not to be seen as a way of simply widening the audience for higher education knowledge rather than widening participation.
Open educational resources, widening participation, innovation, policy, open and distance learning.