Processes and networks around digital learning materials

This blog post is a co-production of Ben Janssen (OpenEd Consult) and me. Nederlandse versie

The purpose of this series of blogs is to provide arguments that may be relevant when formulating a vision and policy for OERs. Vision and policy are necessary for adoption of OERs to be sustainable. Many OER initiatives start with an initial project grant but is not continued once the project is completed (Tlili et al, 2020; Annand, 2015). Paraphrasing, we might also say “Is there life after the project grant?”. In an advisory report for the OECD, David Wiley (2007) indicated that a distinction can be made between two issues regarding the sustainability of OER:

  1. How to sustain the production and sharing of OER?
  2. How to sustain the use and reuse of OER by end users?

Vision development and policy will have to address both issues.

In the previous blog, we have presented a framework for categorization of digital learning materials and the specific position of OER. In this blog, we will present two models: a process model for how instructors and students “deal” with digital learning materials and a model for the networks/contexts in which “users” of digital open educational resources operate. Vision and policy for OER will need to take both – the practices of users and the networks in which users operate – into account (Tlili et al, 2020).

A process model for using digital learning resources

In the zone Towards digital (open) educational resources of the Acceleration Plan a process model has been developed in order to get an idea of what the use of digital learning materials looks like in practice.

Their model was adapted to include semi-open and commercial learning resources, as well as the role of the student. The adaptations were made on the basis of observations and experiences in practice of the members of the zone.

The extended process model shows the activities an instructor and a student undertake in order to accomplish their optimal mix of learning resources. “Optimal mix” is defined as the mix of learning resources that, in the eyes of the instructor or student, most effectively supports his or her teaching and learning process that should lead to the achievement of the learning outcomes.

The process model distinguishes two scenarios:

  1. Scenario 1: the reading list. The instructor assembles what he/she considers to be an optimum mix for both the learning process to be supported by the student and for use in his/her educational process. The instructor determines which learning resources are compulsory and which are recommended additionally. The student uses these materials to compile his/her optimal mix. Communication about learning resources between the instructor and the student usually takes place via a list of required and optional learning materials (“the reading list”) compiled by the instructor.
  2. Scenario 2: the instruction. The instructor defines an assignment and usually provides a list of recommended literature (in some institutions also referred to as a reference list). Communication regarding learning resources between the instructor and the student is more diffuse than in scenario 1. Initially, there will be at least one instruction from the instructor to the student that will help guide the optimal mix of learning resources for the student (“the instruction”).

Scenario 1: the reading list

Figure 1 shows the process model for scenario 1.

Figure 1. Creation of optimal mix of learning materials, process model for scenario reading list. Click on the image to enlarge

An instructor will compile a mix of learning resources that best fits the learning outcomes to be achieved and his/her own educational process. That composition is visualised by the dotted shape in the diagram. The instructor searches for learning resources that can be either open or closed. Those resources can already be in his/her possession (in a private database, generally a hard drive), a local database (for example a departmental or institutional repository of learning resources, often a shared network drive), or in the “cloud”. In many cases, an instructor herself/himself will also create learning resources, which also includes mixes and adaptations of learning resources found elsewhere. The mix of learning resources will be subject to a quality control process, which may or may not be explicit. This quality control can also be carried out by people other than the instructor (for example, colleagues). Ultimately, the mix of learning resources will either be published (i.e. made available to students) or used in educational activities. In the latter case, those materials may not be made available to students. For example, a video that is shown in the lecture hall but that is not distributed further. It may also be the case that educational resources used in the educational activity become available to students. These might include copies of the slides that the instructor uses in the educational activity. Publishing the optimum mix of educational resources in any case involves specifying the titles of the educational resources (usually textbooks) that must be studied, whether or not it is compulsory (the reading list).

Experiences with the use of learning materials can be input for a quality check and possibly lead to adjustment of the optimal mix, during or after the course for which the optimal mix is composed. Consider, for example, a situation in which students during an educational activity indicate that they do not possess the prior knowledge that the instructor assumed was present. The instructor can then supplement the optimal mix with learning materials that fill in the knowledge gap. Feedback on the quality by students can also take place via a course evaluation (represented in the figure by the dotted arrow).

Based on the published mix of learning resources (including the reading list), the student will compile his/her own mix of learning resources. While studying or during an educational activity, the student can search for or create additional learning resources and add these to his/her optimal mix of learning resources. Quality control is expected to be implicit and based on the usefulness that the student experiences in achieving the formulated learning objectives. Think, for example, of the experiences the student has when doing exercises to master a certain mathematical concept. When the student is not able to do all the exercises, he or she will look for additional sources to gain knowledge that is apparently not yet present. Such practices are described in more detail in (Schuwer, Baas & De Ruijter, 2021).

A student may decide to publish parts of his or her mix for third parties. For example, making lecture notes available to fellow students in a study association.

Scenario 2: the instruction

Figure 2 shows the process model for scenario 2.

Figure 2 Creation of optimal mix of learning materials, process model for scenario instruction. Click on the image to enlarge

The activities correspond largely to those described in scenario 1. The teacher defines an assignment. If necessary, a list of recommended literature for carrying out the assignment is compiled and, if necessary, the teacher also produces teaching materials. All of this is published and made available to students (the instruction). What was written about quality control on the instructor’s side in scenario 1 also applies in this scenario. Based on the instructions, the student starts compiling his/her optimal mix of learning resources.

In this scenario, students can also publish their own (learning) materials (open or semi-open), both in local storage and in the “cloud”. The student will then also have access to local storage for materials in his/her optimal mix. This situation arises, for example, when students create and publish learning materials as part of their learning process. Such didactic forms of working characterize educational approaches such as Open Pedagogy and Open Educational Practices. Quality control of the materials to be published can be carried out by both the instructor and the student. Conversely, when an instructor and students jointly create and publish educational resources (shown by the green dotted shape in the figure), the student can also be part of the group that carries out a quality check for the instructor.

Not shown in the figure is the situation where learning materials created by a student during his/her learning process are added to the optimal mix by an instructor the next time the course is given.

A model for the networks of users of OER

Sharing and reuse of OER is done by individual instructors and students. Their actions are nevertheless influenced by the networks in which both categories of actors operate, in both a positive and a negative sense (as seen from the perspective of the adoption of OER). Vision and policy regarding OER will therefore also need to address those networks.

In this context, we distinguish two types of networks in which students and instructors function and which affect their views and activities regarding OER. First of all, every instructor and student is associated with at least one higher education institution. In addition, students and instructors work together in all kinds of contexts. When those relationships are institutional or semi-institutional, we refer to them as communities. Temporary collaborations, such as student workgroups that are formed for a course, are not included in our concept of communities.

Communities can exist within institutions, but also across institutions. Instructor communities can be discipline-oriented (for example, the Dutch Community of Practice Bachelor Nursing) or theme-oriented (for example, a community for educational video resources). There are also communities for supporting instructors and students in dealing with OER. Examples include the libraries’ Open Online Education working group or the various Special Interest Groups affiliated with SURF.

The following figure visualises the spheres of instructors, students, institutions and communities. It does not show the situation where an individual student or instructor is associated with more than one institution.

Click on the image to enlarge

In this figure, A, B and C are three institutions. The following situations can be distinguished:

  1. A community exists locally within an institution (1b in institution B or 1c in institution C). Examples: a course team within a department or a cross-faculty partnership of teaching staff in mathematics within one institution.
  2. A community of lecturers from two or more institutions (cross-institution community). In the figure, these are 2ab with institutions A and B and 2ac with institutions A and C respectively.
  3. Situation 3 at institution C shows the situation that instructors can be involved in more than one community.
  4. Community 4 at institution A consists of students. Example: a study association at a faculty.
  5. Community 5 is a cross-institutional community in which both instructors and students participate. An example is the so-called Centres of Expertise, in which students and instructors, but also researchers and entrepreneurs, work together to solve social challenges.

The example of community 5 illustrates that people other than teaching staff and students can also participate in communities. Support staff (educational experts, library staff and ICT experts) will often also be part of such communities.

Why these models?

In developing a vision and policy for the adoption of OER, it is important to focus on how and the context in which instructors and students create and use OER. Hodgkinson-Williams et al (2017:33) refer in this context to three kinds of dependencies:

  • the activity dependency
  • the context dependency
  • the concept dependency (the ideas and images people have).

In this contribution, we have outlined models for the first two types of dependencies: a process model for how instructors and students “deal” with digital learning resources and a concept model for the networks/context in which the “users” of digital open educational resources operate.

All kinds of factors play a role in activities and networks and these factors must also be addressed in an OER vision and policy. Examples include ownership of educational resources created (in part) by students or differing views regarding OER at institutions where instructors participate in a cross-institutional community. In a subsequent blog, we will clarify these and other issues and also formulate points of view from which a vision and policy for OERs can be drawn up.


The process model for assembling and using a mix of learning resources is based on an earlier version developed in the Acceleration Plan’s zone Towards Digital (Open) Educational Resources. The participants involved in formulating this model are to be thanked. In alphabetical order by surname, they are: Hans Beldhuis, Vincent de Boer, Cynthia van der Brugge, Michiel de Jong, Wouter Kleijheeg, Gerlien Klein, Gaby Lutgens, Marijn Post, Lieke Rensink, Arjan Schalken, Frederike Vernimmen – de Jong and Nicole Will.


Annand, D. (2015). Developing a sustainable financial model in higher education for open educational resources. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning16(5).

Hodgkinson-Williams, C., Arinto, P. B., Cartmill, T. & King, T. (2017). Factors influencing Open Educational Practices and OER in the Global South: Meta-synthesis of the ROER4D project. In C. Hodgkinson-Williams & P. B. Arinto (Eds.), Adoption and impact of OER in the Global South (pp. 27–67). DOI

Schuwer, R., Baas, M. & De Ruijter, A. (2021). De student gaat op zoek: de waarde van (open) leermaterialen voor het eigen leren. In: Baas, M., Jacobi, R., & Schuwer, R. (eds). Thema-uitgave hergebruik van open leermaterialen (pp 17-22). SURF, Nederland.

Tlili, A., Nascimbeni, F., Burgos, D., Zhang, X., Huang, R., & Chang, T. (2020). The evolution of sustainability models for open educational resources: Insights from the literature and experts. Interactive Learning Environments, 1-16.

Wiley, D. (2007). On the Sustainability of Open Educational Resource Initiatives in Higher Education. Paper commissioned by the OECD’s Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI) for the project on Open Educational Resources.

This blog is contribution 3 in a series entitled A principled, pragmatic view of institutional OER policy. Previous contributions:

To be published:

  • Why are OER important? The value of OER from various perspectives
  • The need for a vision and policy regarding OER at both institutional and community of practice level

A framework for classifying types of digital learning materials

This blog post is a co-production of Ben Janssen (OpenEd Consult) and me. Nederlandse versie.

Many have attempted to provide a conclusive definition of digital learning resources. In the study by ResearchNed (Janssen & Van Casteren, 2020), the following pragmatic description of digital learning resources was used (p. 9):

“Learning resources are a subset of educational tools. Educational tools include anything used by instructors and/or students (including computers, electronic learning environments and smart boards) in and for the purpose of teaching or learning. The term learning resources refers only to learning content in a particular form (textual, visual, auditory, or a mix of these forms).

‘Digital learning resources’ means any digital resource that is used as teaching or learning content by instructors and/or students in the course of a teaching or learning process. A digital resource is a resource that exists in binary numerical form, such as digital audio or digital images (this also includes the ‘book behind glass’, pdf).

Educational tools such as digital whiteboards, VR glasses, but also digital assessment tools, platforms or online discussion forums, do not fall under our description of learning resources. E.g., YouTube as a platform is not included, but the videos that are placed on YouTube and used as learning resources are.”

The following non-exhaustive list of digital learning resources is provided for illustrative purposes

digital study- and handbooks, among which (open) textbooksanimations
digital (scientific) publicationswiki’s
(PowerPoint)presentations/sheets/slideshowsYouTube video’s
digital syllabi, summaries, manuals of lectures and practicadigital images, including 3D visualisations
weblectures and slidecastsdigital newspaper articles/news sources/archivestv-uitzendingen
digital assessmentspodcasts
digital internship and assignment reportsblogs
videos, including knowledge clips, tutorials, instructional videos, vodcasts, animations and documentariesopen content and data on websites, such as reports from the Parliament and reports from policymakers and research committees
AR- en VR-applicationsdata from databases such as Skybray, BBC Monitoring, Factiva
MOOCs, SPOCs, Open Educational Resourcesessays in digital form
infographicsnovels in digital form

We are interested in digital open learning resources, not so much in what they are but more in what you can and cannot do with them. Using a dichotomy of open versus closed is insufficient for that purpose. Concepts like semi-open resources and commercial resources are also useful for the activities in the Acceleration Plan. But how do these two concepts relate to one another and to OER?

We propose a differentiated categorisation of digital learning resources that gives guidance for institutional policy development. This framework is an extension from what David Wiley has presented (source, p. 26).

Digital learning resources can be categorized using two dimensions:

  1. Access
    • no restrictions (open access), for everyone
    • non-financial restrictions, for everyone
    • non-financial restrictions, not for everyone (walled garden)
    • financial restrictions
  2. Adaptation rights
    • Adaptable (users have permission to adapt)
    • Non-adaptable (users have no permission to adapt)

Learning resources with access without financial restrictions are called free learning resources. The following figure is a graphical representation of our framework.

Click on the image to enlarge

Some background information to this framework:

  • For the open learning resources (without restrictions or with non-financial restrictions), adaptation rights are ordered from most (100%) to no rights to adapt. Licenses provide the conditions for adaptation. In the figure we have adopted the commonly used Creative Commons licenses. These licenses are about the rights creators give to others to retain, use, adapt and distribute their works and the conditions to be met when exercising those rights. The licences do not cover restrictions on access to the works.
  • The figure also shows that two Creative Commons licences do not grant rights of adaptation due to the ND (Non Derivative) condition.
  • Preference for a combination of rights of adaptation and access are context dependent. E.g. a lecturer can prefer adaptable learning materials, but will be indifferent on access. A learner will in many cases only be interested in free access and not in adaptability. But the same learner can, when pedagogy makes it necessary, also be interested in adaptability. Think e.g. about practices of open pedagogy (for examples, see the Open Pedagogy Notebook)
  • The most common non-financial restriction when access for everyone is available is the obligation to create a free account to get access.
  • The most common situation for non-financial restrictions, access not for everyone is membership of a group (institution, community of practice).
  • We have chosen for a pragmatic view on openness to widen adoption of sharing and reusing. Issues like technical openness (only open source tools and platforms are allowed to access the learning material) or content requirements (e.g. inclusive, accessible to people with disabilities) have not been considered.
  • The size of each area does not reflect a relative importance or a personal preference of that area, compared to the other areas

This framework allows us to position the different types of learning resources mentioned in the Acceleration Plan as “open”, “semi-open”, “closed”, “commercial” in relation to each other.

As far as we know, there seems to be a generally accepted definition only for the category “Open Educational Resources”. Here we use this definition in the formulation of Creative Commons.

Open Educational Resources (OER) are teaching, learning, and research materials that are either (a) in the public domain or (b) licensed in a manner that provides everyone with free and perpetual permission to engage in the 5R activities:

  • Retain – make, own, and control a copy of the resource
  • Reuse – use your original, revised, or remixed copy of the resource publicly
  • Revise – edit, adapt, and modify your copy of the resource
  • Remix – combine your original or revised copy of the resource with other existing material to create something new
  • Redistribute – share copies of your original, revised, or remixed copy of the resource with others”

This definition is a.o. adopted by the Hewlett Foundation.

In terms of the framework, we define the terms used in the Acceleration Plan as follows:

  • Semi-open resources are teaching, learning, and research resources that are available to a limited group of persons and eventually licensed in a manner that provides everyone in this group with free and perpetual permission to engage in the 5R activities, be it with the restriction that redistribution happens only within the limited group.
  • Commercial resources are teaching, learning, and research resources that are only available under financial restrictions.
  • Closed resources are teaching, learning, and research resources that are unavailable for a person or a group of persons. This definition is dependent on the perspective of the stakeholder. E.g. semi-open learning resources, available for a group, appear to be closed for persons outside of that group.

In the next figure we have positioned the sets of OER, semi-open learning resources and commercial learning resources in the framework.

Click on the image to enlarge

To illustrate the framework, we have added some examples.

Click on the image to enlarge

In the next blog we will focus on ecosystems for (semi-)open learning resources and issues we encounter.


Janssen, B. & Van Casteren, W. (2020): Digitale leermaterialen in het hoger onderwijs. Onderzoek in opdracht van het Koersteam Versnellingsplan Onderwijsinnovatie met ICT. Utrecht: Versnellingsplan Onderwijsinnovatie met ICT.

This blog is contribution 2 in a series entitled A principled, pragmatic view of institutional OER policy. Previous contribution:


To be published:

  • What is the playing field on OER? A systems approach
  • Why are OER important? The value of OER from various perspectives
  • The need for a vision and policy regarding OER at both institutional and community of practice level


A principled pragmatic view of institutional OER policy

This blog post is a co-production of Ben Janssen (OpenEd Consult) and me. Nederlandse versie.

For years, we have been advocating the adoption of Open Educational Resources (OER) in publicly funded Dutch education. A study we both conducted in 2017 showed that adoption by the early and late majority of instructors is not yet widespread (Schuwer & Janssen, 2018). And in our view, the degree of adoption of OER in publicly funded Dutch higher education (i.e. funded education) is still too low to have any effect. There are more than enough indications to assert that the use of OER can have multiple positive innovative effects on and in higher education (see e.g. (Orr, Rimini & Van Damme, 2015)). In the Netherlands, this has been recognised in and by the The Acceleration Plan for Educational Innovation with IT (abbreviated as the Acceleration Plan). One of the themes of this plan is the use of digital (open) educational resources.

In the Acceleration Plan, Dutch publicly funded HE institutions, SURF, VSNU (Association of Research Universities in the Netherlands) and VH (Association of Universities of Applied Sciences) are working together to seize the opportunities digitalisation is offering to higher education in the Netherlands. The mission of the Acceleration Plan is to institutions take substantial steps in digitalisation of education, for themselves and in collaboration with others.

The Acceleration Plan is divided into eight Acceleration Zones, within which 39 Research Universities and Universities of Applied Sciences collaborate on themes such as professionalisation of instructors, use of study data, making education more flexible, linking up with the labour market, and use of digital (open) learning resources. In the “Joint Steering for Acceleration” zone, seventeen university governors are having an executive dialogue about digitalisation in higher education, with special attention for the themes of the Acceleration Plan. More information about the Acceleration Plan.

In 2020, the research bureau ResearchNed (with Ben Janssen as lead researcher) conducted a study commissioned by the Joint Steering zone into the state of affairs regarding the use of digital learning resources in Dutch higher education. A public version of their report will soon be available (in Dutch). Based on the results, a working group of the digital (open) educational resources zone of the Acceleration Plan (in which Robert Schuwer participated) has drawn up a vision document for digital learning resources with a horizon on 2025.

Based on the results of both exercises, the Joint Steering zone is now working on two themes:

  1. Achieving a national set of agreements with publishers of digital learning materials regarding the use and ownership of user data.
  2. Formulating and implementing a fully-fledged open alternative for commercial learning materials.

The second theme requires institutions to develop an OER vision and policy.

In a series of blogs, we will present arguments that may be relevant in formulating such a vision and policy. Although we will focus primarily on higher education institutions, we believe that they can also be useful to umbrella organisations (VSNU and VH), SURF, and the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. We base our approach on a principled view on OER but also aim for as much pragmatism as possible so as to maximise the direct applicability of the arguments. In the coming weeks, we will be publishing blogs on the following topics:

  1. What are we talking about when we use the term digital educational resources? A proposal for a terminology framework
  2. What are the issues with OERs? A systems approach
  3. Why are OER important? The value of OER from various perspectives
  4. The need for an OER vision and policy, both at institutional and communities of practice level.



Orr, D., Rimini, R., & Van Damme, D. (2015). Educational research and innovation open educational resources a catalyst for innovation: A catalyst for innovation. OECD Publishing.

Schuwer, R., & Janssen, B. (2018). Adoption of sharing and reuse of open resources by educators in higher education institutions in The Netherlands: A qualitative research of practices, motives, and conditions. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning19(3).

A Global Outlook to the Interruption of Education due to COVID-19 Pandemic

Last week the article A Global Outlook to the Interruption of Education due to COVID-19 Pandemic: Navigating in a Time of Uncertainty and Crisis was published in the Asian Journal of Distance Education. The article was an initiative of Aras Bozkurt from Anadolu University, Turkey. In this article, for 31 countries (see picture hereunder) the way the corona crisis is handled, the consequences for education, the lessons learned sofar and suggestions for improvement in the future are described.

Comparing the cases, the abstract mentions the similar findings that can be destilled from the cases (emphasis added by me):

Uncertain times require prompt reflexes to survive and this study is a collaborative reflex to better understand uncertainty and navigate through it. The Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic hit hard and interrupted many dimensions of our lives, particularly education. As a response to interruption of education due to the Covid-19 pandemic, this study is a collaborative reaction that narrates the overall view, reflections from the K12 and higher educational landscape, lessons learned and suggestions from a total of 31 countries across the world with a representation of 62.7% of the whole world population. In addition to the value of each case by country, the synthesis of this research suggests that the current practices can be defined as emergency remote education and this practice is different from planned practices such as distance education, online learning or other derivations. Above all, this study points out how social injustice, inequity and the digital divide have been exacerbated during the pandemic and need unique and targeted measures if they are to be addressed. While there are support communities and mechanisms, parents are overburdened between regular daily/professional duties and emerging educational roles, and all parties are experiencing trauma, psychological pressure and anxiety to various degrees, which necessitates a pedagogy of care, affection and empathy. In terms of educational processes, the interruption of education signifies the importance of openness in education and highlights issues that should be taken into consideration such as using alternative assessment and evaluation methods as well as concerns about surveillance, ethics, and data privacy resulting from nearly exclusive dependency on online solutions.

Ben Janssen and me were asked (via Bea de los Arcos) to write the case for The Netherlands. We delivered the first version on May 3 and a version with the comments of the reviewer reworked on May 23. Here is our contribution (p. 79-82).

Reflections from the educational landscape
First experiences
Lessons learned
Suggestions for the future


According to World Population Review (2020), The Netherlands have a population of 17M inhabitants. In the academic year 2018-2019, the number of students were: in primary education 1.45M, in secondary education 970K, in vocational education 500K, and in higher education 650K. According to Eurostat, 98% of the households in the Netherlands in 2019 have broadband access to the internet.

The first official case of Covid-19 contamination was on February 27, 2020. After initially being referred to as a ‘minor flu with few consequences’ the number of infections increased exponentially in the first two weeks of March. This forced the Dutch government on March 12, 2020 to announce several measures, amongst which: people were called upon to work from home as much as possible or to spread their working hours. Their rationale was to strive for a minimum number of patients on intensive care units, to have this capacity manageable.

All higher education institution locations were closed. Schools in primary, secondary and vocational education and childcare remained open, since social consequences of the closure of these schools would be considerable and closure would do little to limit the spread. However, there was strong opposition from teachers and institutions. Therefore on March 15, 2020 Dutch government decided to close down all schools. Only children of parents in what were called ‘crucial professions’, such as those in health care, police, public transport and fire brigades, were allowed to attend Kindergarten and primary education schools.

In the beginning of April Dutch government decided that both national assessments for the final year of primary schools and national exams for the final year of secondary schools were cancelled. Instead, the advice of teachers in primary school had to be decisive for admission of learners to the level of secondary education (either pre-vocational secondary education or general secondary education). For those leaving secondary education, the diploma would be based on the results of the local school exams (in a normal situation these would decide the final grades for 50%).

The number of infections continued to increase and there was a threat of a shortage of intensive care units in hospitals. Stricter measures were called upon by the government. On March 23, 2020 a so called ‘intelligent lockdown’ was decided. Almost all professions with human contact were prohibited, except for (para)medical professions. The lockdown allowed people to do their daily shopping, have a stroll (but preferably close to home), keeping a 1.5 meter distance, and only when you had no signs of a cold or (worse) had a fever. Gatherings in public space of more than 2 people were forbidden. Households were only allowed to receive visitors with a maximum of three people, with a minimum distance of 1.5 meters. All educational institutions, from Kindergarten to university remained closed.

Except for a few occasions, there was great understanding for these measures by Dutch people and they were followed rather strictly. All measures of the intelligent lockdown taken together have led to a steady decline of the contaminations and, as a result, less pressure on the intensive care capacity.

On April 21, 2020 Dutch government announced to partly reopen schools in primary education starting May 11, 2020. Pupils were allowed to go to school for half of their teaching time, but in smaller groups. The other half of the time they were expected to receive emergency remote education. Kindergarten and schools for primary special education reopened fully from that date. Institutions for secondary education and higher education were to partly reopen in the beginning of June. Most institutions will then give priority to learners taking (practical) assessments, in order to prevent as much as possible any impending study delay.

Reflections from the educational landscape

Within a week after the closure on March 15, 2020 most educational institutions had pivoted their education to emergency remote education (in a mixture of synchronous and asynchronous delivery modes). For many teachers, from primary to higher education, it was their first encounter with providing education online. They quickly experienced that different time and group arrangements were needed compared to face-to-face education, e.g. by noticing that attention of learners declined quickly during lecturing without interaction.

As a result, teachers and institutions began to make grateful use of the support sites of national educational ICT- organizations and mutual help on a fairly large scale. In a very short period of time, these websites popped up to guide teachers in remote teaching with tips, tricks and overviews of safe tooling. Both individual institutions and the two Dutch public organizations for Education & ICT, SURF (for higher education) and Kennisnet (for the other sectors) were active in this area.

SURF regularly organized webinars on specific topics, e.g. online proctoring, using OER or alternative methods for assessment. In primary education, several schools arranged for weekly physical lesson packages to be worked through at home, preferably supervised by the parents. Teachers were available online for a daily group instruction and for feedback during the day, providing some structure for the pupils (and their parents).

Dutch Open University (OUNL) developed a website containing guidelines, manuals, tips, and directions for developing, setting up, and supervising online education. Insights and experiences of the OUNL with online education and digital didactics have been brought together and made accessible to everyone involved in the switch to providing education online.

In Kindergarten and primary schools teachers sought virtual contact with their pupils as much as possible on a daily basis. Parents started massively teaching their children at home using commercial online programs like Squla, Basispoort and Junior Einstein.

Because more and more institutions for higher education were counting with a scenario where also the first semester of the academic year 2020-2021 will be online, there was a growing interest of teachers in a more thorough approach, including redesign of (parts of) their lectures to realize a better quality online education and learning. Judging by the questions for more information that reached one of the authors, many teachers have become interested in available Open Educational Resources (OER) as addition to or replacement for the learning materials they were using in their regular teaching.

First experiences

Items in the daily news created a picture of acceptance that there is no other way, but also a growing desire to return to a normal face-to-face situation. A first study in primary and secondary education by Bol (2020) indicates that differences in parental support are driven by the ability to help: parents with a higher education background feel much better able to help their children with schoolwork than low-educated parents. Also, children from privileged backgrounds have more resources (e.g. their own computer) to study at home. Parents also indicate that schools offer more far-reaching education to children in general secondary education than to children in pre-vocational secondary education. There are also clear signs of gender gap: parents feel much better able to support their daughters than their sons.

The national Education Inspectorate (Inspectie van het onderwijs, 2020a) published a monitor for all educational sectors, based on interviews with staff and management of a sample of institutions. From this monitor and a letter to the Parliament from the PO-Raad (the sectoral organisation for primary education), the following issues where staff, teachers, learners and parents in primary and secondary education are struggling with were mentioned:

  • feelings of uncertainty about danger of contamination for or by young children, with the schools in primary education reopening;
  • concerns about pupils falling behind and how to solve that without putting too much pressure on teachers who already did a tremendous job the first months of the Covid-19 crisis (so preferably no shorter summer holidays). More specifically a lack of sufficient digital equipment for learners at home and inability to get into contact with hundreds of learners in less privileged families are mentioned;
  • need for extra attention for children who need specialized (primary) education who often cannot comprehend what is happening.

Several higher education institutions were confronted with concerns from student organizations about privacy and violations of GDPR using online proctoring surveillance in exams. These concerns have even led to questions in Parliament (Tweede Kamer der Staten-Generaal, 2020). In (Inspectie van het onderwijs, 2020a) other issues with regard to vocational and higher education experience are: the inability to continue internships for students, concerns about students in a challenging environment (part-time students or international students), workload for teachers, social isolation among students and the financial consequences for the institution (e.g. because of less enrollments from international students).

Many students in vocational and higher education experienced stress due to the crisis. Anxiety about a delay of their study and financial issues (e.g. because they have lost their job due to the economic depression caused by the pandemic) were among the causes. A survey study from the Dutch Student Union (Crabbendam & Goes, 2020) into experiences with emergency remote education had as main findings:

  • 66% of the students were worried about the consequences of the crisis;
  • 48% of the students in universities of applied sciences and 27% of students at research universities expected study delays (e.g. because practical exams cannot be taken);
  • 42% of the students in universities of applied sciences and 31% of students at research universities experienced the quality of distance teaching as being low. The numbers for those experiencing the quality as high were 23% and 25%.

These findings were based on responses from 427 students of which 53% were from a university of applied sciences and 46% from research universities.

Some groups of students and teachers were directly involved in fighting the pandemic. Nursing students and teachers provided much needed hands-on support in hospitals and houses for caring elderly and vulnerable people. Within a month time a group of students and professors at Delft University of Technology had developed a safe and relatively easy producible ventilator that can be used when a shortage occurs due to the coronavirus pandemic, sharing their documentation open source. 

Lessons learned

There are several lessons learned. Because it was the only option available, the pivot to emergency remote education was accomplished fast and received broad acceptance from both teachers and learners, despite the concerns mentioned earlier. For most teachers – the ‘early’ and ‘late majority’ in terms of Rogers’ theory of diffusion of innovation (Rogers, 2003) – this has been the first comprehensive introduction and experience with online education. E.g. reuse of freely accessible resources (with or without rights of adaptation under conditions prescribed by the open license) has undoubtedly grown considerably because teachers and students will experience the rapid availability of these resources as an added value in the current context.

In (Crabbendam & Goes, 2020), students rate the following aspects as characteristic for good online education: easily accessible teachers, having available the appropriate means and the ability to organise the day yourself. As aspects leading to mediocre online education the following were mentioned: bad internet connections, difficulties in creating an effective study environment at home, missing the social environment with fellow students, insufficient communication from the institution about the situation, online education does not always help to comprehend the content and does not offer sufficient different ways to take education. Students with disabilities experience even more difficulties:54% experienced obstacles against 27% in a normal situation. This group of students therefore needs extra attention in online education.

The 2020 annual report of the Education Inspectorate (Inspectie van het onderwijs, 2020b) outlines the long-term developments and results of education as a whole. Only the foreword refers to the plausible risk that the global pandemic will have far-reaching consequences for education. The report did not yet address this risk, nor did the Ministry’s previous annual reports and multi-year policy plans. Forecasts for the future consisted mainly of extrapolations or trends observed. What this crisis has made clear is that policy will also have to take into account non-linearities because the future is not a simple, not even a sophisticated extrapolation of past trends. Highly improbable events take place. Asymmetric outcomes or Black Swans as Taleb (2008) has baptized them: “I will never get to know the unknown, since, by definition, it is unknown. However, I can always guess how it might affect me, and I should base my decisions around that” (p. 210). 

Suggestions for the future

  1. From the study of (Crabbendam & Goes, 2020), the following suggestions were mentioned for teachers and institutions for higher education:
    • Educational institutions should communicate as clearly as possible about students’ study progress. There must be timely communication about graduation, internships and moving on to subsequent education;
    • Students’ experiences differ. Lecturers and institutions must be more responsive to students’ individual situations;
    • Students with a disability need personal contact just at this moment.
  1. Pandemics and their impact on different education systems must become part of strategic education planning. National education systems need to prepare for the potential long-term consequences, but also to seize the opportunities to change and reposition education and training with a view to sustainable development.
  2. Internationally, countries need to learn from this situation and prepare contingency plans to meet the challenges of the next pandemic. This publication is a good contribution to that end. Partnership and networking will be the key to sharing and learning from each other. UNESCO has an important role to play in this.
  3. How can we ensure that these experiences sustain in a post-corona era and lead to an optimal blend of online and face-to-face education? The key to this lies in determining what added value teachers and learners in a more normalized situation will experience (Schuwer & Janssen, 2018). That added value may then well be different than currently is experienced.
  4. Redesign of education will be necessary, where learning goals, educational activities and assessment are constructively aligned (Biggs, 1996). A promising angle may be a shift to alternative forms of assessment, to avoid dependency on surveillance software.
  5. Also important are concerns about the costs that will be associated with a transition to online distance education, even if only partially. The experience gained by open universities worldwide clearly points in the direction of greater upfront investment, in the creation of materials and courses suitable for distance learning, but also in terms of the professionalization of instructors in the field of digital didactics. One can expect a larger demand for institutional support, so institutions can prepare for this. This may ask for a change in policies to secure this enhanced support. And this in turn will have consequences for the current business and funding models of publicly funded education in the Netherlands.


Biggs, J. (1996). Enhancing teaching through constructive alignment. Higher Education, 32(3), 347-364.

Bol, T. (2020). Inequality in homeschooling during the corona crisis in The Netherlands. First results from the LISS panel.

Crabbendam, J. & Goes, D. (2020). Distance education. A study into the experiences of students with distance education in response to the corona crisis (Onderwijs op afstand. Een onderzoek naar de ervaringen van studenten met afstandsonderwijs naar aanleiding van de coronacrisis). LSvB, Utrecht.

Inspectie van het onderwijs (2020a). Covid-19 monitor.

Inspectie van het onderwijs (2020b). De Staat van het Onderwijs 2020.

Rogers, E. M. (2003). Diffusion of innovations (5th ed.). Simon & Schuster.

Schuwer, R., & Janssen, B. (2018). Adoption of sharing and reuse of open resources by educators in higher education institutions in The Netherlands: A qualitative research of practices, motives, and conditions. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 19(3).

Taleb, N.N. (2008). The Black Swan, the impact of the highly improbable. Penguin, London.

Tweede Kamer der Staten-Generaal (2020). Onderwijs en corona (2020A01750).

World Population Review (2020). Total Population by Country 2020.

OER18 and OEGlobal18, trends and findings

Two conferences in two consecutive weeks, both on research and experiences with open education. The first conference, OER18, took place in Bristol on 18 and 19 April. The second, OEGlobal18, in Delft from 24 to 26 April.
This blogpost contains a personal reflection on both conferences.

Are the conferences very different?

In order to characterise the two conferences, the following table shows some characteristics for comparison.

# Participants160380
# Countries represented17 (**)45
Country with highest # participantsUKThe Netherlands (33%)
# Submissions (initial)91216
% accepted80%82%
# Presentations75± 160 (*)
ThemeOpen for allTransforming Education Through Open Approaches
SubthemesOpen Learning Skills, OER, Open and Learners, Politics in Action, Diversity and Inclusivity, WildcardConnections, Formal education, Innovation, Institutionalizing, Open Education research, Policies, Practices, Student perspectives, Tools
ContentMainly researchResearch, experiences (cases)

(*) A number of accepted proposals were finally withdrawn by the proposers for various reasons (mostly financial).
(**) Based on 59% of the participants who provided this information
(Thanks to Maren Deepwell and Martin Hawksey for providing the data for OER18)
This table shows that there are significant differences between the two conferences. The larger scale and greater diversity of subthemes in OEGlobal18 are particularly striking. As a result, the atmosphere at OER18 is a little cuddlier and things are a little less tightly regulated, albeit both events were running smoothly.

Can clear trends be derived from both conferences?

Not really new trends, but more a confirmation of trends earlier observed: attention for the adoption of OER, both at the level of the institution and at the (inter)national level (the latter often at the policy level), practices concerning open textbooks, educational innovations with open educational practices or open pedagogy and their impact on learners and results, and more intertwining of different fields of openness, in particular between Open Science and Open Education. Little experience yet with techniques such as VR/AR and AI and their applications in the open domain.
One theme, however, was highly present in OER18 and (to a lesser extent) in OEGlobal18: attention for the inclusiveness of openness. In particular at OER18, this was the subject of many presentations and of the keynote, not surprisingly regarding their theme “Open for all”. Terms that were often mentioned in this context:

  • Narrative: the story of an individual or organisation about openness in education. Many of these stories are based on a fairly homogeneous environment and culture: that of the Western, highly educated middle-aged white man. This carries the risk that (unintentionally) entire groups in the world will receive less attention and will therefore experience less benefits from more open education. Closely related to this:
  • Underprivileged groups: those groups of people who are less reached by the open movement. Particular mention is made of women.

These debates are necessary, otherwise inclusiveness and equality as mentioned in UNESCO SDG4 (Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all) would be at risk. At the same time, I have the following comments on this:

  • These debates are being held, consciously or unconsciously, in the context of higher education. This carries the risk that a large part of the world’s population will remain “underprivileged”. For example: a study by Ben Janssen and myself on the adoption of OER in the Technical and Vocational Education and Training sector showed that hardly any attention is paid to this sector from the perspective of the open movement, both in research and in practice. There also seems to be much less attention for K-12, although several presentations addressed this sector, in particular at OEGlobal18. This may however also be related to the target group targeted by both conferences (higher education and (OEGlobal18) community colleges). But the question then becomes: where will these debates for other sectors than Higher Education take place?
  • These debates are, by their nature and subject matter, very philosophical and theoretical. David Wiley asked the question “Purist or pragmatist?” in his keynote at OER18. As a “pragmatist”, I find it difficult to translate findings from these debates into the practice of teachers and lecturers who we want to make aware of the benefits of open education. I have already described this dilemma in a blog post in 2012 (English version), in which I asked (in slightly different terms) the question “purist or pragmatist”.

Are there current trends less present at these conferences?

Yes, in addition to the aforementioned developments with VR/AR and AI applications, open badges and credentials and applications of learning analytics did hardly feature in the presentations at both conferences.

What does this mean for (higher) education in the Netherlands?

Just carry on with what we are already doing in terms of research, experiments and implementations, aiming at a wider adoption of OER, but with more focus on open practices and open pedagogy. However, an effort towards primary education, secondary education and MBO would enable initiatives for the adoption of OER to substantiate the observation that most seems to happen in higher education. There was such an initiative in the years 2009-2013 with the Wikiwijs programme. In the meantime, Wikiwijs has become increasingly well known, in particular within secondary education. This can form a solid basis for concentrated actions in research and implementations for the adoption of OER.
Looking back at OEGlobal18

Looking back at OER18