Free to Learn Guide/Improving the Quality of Teaching and Learning through Resource Sharing and Collaboration

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In most cases today, the quality of education, when education is available at all, is usually a function of the particular circumstances and conditions in an individual classroom or school. This has sometimes been called the "silo" model of education because educators and learners are often unaware of, or cut off from, better teaching methods and techniques used elsewhere. If a student is fortunate, she may have access to a school and instructors whose curriculum and teaching methods enable the maximum degree of learning in the shortest possible time. The vast majority of eager learners do not have that opportunity. Many do not have access to excellent teachers or the most current and effective learning materials, including texts, videos, illustrations and practice tools. Some may need extra assistance to learn key concepts.

OER address issues of quality and access and enable continuous improvements in teaching and learning as respected higher education institutions create and share a wide variety of high-quality educational resources free of charge. OER enable teachers and learners to access the best educational resources that are available to meet their specific needs. In the process, a new collaborative model that builds cooperating communities of teachers and learners is augmenting the old "silo" model of education.

By drawing on the work of their peers, instructors who take advantage of OER can provide multiple representations of concepts that present a subject from different perspectives and angles. Because these materials are free, students and self-learners can repeat their exposure to different lessons as many times as needed, including lessons about the same subject offered by different instructors, in order to facilitate a deep understanding of the material. OER tools can also be used to form virtual study groups, which accelerate learning. Tests can be used as assessment devices that point students to specific material, including text, lecture presentations and practice tools that fill identified gaps in their knowledge. OER also give instructors access to materials and teaching methods used by others who teach similar classes, prerequisites and higher-level courses, which supports the more rapid transfer of high-impact teaching methods than would otherwise occur. A single course drawing on OER can contain high-quality learning materials developed by dozens of different educators. Conversely, when courses are open, as at MIT, instructors can reference what students are studying in other classes to reinforce the connections and enhance learning.

Instructors, students and self-learners who use OER can replace "flat" educational experiences, where opportunity is a function of what one instructor or school can offer, with a constantly evolving multidimensional educational process brought to life by dynamic teams of subject area experts. Coupled with the transparency it creates, the growth of the OER movement promises to steadily enhance the quality of teaching and learning over time as the material is updated, improved, built upon and adapted for specific user groups.