R E S E A R C H Open Access
Open educational resources in continuing
adult education: development in the
and Martin Ebner
* Correspondence: martin.ebner@
Educational Technology, Graz
University of Technology, Graz,
Full list of author information is
available at the end of the article
Open Educational Resources (OER) allow many different uses in educational work
that are excluded from traditional materials by copyright laws, such as modifying
and republishing existing materials. This article examines the current role of OER in
the field of adult education in German-speaking area, especially in Germany, Austria
and Switzerland. Although nowadays the topic of digitization is given a high
strategic importance in continuing education in Switzerland, OER plays just a
subordinate role there.
Keywords: Open education, Open educational resources, German speaking countries
The former and basic idea of general adult education institutions in German-speaking
Europe was that education has to be openly accessible and for free. The first initiatives,
then called “Volksbildung”, were free of charge - e.g. libraries and popular science lec-
tures (Dostal, 2008) - and even today lectures, e.g. at Vienna Adult Education Centres,
are partly free of charge. Today, however, the courses themselves have to be paid and
are not free of charge. Although the Internet would allow to share learning materials
for free, copyright and no existing “fair use”regulation limits the use dramatically as
well. On the other side, german stakeholders foresee that information technologies and
Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) offerings will be increasingly used in continuing
education (e.g. Wuppertaler Kreis, 2014, p.11). With increasing digitization - i.e. in-
creasingly also in continuing vocational training, especially in continuing training in
huge companies and in occupations where people work on computers - situations that
violate strong copyright law are occurring more and more frequently (cf. Hartmann,
2014). And it is known from surveys that adult educators like to create their own
course materials and also use materials from others (cf. Kreitlein & Newrly, 2015, p. 8).
Therefore, the development and availability of so-called “open educational resources”
might be of big interest in German speaking countries in the field of adult/continuing
education (Ebner et al., 2015).
Open educational resources are teaching and learning materials that are deliberately
made freely accessible for use by others. The term “free educational materials”is used
synonymously (Bündnis Freie Bildung, 2018). Open educational resources can also be
© The Author(s). 2019 Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International
License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium,
provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and
indicate if changes were made.
Schön and Ebner Smart Learning Environments (2019) 6:25
reproduced, printed, modified and republished (cf. Geser, 2007). In order for this to be
legally possible, the materials must be provided with appropriate declarations or, better
still, so-called “free”or “open”licensed. Three license options of the Creative Commons
licenses are most widespread: CC BY, CC BY-SA and CC 0 (cf. Bündnis Freie Bildung,
2015; Ebner et al., 2016, Schaffert & Geser, 2008; Schön, Ebner, & Lienhardt,
It is to be expected that with the increase in digitization and the resulting increase in
awareness and prosecution of copyright infringements, interest in OER and its use will
also increase in order to be able to deal with third-party materials in a legally compliant
manner. But what is the current status?
Research question and methodology
This article provides an answer to the following research question: Where do the
German-speaking European countries (Germany, Austria and Switzerland) currently
stand concerning OER in the field of adult / continuing education?
In this article we like to give an overview of the current status of OER in German-
speaking European countries. Therefore, we will describe projects and the status quo of
OER in continuing education in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The synopsis is
based on preparatory work by other authors (Blees, Deimann, Seipel, Hirschmann, &
Muuß-Merholz, 2015; Kreitlein & Newrly, 2015; Orr, Neumann, & Muuss-Merholz,
2017; Tschofen, 2014) and on our own contributions (e.g. Lüthi & Sterchi, 2015; Schön
& Ebner, 2015; Schön, Kreissl, Dobusch, & Ebner, 2017; Schön, Rossegger, & Ebner,
2012), in particular on the compilation of the analysis of OER in Germany commis-
sioned by the German Ministry of Education (Ebner et al., 2015). In addition, develop-
ments for Switzerland were added to the contribution (Reimer & Böller, 2017; Reimer
& Edinger, 2014). We additionally did detailed investigations concerning some mile-
stones in OER-development within these countries.
General OER development in the three countries
The Journal of the National Agency (“Education for Europe”) at the German Federal
Institute for Vocational Education and Training (BIBB) contains a longer article on the
significance of OER from the perspective of the EU Commission (Bettray, 2014): “The
EU Commission particularly emphasizes the systemic level with the demand to adapt
the organizational strategies of institutions of general and vocational education and
training with regard to IT-supported learning and OER”(Bettray, 2014, own transla-
tion). When this contribution was published OER was is not at all a common term
amongst adult educators. But, similar as in other countries worldwide, the OER move-
ment started already about 10 years ago with the start of Creative Commons chapters
by funding first OER working groups and conference. And overview about these dates
is given in Table 1.
Pretty early, and before the start of the Wikipedia project in 2001, the project
“Austria-Forum”(www.austria-lexikon.at) was developed from the project “aeiou”
(Annotierbares Elektronisches Interaktives Österreichisches UniversalInformationssys-
tem) and offers free content about Austria itself. It consists of four sections and offers
more than 33,000 entries about Austria. These originate from an editorial team, which
Schön and Ebner Smart Learning Environments (2019) 6:25 Page 2 of 9
intensively takes care since the 1990ies. Today the platform is well-known as “Austria
Forum”and holds more than 1.000.000 digital objects.
Due to different terms for OER within the first years, it is very tricky to research on
the history of its development. Austria seemed to be for many years the leading
German speaking nation, driven with several bottom-up initiatives as well funded initia-
tives (the usage of open licenses was voluntary). Germany has caught up with OER in
recent years, in particular through specific calls for tenders. In 2007, the EduMedia
conference in Salzburg was the first conference in German-speaking Europe. After-
wards, an increase in events on this topic can be observed since 2013, including OER
camps and OER festivals, mainly in Germany. Switzerland needed nearly more than
one decade longer to organize the first bigger OER conference (2019).
From a political educational view there are some big initiatives of funding of OER in
Germany: The working group of representatives of the federal states and the federal govern-
ment on Open Educational Resources (OER) published a statement in 2014 explicitly calling
for an “Information and Coordination Office for OER”,“especially for he areas of schools
and lifelong learning”(cf. Kultusministerkonferenz und BundesministeriumfürBildungund
Forschung (kurz KMK/BMBF), 2015,p.10).Finally,twomajorOERprojectswerefunded
by the German ministry in 2015, including “Mapping OER”by the Wikimedia Foundation
with 600,000 euros (Hochschulforum Digitalisierung, 2016). In addition, in 2017–2018 the
OER funding line of the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research
plicitly supported OER continuing education and counselling with 2 million euros.
In Austria, too, OER plays a proven strategic role, particularly in the area of schools
and universities; under the last Federal Chancellor Christian Kern, OER 2017 was expli-
citly mentioned in the national digital agenda. Furthermore, the ministry of science to-
gether with national associations published two strategical whitepapers about the use of
Table 1 Milestones in OER-related developments in Austria, Germany and Switzerland
Austria Germany Switzerland
First free online content
Origins in 1996:
Foundation of the
(not necessarily German)
Wikipedia in 2001
Funding/Start of Creative
2004 2007 2007
First OER working groups Since 2015: OER
OER SiG @ Eduhub
First conference 2007 (final OLCOS
conference in Salzburg
2007 in Stuttgart
2013 in Berlin
2019 in Luzern
OER policies Several OER projects
were funded by the
ministry since the
2010ies, but their
usage of open license
was not obligatory. In 2015,
the chancellor took OER
explicitly in his digital agenda
2014 funding of two
bigger projects: an
OER portal and a
mapping project, 2015
funding for several
No explicit OER policy or
public funding so far.
Schön and Ebner Smart Learning Environments (2019) 6:25 Page 3 of 9
“OER in Higher Education”. The topic is also present in the area of adult education;
the above-mentioned magazine erwachsenenbildung.at and a rather huge online-course
called “EBmooc”are funded by a federal ministry. In Switzerland, at least in the german
speaking part, there is a lack of comparable public funding programs, and OER also
plays a rather subordinate role in government publications or calls for research
OER in continuing education within the three countries
Within this chapter, we want to give examples of OER within the field of continuing
education from Austria, Germany and Switzerland.
Provider and offers of OER in the field of adult education
In a survey of public libraries in Baden-Württemberg in 2014, no institution stated that it
offered OER (Tschofen, 2014, p. 51). Although the public libraries play an important role
as places of learning, especially for self-directed learning in leisure time, here, too, more
involvement with regard to OER is only slowly emerging. OER have still a difficult pos-
ition in the area of continuing vocational/company training (cf. Ebner et al., 2015).
In Austria and Germany, adult education associations and platforms are active in the
field of OER, e.g. by operating platforms with OER. Two German-language collections of
OER materials for adult education have been published under open licenses since 2016:
the Austrian magazine “erwachsenenbildung.at”and the portal of the same name
“erwachsenenbildung.at”(CC BY) and the German counterpart, the portal “wb-web”, initi-
ated by the German Institute for Adult Education together with the Bertelsmann Founda-
tion. A comparable Swiss offer in adult education does not yet exist. OER offers under
open CC licenses, which are also interesting for adult educators, can be found in
Switzerland, for example, in the area of teacher training. OER can be found on “zebis.ch”
and the PHBern “idea sets”. Other Swiss services are accessible free of charge or are only
released for non-commercial use, although there is often no binding open licensing (see
Reimer & Böller, 2017, p. 88). But there is no special OER offer for adult education.
The following Table 2tries to give an overview of developments outlined in relation
to OER in adult education in the three German-speaking European countries. It shows
that whereas in the (10 times bigger than Austria) Germany, OER is a topic in adult
education magazines since about 2012, same in Austria. For Switzerland a first finding
is from 2018.
Only for a few economic sectors and companies is openness in itself a success factor
and value. Probst (2014) names the strengths of open source development as follows:
Table 2 OER in adult/continuing education in Austria, Germany and Switzerland
Austria Germany Switzerland
OER platforms for adult/
(since 2016 under CC BY)
CC BY 2016)
OER in adult education:
Whitepaper and status
Not available so far Blees et al. (2015)
and Schön (2015)
Not available so far
OER as topic in adult
Schön et al. (2012) Klebl (2012)
Schön and Ebner (2018)
Schön and Ebner Smart Learning Environments (2019) 6:25 Page 4 of 9
“Openness, trust, transparency, diversity, the courage to innovate and meritocracy are
moving to the forefront of an innovative corporate culture.”Cogneon GmbH is still a
rare case of a commercial enterprise offering OER. In the Cogneon Wiki, the GmbH
presents OER provision as part of its strategy (see Pape, 2013). Other providers of OER
for adult education purposes are universities. Within Switzerland, there does not seem
to be a single organization within adult/continuing education providing OER on a
Hirschmann (2015, translation by authors) explains about OER in continuing educa-
tion: “Strong impulses and initiatives on the topic of OER materials in adult education/
continuing education come from general continuing education and political education.
These areas are financed with public funds and see their educational mandate as “edu-
cation for all“, i.e. they want to disseminate their offers as widely as possible and with
low hurdles”(Hirschmann, 2015, p. 29). From the perspective of teachers in general
continuing education, too, financing is an important criterion for the provision of mate-
rials as OER, according to one expert in the analysis of the current situation of OER in
Germany - however, the pay of teachers and the promotion of public continuing educa-
tion are so scarce that they are all competing against each other (cf. Ebner et al., 2015).
Online courses on continuing education as an OER
In addition, there are numerous OER offers that can be used for further training of adults.
Openly licensed courses are a special feature of the OER’s continuing education pro-
grammes. It is important to note that not every online course or “MOOC”(for “Massive
Open Online Course”, i.e. open online course for many; see McAuley, Stewart, Siemens,
& Cormier, 2010) is openly licensed. The “open”for MOOCs refers in general only to the
absence of formal access conditions; it does not mean that the content of the MOOC is
generally freely licensed (cf. Ebner, Kopp, Wittke, & Schön, 2014). However, the online
courses presented below are based exclusively on openly licensed materials, i.e. OER (cf.
also Ebner et al., 2015). In particular, the two German-language OER-MOOC platforms,
the Austrian platform “imoox.at”(Kopp & Ebner, 2013)andthecourseplatformofthe
FH Lübeck “oncampus”(formerly “mooin”), should be mentioned here; both providers
cooperate (see MOOChub
). Adult education institutions have already successfully partic-
ipated in open licensed MOOCs, for example the Austrian Adult Education Association
received a state prize in 2015 for the online course “Gratis Online Lernen”(Ebner et al.,
2015; Schön & Ebner, 2014).
The so-called “EBmooc”for teachers in continuing education was carried out for the
first time in 2017 (by the conedu association on the imoox.at platform) and, with more
than 1000 graduates, has a wide reach - probably Europe’s largest train-the-trainer
measurement. The use of OER enabled many uncomplicated cooperations with pro-
viders of accompanying classroom events; repetitions of the successful model are
planned for the next few years (Ebner et al., 2017) and the EBmooc will be relaunched
2020. The Swiss offer of MOOCs is predominantly made available by universities with
the aim of making research-based content from teaching and research available to
members of the university and an interested public. However, the offers - among others
Schön and Ebner Smart Learning Environments (2019) 6:25 Page 5 of 9
from the University of Zurich, ETH, University of Geneva or EPFL - are not openly
Further education offers and research on the topic
In the publications about OER in continuing education, it is repeatedly pointed out that
qualification-offers would be an important measurement to inform people about OER
and thus to support its development and use. Among the research projects that specif-
ically deal with OER in continuing education in German-speaking countries is the pro-
ject “OERup!”, which deals with regional adult education initiatives and the situation of
OER in the regions (cf. Kreitlein & Newrly, 2015). In Austria, the research and develop-
ment project EBmooc is to mentioned here again. No specific research on OER in adult
education can be found in Switzerland.
The online courses on open educational resources with the abbreviation “COER”are
also relevant in the sense of continuing education and OER, although without the par-
ticipation of a traditional continuing education institution. When the course was first
done in 2013, more than 1000 registered participants were counted, and most will have
seen it as part of their continuing vocational training. “COER13.de”was developed and
implemented through a cooperation of “e-teaching.org“with other German, Belgian and
Austrian institutions (Arnold, Kumar, Schön, Ebner, & Thillosen, 2015). On the plat-
form “imoox.at”, the course has been regularly conducted and updated in a modified
form since May 2015. Since the course materials are openly licensed learning videos, all
materials remain accessible and usable (Ebner, Lorenz, et al., 2016).
Public recognition of OER with awards within adult education
The Austrian State Prize for Adult Education 2015 was awarded to the openly licensed
online course on the MOOC-platform iMooX.at and the cooperation project “Free On-
line Learning”with more than 1000 participants in the category “Digital Literacy”.In
2017, the Austrian organization CONEDU led the openly licensed online course for
digitization in adult education (EBmooc47), which was the largest German-language
adult education initiative. More than 3000 registered participants have successfully
completed the course. Funding was provided from the Federal Ministry of Education
(Ebner et al., 2017). In Germany, a special OER award were installed 2017: At the OER
Conference 2017 in Berlin, an OER Award was presented for the best projects in the
field of Open Educational Resources in German-speaking countries. The WB-Web plat-
form was awarded in the area of further education. Within Switzerland, we neither
found an awarded OER project, nor OER awards.
To sum up, surprisingly big differences can be stated between OER in adult educa-
tion in Austria and German on the one side and within Switzerland on the other.
Whereas Germany and Austria now already have OER platforms, initiatives and
projects for some years now, the first OER conference in Switzerland in January
2019 had a workshop (amongst others) titled with “Does Switzerland also want to
promote a culture of openness?”(see conference program).
Schön and Ebner Smart Learning Environments (2019) 6:25 Page 6 of 9
The structures of adult education in Germany and its much smaller neighbor Austria
are comparable. Both countries are also members of the EU, which has declared OER a
strategy (European Commission, 2013). In spite of (partly) the same language, Switzerland
differs structurally a lot, so there is no specific association for the so-called “general adult
education”, the association represents both public and private providers.
In both countries, Germany and Austria, the OER-way happened quite similar. There
were some first grassroot-projects. Afterwards the federal ministries got aware of those
ones and installed first funding for further projects. In parallel first strategic implemen-
tations have been done. Today, OER might be on the way to get recognized by mass of
teachers and lecturers and seen as alternative to the strict copyright law in middle
Europe. On the other side this article points also out, that it needed more than 10 years
to bring the idea of Open Educational Resources to a broad public and it is still far
away from a usual practice, especially in adult education.
There are no acknowledgements.
SS researched about the differences in the countries (Germany, Switzerland, Austria). ME participated in the overall
sections (introduction, definition). Both discussed about the final outcome and the conclusion. Both authors read and
approved the final manuscript.
There was no funding at all.
Availability of data and materials
Data sharing is not applicable to this article as no datasets were generated or analysed during the current study. So,
we have to state “Not applicable”.
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
Salzburg Research, Innovation Lab, Salzburg, Austria.
Educational Technology, Graz University of Technology, Graz,
Received: 11 October 2019 Accepted: 5 December 2019
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