Open For All: The OERu’s Next Generation Digital Learning Ecosystem

This paper describes the functionality, scalability, and cost of implementing and maintaining a suite of open source technologies, which have supported hundreds of thousands of learners in the past year, on an information technology infrastructure budget of less than US$10,000 per year. In addition, it reviews pedagogical opportunities offered by a fully open digital learning ecosystem, as well as benefits for learners and educators alike.

The Open Education Resource universitas (OERu) is an international consortium made up of 36 publicly funded institutions and the OER Foundation. The OERu currently offers first-year postsecondary courses through OER-based micro-courses with pathways to gain stackable micro-credentials, convertible to academic credit toward recognised university qualifications. The OERu, adhering to open principles (Wiley, 2014b), has created an open source Next Generation Digital Learning Ecosystem (NGDLE) to meet the needs of learners, consortium partners, and OERu collaborators. The NGDLE—a distributed, loosely coupled component model, consisting entirely of free and open source software (FOSS)—is a global computing infrastructure created to reach learners wherever they are. All OERu services are hosted on commodity FOSS infrastructure, conferring significant advantages and creating opportunities for institutions adopting any of these services to enhance education opportunities at minimal cost. The NGDLE can also increase technological autonomy and resilience while providing exceptional learning opportunities and agency for learners and educators alike.