Connecting dots for digital learning and teaching

New Pathways to Learning – #OER and Non-formal Education

from Dr. Don Olcott, Jr
Manager of Strategic Planning and Engagement at the Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT) system office in the United Arab Emirates


The growth of non-formal education is expanding teaching and learning pathways for the delivery of global education. This growth, in concert with the expanded use of Open Educational Resources (OERs), is creating a potential synergy between non-formal education and OERs to strengthen the continuum of education and training for people who live in underserved and economically disadvantaged regions of the world. The author’s central theme is that OERs provide a valuable educational resource for use in non-formal education that needs to be expanded, researched and refined. OERs are not formal or non-formal resources. Rather, it is how OERs are used in formal and non-formal education settings that define their context and application for teaching and learning.

A basic conceptual framework is provided to offer the reader an initial approach for conceptualising the use of OERs in non-formal education. The author suggests that the process for evaluating nonformal educational activities is similar to the basic design principles used in formal education. These include identifying goals, objectives and competency-based outcomes; developing instructional design parameters; analysing the context and culture of instruction; and evaluating and measuring non-formal teaching and learning. Moreover, the author advocates that further research on OER use in non-formal education, in concert with visionary university leadership, will be critical to maximising the potential of using OERs in non-formal education.

Definition of non-formal education

The use of OERs for non-formal education will be defined in this article as:

  • Institutionalised, intentional and planned by an authorised public or private education provider.
  • Accessible in face-to-face, blended, and open and online delivery formats, as well as networked learning, social media and virtual learning communities, and utilising a range of audio, video and online digital media.
  • Applicable to all ages to support basic life skills training (literacy, nutrition, health and safety, HIV/Aids education, disease prevention and other related work, social or cultural skills, but not necessarily applicable to a continuous pathway structure.
  • Not supporting formal, credit-earning instruction or credentials in schools, colleges and universities, unless they are validated within the formal education system by a national education authority or equivalent.

ISCED definition states “The defining characteristic of non-formal education is that it is an addition, alternative and/or a complement to formal education within the process of the lifelong learning of individuals”.

What OER offers

From a practical-applied perspective (Butcher et al., 2011), OERs provide teachers and students with:

  • Access to global content that can be adapted and localised by teachers and faculty anywhere, anytime to create new courses, modules or lessons, or enhance existing content.
  • More resources and choices for students to supplement their studies with value-added content.
  • Opportunities to create diverse student and faculty learning communities that can bridge cultural, gender and ethnic differences to promote social inclusion in classrooms, in communities and in the world. OERs are effective localised cultural-social-ethnic manifestations of the global village.

In short, OERs will increasingly be used for non-formal educational purposes. Moreover, ICTs and ODL systems provide the highway for easy, universal access to OERs. This includes access by educators in developing and developed countries where such resources will be essential for planning and offering non-formal education programmes.

A Framework for OER Use in Formal and Non-formal Education has been proposed(depicted as below), and the leadership opportunities of universities are discussed. Check out the details in the paper.

Ope educational resources


OLCOTT, Don (2013). “New Pathways to Learning: Leveraging the Use of OERs to Support Non-formal
Education”. In: “Informalisation of Education” [online dossier]. Universities and Knowledge Society Journal
(RUSC). Vol. 10, No 1, pp. 327-344. UOC. [Accessed: dd/mm/yy].
ISSN 1698-580X


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