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Open Education has the potential to make education more accessible, enable the creation of relevant teaching and learning materials, improve the quality of content, and empower learners to be critical thinkers and knowledge creators. Open Education Week (OE Week), held annually, is an opportunity for actively sharing and learning about the latest achievements in Open Education worldwide. OE Week provides practitioners, educators, and students with an opportunity to gain a greater understanding of open educational practices and be inspired by the OE community. OE Week will be held from 1-5 March 2021.

The term ‘Open Education’ is often used when discussing open educational resources (OER). However the term more broadly refers to a commitment to remove unnecessary barriers to access learning while seeking to ensure high quality educational experiences that will enable success both during and after studies. This commitment includes developing policies and practices of openness in entry requirements (with minimal or no restriction on qualifications), choice of courses, place of study and time, and so on. An open education approach can inform practice in face-to-face education, distance education, and online and blended learning.[1]

Open Education incorporates the key principle of learner-centredness. The learner should be the focus of the educational process and should be regarded as an active participant in an interactive engagement. Cognisance needs to be taken of the learner context, building on their experience wherever possible. Open Education should encourage independent and critical thinking. This is facilitated by regarding the learner as an active participant in the educational process and can be further enhanced by offering learners choices, possibilities, and contesting viewpoints within that process. Teaching independent and critical thinking empowers learners to be able to interact confidently and effectively within society.

Click here to learn more about Open practices, trends and opportunities in higher education in Africa.


Lifelong learning is central to openness. Learning should continue throughout life, rather than being limited to childhood and teenage years, and should be of direct relevance to the needs and life experience of learners. The concept of lifelong learning implies an acknowledgement of the reality that learning is a process in which all people are inevitably involved from birth until death and a consequent attempt to make structured educational opportunities available to people throughout their lives.

Education has become far more accessible to more people through the innovations introduced by Information and Communication Technology (ICT). While ICT has created many new possibilities for reaching learners, it also creates new barriers to access for many. Although online learning can accommodate different ways and styles of learning (making for greater accessibility) and enable the construction of a richer learning environment, all learners potentially face barriers to learning. These barriers may include the high cost of Internet access and technology, technical constraints in the use of technology, a shortage of appropriate resources (in the local language or context), or content that is not designed to be accessible to learners with disabilities.

Harnessing technology and online learning methods can provide access to education for those in remote areas, for the socially disadvantaged, and for the marginalised. If carefully implemented, Open Education can play a potentially important role in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and enabling lifelong learning. Of course, effective learning design is critical and recognises that people learn differently and require learning resources that are related to their needs and circumstances.

The FLOE Handbook can guide teachers and content creators to develop more inclusive and accessible educational resources.


An important element of openness is licensing. Legal frameworks such as Creative Commons help to govern how open a resource is. These licences provide mechanisms to ensure that authors of materials can retain acknowledgement for their work while allowing it to be shared, can restrict commercial activity, and can aim to prevent people from adapting it if they so wish. Open licensing creates possibilities for teachers and learners to access teaching and learning materials that they may not otherwise have been able to access. While e-books for the academic market are becoming more widely available, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic, unaffordable prices, an inability to buy e-books due to a refusal to sell or bundling of titles in packages, and restrictions on research copying are affecting coursework and research in universities. In the UK, libraries say they have struggled with high e-book prices and lack of availability for years, but this situation is now critical because students urgently need digital resources during the pandemic. Follow the hashtag #eBookSOS for more.

Using and creating OER encourages collaboration, so educators are able to share teaching practices and benefit from the ideas of others. Effective OER practices have the potential to improve the quality and reduce the costs of educational materials. This opens the possibility of making previously expensive materials affordably accessible to many. This is one potential solution to the challenges facing learners and teachers in Africa and across the world.

The Commonwealth of Learning (COL) has created guidelines and a resource list for institutions to keep the doors of learning open during the COIVID-19 pandemic.


The fundamental principles underlying OER are the freedom to share knowledge and that the knowledge should be legally, socially, and technologically open. OER promote the creation and adaptation of content for different contexts. This is particularly important in Africa as it is the least visible continent online, despite accommodating a population of over a billion people. Content used in Africa is not always created by Africans. By using OER, learners and teachers in Africa are able to findadapt, and create open content that is tailored to their needs, inclusive, and reflects the local context.

OER Africa has developed a series of learning pathways for university academic staff that will enable them to improve their teaching and learning capacity using OER.


If you are interested in engaging in Open Education practices and networking with colleagues, there are a few ways to participate in OE Week. You can host an event, share OER, or attend activities hosted by others. For more information click here

Remember all the resources on the OER Africa website are free to use and share. Let us know what you are doing to celebrate OE Week. Tag @OERAfrica in your social media posts and use #OEWeek. 

[1] Commonwealth of Learning. (2020). Open and Distance Learning – Key Terms & Definitions [online]. Available from: http://oasis.col.org/bitstream/handle/11599/3558/2020_COL_ODL_KeyTerms_Definitions.pdf [accessed 22 October 2020].

For more articles in this series, click on the links below.


What's New

Following the adoption of the OER Recommendation in 2019, UNESCO initiated a programme to support governments and educational institutions in implementing it.

One aspect of this programme was the development of a series of five guidelines to inform implementation of each Action Area in the Recommendation.

Image courtesy of Ismail Salad Osman Hajji dirir, Unsplash

As the digital age continues to reshape the global educational landscape in fundamental ways, the need for governments and educational institutions to champion Open Educational Resources (OER) has never been more relevant. Freely accessible, openly licensed educational content can help tackle some of the most pressing needs in education systems, including equity, access, and quality.

Following the adoption of the UNESCO Recommendation on OER at the 40th UNESCO General Conference in Paris on 25th November 2019, UNESCO initiated a programme to support governments and educational institutions in implementing the Recommendation.

One such action was the development of a series of five guidelines for governments. These guidelines were developed through a comprehensive consultative process and in cooperation with OER experts worldwide. They draw heavily on in-depth background papers prepared by OER experts from around the world in each of the five Action Areas of the OER Recommendation: Prof. Melinda dP. Bandalaria (building the capacity of stakeholders to create, access, re-use, adapt and redistribute OER); Dr Javiera Atenas (developing supportive policy); Dr Ahmed Tlili (encouraging inclusive and equitable quality OER); Dr Tel Amiel (nurturing the creation of sustainability models for OER), and Ms Lisbeth Levey (facilitating international cooperation).

OER Africa has provided logistical and editorial assistance to UNESCO on this work as part of a formal cooperation agreement with UNESCO to provide support in implementation of the OER Recommendation.

Aimed at governments and educational institutions, each set of guidelines has the following structure:

  • An overview of recommendations in the Action Area;
  • An introduction to the main issues surrounding the Action Area;
  • A matrix of possible actions recommended for governments and institutions to implement each point in the Action Area;
  • An in-depth discussion of the key issues surrounding the Action Area; and
  • Examples of good practice.

By actively supporting and implementing the OER Recommendation, governments and educational institutions can not only make high quality education more accessible but can also promote transformation in their education systems. This commitment to OER is essential for building resilient, adaptable education systems that can meet the demands of a rapidly changing world.

Access the guidelines here

Related articles

With the ever-increasing costs of textbooks, how can university students get access to the resources they need to study? This article examines the benefits of using open textbooks in the Global South.

Image: CC0 (Public domain)

With the ever-increasing costs of textbooks, how can university students get access to the resources they need to study?

Worldwide, university students find it difficult to purchase textbooks for their courses as they are too expensive. Already in 2014 in South Africa[1], and in 2011 in the United States[2], there were reports that students didn’t buy textbooks due to expense. The situation has not improved in recent years; for example, in a study of nearly fifty thousand respondents in South African universities, nearly two thirds indicated that they spent between R500 and R2500 on textbooks, and while 87% of students’ first semester modules had prescribed textbooks, 27% of students did not buy any prescribed books in the first semester of 2020. Students were opting not to purchase textbooks either because of a lack of affordability, because they did not find them contextually relevant, or because a course would only use a small portion of the textbook. [3]

Open textbooks can be regarded as a subset of Open Educational Resources (OER). They are digital textbooks published under an open licence, which means that they are freely downloadable and adaptable to suit a range of contexts (as long as the licence permits adaptation). The right to adapt is particularly important for educators who may want to tailor the textbook to their specific curriculum. An open textbook can be published with different Creative Commons licences,[4] depending on how open or restrictive the author wishes the licence to be. The principal advantages of an open textbook are its accessibility and affordability to the students, as long as they have a digital device, or have access to print at low or no cost. However, open textbooks have other advantages as well. These include:[5]

  • Local Contexts: Open textbooks can be regularly updated, and tailored to suit the local context, providing cultural relevance and addressing specific needs of students.
  • Partial Use: In some courses, only a portion of the overall textbook content is relevant. Students may hesitate to purchase an expensive textbook when they will only use a few chapters. In contrast, open textbooks allow educators to select and integrate specific sections, reducing unnecessary costs.
  • Collective Authorship: Open textbooks encourage collaborative authorship strategies. Locally produced open textbooks can involve input from multiple experts, resulting in richer and more contextually relevant content with diverse perspectives.
  • Flexibility: Open textbooks can be accessed in different formats and stored digitally, so that they are easy to share and adapt.

Of course, open textbooks also have some disadvantages, namely:

  • Availability: We provide examples of open textbook repositories below, but educators may find that there is limited selection for certain subjects or specialised topics. 
  • Quality: There may be inconsistencies in writing style, accuracy, and depth of content but these can be easily mitigated by evaluating the textbooks prior to use, as should be done for all resources to be used, including commercial textbooks.
  • Author incentives: Authors of traditional textbooks normally receive royalties from publishers as their books are sold. The open licence by which open textbooks are released means that other forms of incentive may be needed, for example in the form of grants, that may not be sufficiently enticing for many potential authors.

Research on open textbooks

Most research has been carried out in the Global North. For example, a meta-analysis of 22 studies of 100,012 students found that there were no differences between open and commercial textbooks for learning performance.[6] A research study Adoption and impact of OER in the Global South[7] had similar findings, with open textbooks being more effective that traditional ones in several instances. However, the studies reported that careful pedagogical scaffolding, including a mix of OER, produced the most effective learning. Within Africa, research findings from the Digital Open Textbooks for Development (DOT4D) Project[8] found that open textbooks addressed economic, cultural, and political injustices faced by their students, issues not considered by traditional textbooks. Summarising the research overall, we can say that open textbooks have several advantages over traditional ones, as listed above, and in terms of learning, they are equivalent. 

Examples of African institutions who have benefited from using open textbooks

Probably the best example of collaborative development of open textbooks is the University of Cape Town’s DOT4D Project. If you want to learn about the experiences of their staff and students, read UCT Open Textbook Journeyswhich documents the stories of 11 academics at the University who embarked on open textbook development initiatives to provide their students more accessible and locally relevant learning materials.

Other African universities’ libraries list sites where open textbooks and other OER are available, usually from outside the continent. Finding open textbooks for your own institution is not always easy. Here we list three sites where you can search for open textbooks. Bear in mind that, if you choose an American or European textbook, you may need to spend time adapting it for your own context. 

University of Cape Town Catalogue

26 textbook titles ranging from medical texts, through sustainable development to marketing, but also many other titles on OpenUCT.

Open Textbook Library

Based at the University of Minnesota in the United States, this repository has 1,403 titles. The view shown here groups the titles by subject.

University of Stellenbosch 

This LibGuide lists 17 platforms where you can search for open access textbooks and other free books.

Resources on developing and using open textbooks

Below is a list of resources to help you explore this growing field. The first three assist you to develop an open textbook, while the last two guide you to adopt or modify an existing open textbook.

Finally, although they are not designed for higher education, the open textbooks developed by Siyavula for high school mathematics, technology, and sciences may be useful for colleges and access courses in universities.

In summary, there are considerable benefits to using open textbooks, but with a few exceptions, African institutions have not yet taken on the challenge of producing open textbooks themselves. Clearly, funding is required for the development of open textbooks, and institutions might consider making funding applications to create (or adapt) these highly useful open education resources for the benefit of more African students.

Related resources:

 Access the OER Africa communications archive here

[1] Nkosi, B. (2014). Students hurt by pricey textbooks. Mail & Guardian. Retrieved from https://mg.co.za/article/2014-10-03-students-hurt-by-pricey-textbooks/

[2] Redden, M. (2011). 7 in 10 Students Have Skipped Buying a Textbook Because of Its Cost, Survey Finds. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from https://www.chronicle.com/article/7-in-10-students-have-skipped-buying-a-textbook-because-of-its-cost-survey-finds/

[3] Department of Higher Education. (2020). Students’ Access to and use of Learning Materials—Survey Report 2020. Retrieved from https://www.usaf.ac.za/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/DHET_SAULM-Report-2020.pdf

[5] Digital Open Textbooks for Development. (2021). ‘Open Textbooks in South African Higher Education’ Roundtable Report. University of Cape Town. Retrieved from https://open.uct.ac.za/server/api/core/bitstreams/3a7e1a09-0617-4ba4-b6dd-4572bd870d60/content

[7] Hodgkinson-Williams, C. & Arinto, P. B. (2017). ‘Adoption and impact of OER in the Global South’. Cape Town & Ottawa: African Minds, International Development Research Centre & Research on Open Educational Resources. DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.1005330 


OER Africa is honoured to have contributed two chapters to the recently published book ‘Does Distance Education in the Developing Context Need More Research? Building Practice into Theory’. Edited by Dr Folake Ruth Aluko and Prof. Daniella Coetzee, the book explores the reciprocal relationship between theory and practice in distance education.

Research can have a transformative impact on any field, and distance education is no exception. It can, for example,  contribute to more effective use of new educational strategies, provide insights into technological advancements, and contribute to our understanding of the key successes and challenges in distance education delivery.

While the concept of distance education dates back more than a century, research in this area is relatively nascent when compared to the development of educational research in general.[1] The body of literature on the practice, influence, and impact of distance education is therefore limited, and even more so when considering developing world contexts. This, combined with the fact that distance education is experiencing significant shifts in terms of new demands and evolving technologies that provide new potential and pitfalls alike, mean that the recently published book Does Distance Education in the Developing Context Need More Research? Building Practice into Theory is a critical addition to the distance education research literature.

The book explores the reciprocal relationship between theory and practice in distance education, and OER Africa is honoured to have contributed two chapters to it. Edited by Dr Folake Ruth Aluko and Prof. Daniella Coetzee, the book is divided into two volumes which explore various themes:

Volume 1 focusses on the history, approaches and paradigms in distance education; building frameworks in distance education research; and praxis in this area.

Volume 2 moves on to address regional trends and gaps in distance education research; scholarship in this area; and quality assurance.

The two chapters that we contributed focus on the intersection of distance education and catalysing open education praxis, with each chapter approaching this intersection from a different angle. Each is outlined below.

Chapter 12 - Approaches To Continuing Professional Development For Open Education Practices In Africa

The COVID-19 pandemic brought the importance of professional development on effective teaching and learning for university academics into sharp relief. Universities found themselves having to close their campuses and were unable to teach their students face-to-face. Universities in Africa resorted to various strategies to reach students, ranging from no teaching taking place, through emergency remote teaching (ERT) with some form of online teaching, to fully implemented e-learning. Whatever form the teaching has taken, academics have found that traditional lecturing has not been effective when implementing ERT or online teaching. Those who are experienced in adult pedagogies have been expressing the inadequacies of the lecture mode for many years, and the realities of the new forms of teaching required have brought such shortcomings to the fore. Several recent opinion pieces have expressed the need for continuing professional development (CPD) of academic staff, especially with respect to their teaching competence, arguing that it needs to be a central strategy within higher educational institutions (HEIs) around the world, supporting academics with digital teaching and communities of practice.

This chapter opens with a review of successful and innovative CPD models and approaches used in HEIs around the world. It examines recent CPD activities created by OER Africa and describes their development, piloting, and deployment, together with the implications the pilot findings have for ODL institutions and research in the field. 

Chapter 13 - Measuring implementation of UNESCO’s OER Recommendation: A possible framework

Drawing on a comprehensive literature review of best practice in OER measurement, as well as experience of working with UNESCO to support implementation of the Recommendation, this chapter presents an initial framework for the measurement of the effectiveness of the OER Recommendation and proposes indicators that regions, countries, and/or institutions could adopt or adapt to rigorously measure both how OER is used and its effectiveness for improving learning. Putting in place shared understandings of what counts as effectiveness for OER is critical to inform ongoing developments and improvements in the field. Such measures can also provide an evidence base that can be used for advocacy work around the importance of OER for quality open and distance learning.

Access both volumes below:

Volume 1

Volume 2

Related articles

[1] Zawacki-Richter and Naidu (2016) quoted in Aluko, F.R. and Coetzee, D. (2023). Chapter 1: Setting the scene – Why research distance education? In Does Distance Education in the Developing Context Need More Research? Building Practice into Theory. ESI Press: