August 16, 2018

Commonwealth of Learning celebrates 25 years of operation

CoL's lifelong learning for farmers project

CoL’s lifelong learning for farmers project

Kanwar, A. (2013) Celebrating COL’s 25th Anniversary Vancouver: Commonwealth of Learning

I had the privilege of attending COL’s Board of Governors Reception at its headquarters in Vancouver on June 13 to celebrate the organization’s 25 years of existence.

The Commonwealth of Learning has much to be proud of. It is an institution with 54 countries as partner institutions and operates currently in 47 of these countries,. While some partner countries are large, such as the U.K., Canada, Australia, India and Nigeria, others are tiny island states.

Given its mandate to support open and distance learning across the Commonwealth, CoL operates on a tiny budget of about $10 million, most of which comes from relatively small donations from many of the partner countries. The Canadian Federal government and the Province of British Columbia provide in kind funding, such as funding CoL’s offices in downtown Vancouver. (It is the only Commonwealth organization located outside London, UK).

Just three of the many major projects that CoL has helped develop are:

  • Virtual University for the Small States of the Commonwealth (VUSSC): a consortium of small, mainly island states that share common resources and curricula: 35 countries, budget in 2012: $360,000
  • Teacher Education: providing support to ministries and institutions to harness the potential of ODL and ICT to train more teachers and enhance the quality of their training programmes. Nearly 1,000 teachers trained in Africa and the Caribbean, including nomadic teachers in Nigeria
  • Lifelong Learning for Farmers program has reached large numbers of small farmers and marginalised sectors of rural communities, particularly women (68,000 farmers in 3 regions, 60% of whom are women. Mobile phones (voicemail based) are a key platform supporting learning.

As the current President, Ashar Kanwar, stated in her recent quarterly report to the Board of Governors, ‘we can see a clear progression from higher education, teacher training and secondary education in the formal education sector to non-formal and informal learning relating to skills development, agriculture and health. In short, COL has moved from formal education to the wider field of learning for development.

Another reason for its success is that CoL nearly always works with local partners, particularly national Ministries of Education, to ensure that its projects meet local and national needs.

Sir John Daniel, a former President of CoL, argues that One reason that CoL has an impact out of all proportion to its size, is the longevity of its engagement in its areas of focus. Compared to most international agencies, which tend to abandon their short projects just as they might begin to bear fruit, COL sticks with its partners and its programmes until they can fly with their own wings.

For a full report on CoL’s activities, see: President’s Quarterly Progress Report: April – June 2013 


Commonwealth of Learning conference on open learning, December 2013


The Commonwealth of Learning’s Seventh Pan-Commonwealth Forum on Open Learning (PCF7) will address:”Open Learning for Development: Towards Empowerment and Transformation” through five themes:

  • “Girls’ and Women’s Education”,
  • “Skills Development”,
  • “Promoting Open Educational Resources (OER)”,
  • “Innovation and Technology”
  •  “Institutional Development”..


Abuja, Nigeria, in partnership with the Federal Ministry of Education and the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN).

When:  from 2 – 6 December 2013


Delegate registration:
Early-bird registration discount is available until 30 September 2013.


There is a possibility of subsidizing some participants, but for this information, download the subsidy application form. The deadline is July 31st.


The deadline for papers or other presentations has now passed.

For more information on the conference:

Go to the PCF7


Book review: OERs and Change in Higher Education: Reflections from Practice

Glennie, J. et al. (2012) Perspectives on Open and Distance Learning: OERs and Change in Higher Education: Reflections from Practice Vancouver BC/Paris: Commonwealth of Learning/UNESCO. The book is available for free downloading.

From the publisher’s web site:

Although OER activities are taking place globally, most large and well funded projects have been in North America and Europe. As a result, little is known about important questions such as how the more acute levels of resource constraint typical of developing countries impact on demand for OER and on their reuse. The case studies and reflections in this book cover OER practice and policy in a diverse range of contexts, with a strong focus on events in developing countries. However, the focus on experiences from the developing world is not exclusive, as valuable “generic lessons” applicable also to developing countries can be drawn from research in the more developed countries.

Review of the book

Hammer, S. (2013) Review of Perspectives on Open and Distance Learning: OERs and Change in Higher Education: Reflections from Practice British Journal of Educational Technology, Vol.44, no. 2

At the end of her review, Dr. Hammer states:

A key strength of this book is the breadth of coverage of issues that are relevant to OER combined with the particular challenges and opportunities that their use presents to poorer developing nations. I would recommend it to any educator interested in finding out more about this amazing movement and even starting to put these ideas into practice


Où sont les spécialistes francophones des OERs/REO?

Veuillez pardonner que j’écrisse le pauvre français – l’anglais suivit.

UNESCO et le Commonwealth of Learning organisent un Forum Politique Africain au sujet des ressources éducatives ouvertes (OER/REO) à Pretoria, Afrique du Sud, du 21 -22 fevrier, avant du Congress Mondial des OER/REO en juin à Paris.

UNESCO et le Commonwealth of Learning cherchent les spécialistes francophones des OER/REO (les ressources éducatives ouvertes) et les délégués de gouvernement.

On veut trouver beaucoup des spécialistes francophones des OER/REO et des délégués de gouvernement, qui ont dévélopés les avant-projets ou ont réalisés les politiques, ou ont demonstrés les grands engagements au milieu des REO.

Avec l’assistance de la fondation Hewlett (les Etats-Unies),il est possible que le Commonwealth of Learning puisse trouver les fonds de soutenir les participantes francophones qui veulent assister au Forum.

On peut trouver les détails plus amples d’Abel Caine, Programme Specialist for Open Educational Resources at UNESCO.

Search for Francophone African OER Experts and Government representatives 

UNESCO and the Commonwealth of Learning are organizing an Africa OER Policy Forum in Pretoria, South Africa from 21 -22 February in the lead up to the World OER Congress.

Help is sought in identifying a good number of Francophone OER experts/ practitioners as well as Francophone government representatives that have developed drafts or actually enacted policies, or have shown great commitment to enacting OER policies.

Through the generous support of the Hewlett Foundation (USA), the Commonwealth of Learning may be able to provide funding for selected Francophone experts/ government representatives to attend the Forum.

For further information, please contact Abel Caine, Programme Specialist for Open Educational Resources at UNESCO.

First World OER conference to be held in Paris



UNESCO proposes to organize a World OER Congress to:

  1. Showcase the world’s best practices in OER policies, initiatives, and experts; and
  2. Release a 2012 Paris OER Declaration calling on Governments to support the development and use of OERs
  3. Celebrate the 10th anniversary of the 2002 UNESCO Forum that created the term OER


Room II, UNESCO HQ, Paris, France


Wednesday 20 – Friday 22 June, 2012

By Whom:

UNESCO, in collaboration with the Commonwealth of Learning, with funding support from the Hewlett Foundation

For whom:

The Congress will bring together Ministers of Education/Human Resource Development, senior policy makers, expert practitioners, researchers and relevant stakeholders to discuss what works and what won’t work, and to agree on a Declaration with a set of targets for a 2015 World Conference.

More details:

Click here