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

  • David C. Lane OER Foundation
  • Claire Goode Otago Polytechnic; OER Foundation
Keywords: open source, learning environment, ecosystem, OER, equity, ICT


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.

Author Biographies

David C. Lane, OER Foundation

Dave Lane is the OER Foundation’s Open Source Technologist, responsible for the computing systems that power the OERu. He is a career IT specialist - software developer, system administrator, and operations security (op-sec) coordinator, with a long time interest in education. Dave is committed to using and contributing to Free and Open Source Software (FOSS), because he thinks it’s better both technically and ethically. He believes that the best way for educators to create OERs is to use FOSS tools. Similarly, the best way to achieve equity in access to education globally is to use FOSS to deliver OER-based courses and support learner collaboration.

Claire Goode, Otago Polytechnic; OER Foundation

Claire Goode is a Principal Lecturer in the Learning and Teaching Development team at Otago Polytechnic in New Zealand. She works alongside academic staff across the Polytechnic to build their capabilities in multiple aspects of pedagogical practice. This includes programme and course design, assessment strategies, technology-enhanced learning, blended delivery, resource development, and continuing professional development. As part of her role, Claire is seconded to work on projects with the OERu, and has been enjoying developing OERu micro-courses, learning more about open principles, and being part of the wider OERu network. Claire is also one of the elected staff representatives on the Polytechnic’s Leadership Council. She is particularly interested in teacher development, and enjoys seeing how educational technology can enhance learning and teaching opportunities. She thoroughly embraces opportunities to share resources and expertise openly, and is passionate about adult education.


Baule, S. (2019, April 9). From LMS to NGDLE: The acronyms of the future of online learning. ECampus News.

Blomgren, C. (2018). OER awareness and use: The affinity between higher education and K-12. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 19(2), 55-70.

Bossu, C. M. & Willems, J. (2017). OER based capacity building to overcome staff equity and access issues in higher education. In H. Partridge, K. Davis, & J. Thomas. (Eds.), Proceedings ASCILITE2017: 34th International Conference on Innovation, Practice and Research in the Use of Educational Technologies in Tertiary Education (pp. 22-26). University of Southern Queensland.

Brooks, D.C., & Pomerantz, J. (2017). ECAR study of undergraduate students and information technology, 2017. EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis and Research.

Brown, M. (2017, July 3). The NGDLE: We are the architects. EDUCAUSE Review.

Brown, M., Dehoney, J., & Millichap, N. (2015). The next generation digital learning environment: A report on research. EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative.

Caniglia, G., Luederitz, C., Groß, M., Muhr, M., John, B., Withycombe Keeler, L., & Lang, D. (2017). Transnational collaboration for sustainability in higher education: Lessons from a systematic review. Journal of Cleaner Production, 168, 764–779.

Catalyst Cloud. (n.d.). Welcome to true cloud computing. Retrieved April 14, 2021, from

Chib, A., & Wardoyo, R. J. (2018). Differential OER impacts of formal and informal ICTs: Employability of female migrant workers. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 19(3), 94–113.

Conde, M. Á., García-Peñalvo, F. J., Rodríguez-Conde, M. J., Alier, M., Casany, M. J., & Piguillem, J. (2014). An evolving learning management system for new educational environments using 2.0 tools. Interactive Learning Environments, 22(2), 184–204.

Cooper-Taylor, C., & Mackintosh, W. (2018a). OERu learner support: Studying courses - Course annotations. WikiEducator.

Cooper-Taylor, C., & Mackintosh, W. (2018b). OERu learner support: Studying courses – Course bookmarks. WikiEducator.

Cullinan, C., Sutton, S. G., & Arnold, V. (2010). Technology monoculture: ERP systems, “techno-process diversity” and the threat to the information technology ecosystem. In V. Arnold (Ed.), Advances in Accounting Behavioral Research (Vol. 13, pp. 13–30). Emerald Group Publishing.

Deadly embrace. (2000, March 30). The Economist.

Deane-McKenna, C. (2017, May 13). NHS ransomware cyber-attack was preventable. The Conversation.

Discourse. (n.d.). What is discourse? Retrieved April 14, 2021, from

EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative. (2015, December 9). 7 things you should know about NGDLE. Educause.

European Commission. (n.d.). Data protection under GDPR. Your Europe. Retrieved April 19, 2021, from

Free Software Foundation (1996–2021). What is free software? GNU Operating System.

García-Holgado, A., & García-Peñalvo, F. J. (2018). Human interaction in learning ecosystems based on open source solutions. In P. Zaphiris & A. Ioannou (Eds.), Learning and collaboration technologies: Design, development and technological innovation (Vol. 10924, pp. 218–232). Springer. (n.d.). Annotate the web, with anyone, anywhere. Retrieved April 14, 2021, from

King, M., Pegrum, M., & Forsey, M. (2018). MOOCs and OER in the global south: Problems and potential. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 19(5), 1–20.

Lane, D. (2017, August 24). WikiEducator Notes: OERu’s course feed

aggregation and messaging system [Blogpost]. Retrieved from OERu Technology website:

Lane, D. (2017, March 23). Installing Mautic with PHP7-FPM on Docker, Nginx, and MariaDB on Ubuntu 16.04. Retrieved June 19, 2019, from OERu Technology Blog website:

Lin, H. (2019). From paper to digital: Undergraduate students’ perceptions with open educational resources. In K. Graziano (Ed.), Proceedings of Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference (pp. 1207-1215). Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education.

Lopes, V., & Porter, D. (2018). Shifting perceptions, changing practice: Ontario Extend. eCampusOntario (Ontario Online Learning Consortium).

Maas, B., Abel, R., Suess, J., & O’Brien, J. (2016, June). Next-generation digital learning environments: Closer than you think! [Paper presentation]. EUNIS 2016: Crossroads where the past meets the future, Thessaloniki, Greece.

Mackintosh, W., & Cooper-Taylor, C. (2018a). OERu learner support: Studying courses—Course forums. WikiEducator.

Mackintosh, W., & Cooper-Taylor, C. (2018b). OERu learner support: Studying courses—Mastodon. WikiEducator.

Mackintosh, W., & Tittsler, J. (2013). Microblogging with WEnotes. WikiEducator.

Mastodon. (n.d.). Social networking, back in your hands. Retrieved April 15, 2021, from

Mautic Community. (2020). Mautic community: Supporting the world’s largest open-source marketing automation project.

Melnikova, J., Zaščerinska, J., Ahrens, A., Hariharan, R., Clipa, O., Sowinska-Milewska, D., & Andreeva, N. (2017). A comparative study of educators’ views on advantages and disadvantages of open educational resources in higher education. In Society. Integration. Education: Proceedings of the International Scientific Conference (Vol. 1, pp. 294–304).

Menon, M., & Bhandigadi, P. (2018). A study on cost-efficiency and quality of OER integrated course materials. IDRC Digital Library.

Misra, P. K. (2018). Lifelong mathematics learning for adult learners and open educational resources. In K. Safford-Ramus, J. Maaß, & E. Süss-Stepancik (Eds.), Contemporary research in adult and lifelong learning of mathematics: International perspectives (pp. 269–283). Springer.

Morgan, G., Moskal, P., Wolf, A., Dziuban, C., McMartin, F., & Morrill, J. (2012, April). Understanding student use of digital learning resources [Paper presentation]. 9th Annual Sloan Consortium Blended Learning Conference & Workshop, Milwaukee, WI.

New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO. (2013). Strategic plan 2017-2021.

Open Source Initiative. (n.d.). Frequently answered questions. Retrieved April 15, 2021, from

Parry, M. (2012, April 25). ‘Free-range learners’: Study opens window into how students hunt for educational content online. The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Preradovic, N. M., & Posavec, K. (2019). Advantages and challenges of using OERs in teaching less commonly taught languages: Case study from Croatia. In M. D. Ordóñez de Pablos, X. Z. Lytras, & K. T. Chui (Eds.), Opening up education for inclusivity across digital economies and societies (pp. 73–96). IGI Global.

Redecker, C. (2017). European framework for the digital competence of educators. Joint Research Centre, European Commission.

Slashdot Media. (2021). SemanticScuttle. SourceForge.

Smyth, R., Bossu, C., & Stagg, A. (2016). Toward an open empowered learning model of pedagogy in higher education. In S. Reushle, A. Antonio, & M. Keppell (Eds.), Open learning and formal credentialing in higher education: Curriculum models and institutional policies (pp. 205–222). IGI Global.

UNESCO. (2019). Open Educational Resources (OER).

United Nations. (n.d.). Take action for the sustainable development goals. Retrieved April 15, 2021, from

Weller, M., Jordan, K., DeVries, I., & Rolfe, V. (2018). Mapping the open education landscape: Citation network analysis of historical open and distance education research. Open Praxis, 10(2), 109–126.

WikiEducator. (2016). WikiEducator: About.

Wiley, D. (2014a). Open content. In D. Wiley (Ed.), An open education reader (Chap. 14). Pressbooks.

Wiley, D. (2014b, March 5). The access compromise and the 5th R: Iterating toward openness. Improving learning.

Wood, S. (2020). Jottings in the margins: Using digital annotation to support 21st century learning. Scope: Contemporary Research Topics (Learning and Teaching), 9, 104–107.

How to Cite
Lane, D. C., & Goode, C. (2021). Open For All: The OERu’s Next Generation Digital Learning Ecosystem. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 22(4), 146-163.
Technical Notes