Open Universiteit OUNL, The Netherlands (OUNL): Open Educational Resource Courses (OpenER)


[For further information on the programmes offered by Open Universiteit OUNL see:]

The Open Universiteit in the Netherlands (OUNL) is an independent government-funded institute for distance learning at university level. It received its first students in September 1984. The Dutch government's purpose in founding the Dutch Open Universiteit was to make higher education accessible to anyone with the necessary aptitudes and interests, regardless of formal qualifications.

The mission of the Open Universiteit states:

"Open Universiteit Nederland develops, provides and promotes innovative higher distance education of top quality, in collaboration with networks and alliances.
As the prime university for lifelong learning, it addresses the wide-ranging learning needs of people during their course of life, plus the need to achieve a considerable upgrade of the knowledge level of the community at large.
In both the Dutch and international market of lifelong learning, Open Universiteit Nederland wishes to establish firm footing. The OUNL aims to play a key role as the prime university for lifelong learning."

OUNL aims to be a pioneer in open higher distance education and a leader in educational innovation. The main challenge for the OUNL is to stay at the forefront of developing new methodologies, techniques and tools for lifelong open and flexible learning (LOF learning) both in the Netherlands and in Europe.

Studying at the OUNL allows professionals to sharpen their skills. In fact, many of its students already have degrees and take one or more courses to acquire additional know-how or to retrain for a different occupation. Students enrolled at the OUNL are following one of the university's courses or fully accredited Bachelor or Master degree programmes. About 60% of these students remain in paid employment throughout their studies, and nearly 35% have enrolled because it leaves them free to choose their own time and place of study and lets them progress at their own pace.

Besides academic programmes, students can choose from nearly 300 modular courses. This modular course system implies that students can enrol either for full-length degree programmes or choose to study one or more courses. Students can also follow short programmes. These include short vocational training courses, postgraduate courses and short undergraduate programmes, which are developed in co-operation with universities of professional education, academic universities, professional bodies or commercial companies. On a commercial basis, OUNL offers open enrolment programmes and in-company and customised training programmes. Also, short courses are provided via the Internet at no cost.

The main challenge for the OUNL is to stay at the forefront of developing new methodologies, techniques and tools for lifelong open and flexible learning (LOF learning) both in the Netherlands and in Europe.

During the period 2006-2008, OUNL conducted an experiment in which Open Educational Resources (OER) were offered in an effort to bridge the gap between informal and formal learning and to establish a new style of entry portal to higher education with no barriers at all.

This followed a recommendation by The Dutch Education Council, an advisory body to the Government, that higher education should be made more accessible for non-traditional groups (i.e. employed and unemployed people) by extending opportunities for lifelong learning based through, amongst other options, an e-learning approach.

The Open ER programme is an informal programme that nevertheless offers lifelong learners the chance of taking exams for some of the courses. Certificates are awarded upon successful completion of the exams.

Delivery is online through the Open University's website.

All courses have been published under a Creative Commons licence.


The OpenER experiment is a web based distance learning initiative offering courses to learners at later stages of life.

How the programme is delivered

The courses are offered on the university's web platform as e-learning courses.

Reasons for success

The programme has as a pioneering intiative for OER in Netherlands, provided an offer of Higher Education to lifelong learners in later stages of life.

The educational system at large seems to be failing to address this market and thus by providing free courses in an innovative, open and flexible infrastructure, the Open University has attracted a lot of interested students. Currently, the site attracts about 800 unique visitors per day.

    This program meets the following needs:

    • a need for easy accessibility

    • a need for flexibility and openness

    • a need for time/space convenience

    • a need for an online self-paced learning

    • a need for retrieving learning materials asynchronously

Funding Options

The Open-ER initiative is funded by the government grants as well as through the William and Flora Hawlett Foundation. Read about the funding


What makes the OpenER experiment different and worthy of interest:

As part of the so-called Lisbon agenda of the European Union, aimed at increasing the competitiveness of Europe's economy, the Dutch Government aims to increase the percentage of students from the working population who have access to higher education.

At present, 30% of students with a working background have taken an education at a Research University or at a University of Applied Sciences (Polytechnic) The Dutch government aim to dramatically increase that figure, bringing it up to 50%, in order to remain competitive as a nation in the world economy.

The experiment has changed the attitude towards OER within the university itself and led to a growing awareness in the Netherlands of the value of OER in general, at other educational levels as well as among policy makers and politicians.

Market Relations

The university has been ideally suited to provide a lifelong learning initiative in a distance education delivery form, as among its key resources one can point out:

    its adequate infrastructure to support large numbers of distance education students

    • a system of e-learning that is given accreditation

    • a strong brand name associated with the courses

    • the ability for providing courses with a wide content that is relevant to society

    • the ability to target and provide further education for professions

Regarding key relationships, the university has been able to involve external stakeholders (employers, professional associations, public authorities, armed forces) in strategic planning and conceptual design and/or delivery of study programs as early as possible.

Apropos key activities, the university has been active in recruiting key speakers including speakers or experts who are active as professionals in their field (as opposed to researchers). This seems to have attracted a larger public.

The Open University of the Netherlands undertook a detailed analysis of (latent) market demands / needs analysis before initiating the program. They also launched a marketing campaign that leveraged the course certification as a selling point.

Touchpoints, or areas where one can see rich interaction during delivery of the course: the university has strived to offer students excellent tutorial support, there is provision for continuous feed-back to the students.

A helpdesk is additionally available for students. That there are contact points—both in the teaching staff for content-related issues and in the support staff for organisational issuesis indicative of a well thought out touchpoint strategy that meets the needs of students and teachers alike.

Production and Delivery

The courses are delivered in a rage of formats ranging from text only (in downloadable PDF-files) to fully web-based and highly interactive game formats. Some courses include a video podcast of a presentation and a study guide for a book.

Learning takes place in online collaborative learning environments where there is ample opportunity to create meaningful networks among learners through the use of social media/ web 2.0 tools/ virtual worlds.

Value offered to students:

- OpenER is flexible, open, time-independent and easy accessible. This is important because in the Netherlands the high work load makes it hard to find a place for learning activity in daily life.

- OpenER requires an individual to invest time and effort, but does not incur any out-of-pocket expenses. The content is self-contained. No learning materials have to be bought.

- Due to the technology used, OpenER is simple and inexpensive for the learner to use. He/She is not required to make any investments in software or specific supplies. A standard PC with internet access and web browser is sufficient.

- OpenER gives the individual (e.g. an intermediate vocational student) the opportunity to become familiar with studying at higher educational level without having to make an immediate financial investment. Additionally, there is no 'stress' because it involves online self-paced learning. Furthermore, testing in a person's own environment removes a barrier . The learner is the one who decides to take the step to formal recognition of a performance by means of the additional services we provide for assessment and certification.

- OpenER is compatible with the goal of using e-learning to achieve the strategic objective of promoting maximum participation in education. Educational Institutions are expected to use e-learning to make their education available to people outside the traditional target groups. With OpenER, individuals can be given easily accessible experiences with on-line learning, even those who do not belong to the generation that has grown up from the outset with computers and the internet (digital natives, screenagers, homo zappiens). OpenER both complements and facilitates access to e-learning.

The OpenER initiative is thus designed to be flexible, open, time-independent and easily accessible to students. It is also designed not to incur any out-of-pocket expenses and to provide complete self-contained blocks of learning materials where no additional materials would have to be bought.


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