Connecting dots for digital learning and teaching

Mobile Devices and Apps as Accelerators for #OER

by Fred de Vries and Frank Thuss, from Trend report: open educational resources 2013, published by (CC BY)

At first sight, open educational resources (OER) and mobile devices would not seem to have much to do with one another. Mobile devices are rapidly replacing normal computers where creating and studying educational resources are concerned. That offers opportunities, but there are also downsides.

The higher education sector is gearing up for major changes, with new providers, new educational models (OER, Open Education, MOOCs), and an emerging open European education market influenced by the Bologna process. Today’s prospective students no longer become proficient in using desktop PCs but are used to working with mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones, and to being almost constantly connected to the Internet with social media and sources. The combination of these two trends means that the use of mobile devices is beginning to gain a serious place in Dutch education too, not only so as to access up-to-date information but also to support mobile learning and learning in a context. The latter is an important option for mobile learning: the learner’s location is taken into account and can be enhanced with artefacts. An example is mobile fieldwork with augmented reality (Ternier, 2013).

A number of higher education institutions are implementing pilots to identify the didactic scenarios in which learning with mobile devices can offer added value, and to determine how mobile learning can be integrated into the educational process after the pilots have been completed. The educational resources and apps utilised can be categorised as OER.

Recent years have seen the establishment of “repositories” (i.e. storage areas) for educational resources; these may or may not be freely accessible. The educational resources that they contain can be searched using a Web browser and then incorporated into one’s own educational material. The work of arranging and processing the material to create a new publication is almost always carried out on an ordinary computer. Besides obvious problems concerning traceability and ease of use/adaptation, most open content is not suitable for simple and effective use by students on mobile devices. It is also difficult or laborious for instructors to make their educational resources available in such a manner that they can be used in that way. That is because not all the file formats used can easily be displayed on mobile devices, either because of file incompatibility or the limitations of the smaller screen. The most commonly used authoring tools often lack an export option with suitable templates for mobile devices.


A mobile device can no longer be viewed as something isolated; it in fact forms part of an “ecosystem” made available by a supplier or manufacturer and accessed via a cloud function. By “ecosystem”, we mean a system involving close cooperation between the hardware, the mobile operating system, the associated app store, and accessories. An iPhone user, for example, can download apps and digital resources from the app store. These systems are often “closed”, both as regards access from certain devices and restrictive licences. Educational resources from iBooks and iTunes U, for example, can only be accessed on iOS devices, and are not subject to any open licences.

The closed nature of these ecosystems can be seen as a threat to the open nature of OER. It is therefore advisable never to develop educational resources for only a single distribution platform, always to consider carefully what legal restrictions may apply if it is published for a particular platform, and to utilise open standards and open licences such as Creative Commons. The video clips developed by the Open Universiteit in the Netherlands are a good example. These are stored in a video database but are published automatically on a number of different platforms, including an internal website, iTunes U, and YouTube.


Taking explicit account of mobile use when publishing OER makes it possible to keep up with the explosive increase in the use of smartphones and tablets. Mobile devices lower the threshold for users considerably when it comes to providing feedback, annotations, and recommendations. Material initially found with a mobile app can also refer to other material that can be accessed on an ordinary computer using a Web browser. Authors of material can encourage use and reuse via the social functions referred to. The selection and improvement of OER can also be promoted via social media.

Ultimately, the distinctions between using PCs, laptops, tablets, and smartphones will become blurred, with the use of open educational resources increasing explosively. Where producing such resources is concerned, computers with a keyboard and a mouse will continue to play a major role for the present. Apps can also be developed that make it easy to publish mashups of OER collected using mobile devices. Developers will still need to be cautious about unintentionally giving away rights of use when utilising certain apps.


Our thought : Learning content needs to be re-designed for accessibility and optimization on mobile devices. That’s a strong reason we need to advocate using OER.

First, mobile platforms are diversified, but if we want to leverage their benefits for mobile learning(with no doubt!). We need to place the budget on the tool for “authoring once and publishing to all” instead of on purchasing contents.

Second, mobile learning is situated learning, personalized learning, contextualized learning and participatory learning. We need huge collective effort and creativity from educators and librarians to re-design and customized the learning contents! This collaborative and continuously-growing nature is exactly the value of OER! 

For your reference :

Summarized by UNESCO, the benefits of mobile learning are:

(check out this free report from UNESCO: UNESCO Policy Guidelines for Mobile Learning)

  • Expand the reach and equity of education

  • Facilitate personalized learning

  • Provide immediate feedback and assessment

  • Enable anytime, anywhere learning

  • Ensure the productive use of time spent in classrooms

  • Build new communities of learners

  • Support situated learning

  • Enhance seamless learning

  • Bridge formal and informal learning

  • Minimize educational disruption in conflict and disaster areas

  • Assist learners with disabilities

  • Improve communication and administration

  • Maximize cost-efficiency



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Categorised in: Mobile Learning, Open Educational Resources

3 Responses »


  1. Mobile Devices and Apps as Accelerators for #OER | Marketing and communication in higher education |
  2. Mobile Devices and Apps as Accelerators for #OER | marked for sharing |
  3. Online Course : Using #OER to Create K-12 Curriculum | Classroom Aid

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“Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand.” -------- Chinese Wisdom "Games are the most elevated form of investigation." -------- Albert Einstein
"I'm calling for investments in educational technology that will help create digital tutors that are as effective as personal tutors, educational software as compelling as the best video game," President Barack Obama said while touring a tech-focused Boston school (year 2011).
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