Minister Pavalkis, Commissioner Vassiliou, dear colleagues

The Norwegian Minister of Education and Research Torbjørn Røe Isaksens speech to the Council of the European Union (Education, Youth, Culture and Sport) 25. November 2013 in Brussel. Today’s topic – digital learning and open educational resources (OER).

The Norwegian Minister of Education and Research Torbjørn Røe Isaksens speech to the Council of the European Union (Education, Youth, Culture and Sport) 25. November  2013 in Brussel.

Minister Pavalkis, Commissioner Vassiliou, dear colleagues,


I would like to thank Minister Pavalkis for the generous invitation to this important meeting. It is a great pleasure to have this opportunity to meet my European colleagues. An active and good relation to the EU has high priority to the new Norwegian government. The importance we put on this relation is most directly expressed by the appointment of a designated cabinet minister for EU-affairs at the office of the Prime Minister, Mr Vidar Helgesen. I am very pleased that Norway and the European Union also have good and well functioning relations in my own area, research and education – And will emphasize continued development of our collaboration.


Today’s topic – digital learning and open educational resources (OER)- is fascinating. What we see today was to some extent already predicted in the literature almost 15 years ago: In books like Dancing with the Devil – Information Technology and the New Competition in Higher Education, and Growing up digital – The rise of the Net Generation. It is also already twelve years since MIT made their well-known decision that they would make their digital course material available on the Internet for free.



I am fascinated, first because ICT and education has been an issue for years without being paid sufficient attention. Now suddenly there is a change because the development has manifested itself in new products and solutions. Second, it is fascinating to realize the great opportunities for development of our knowledge-societies that new learning technologies open up.


We can choose to observe MOOCs, and other models for digital learning, unfold. Or we can take an active approach and make sure that we develop good policies for the use of these tools, so that our citizens and workplaces can take advantage of it. I prefer the latter.


I acknowledge that the EU commission has chosen an active approach, through the Communication on Opening up Education - and the Lithuanian Presidency - by raising this debate here today. I am pleased to note that the first ideas for the Commission Communication were presented at the Ministerial Conference that Norway and Cyprus co-hosted in Oslo almost a year ago.


Millions of people all over the globe already use MOOCs. Every day 9000 more sign up for courses at Coursera, the today largest provider of MOOCs. We should ask ourselves why? Our universities should seek to learn from what makes MOOCs so attractive. I believe the flexible and innovative character of these courses ranks high among the reasons. We should take all these preferences seriously when we develop future policies for higher education: Because we want to make higher education attractive and accessible to a greater share of the population. But also, because by exploring and using MOOCs our universities can improve the quality in their educations.


There is a rapid development in MOOCs, but research about how these technologies can affect learning or can best be used has not kept the same pace. We need more knowledge to enable good decisions. This is why the Norwegian Government has appointed a Commission to inquire into the opportunities and challenges that accompany the development of MOOCs and similar offers. The Commission will put forward its first report by the end of 2013. This report will present an overview of the status of MOOCs, and advice Norwegian authorities and universities on what strategic approach to adopt. Before next summer, the Commission will present its final report. This will include proposals on how Norway should respond to the questions MOOCs raise about funding of higher education, business models, international cooperation, quality assurance, and intellectual property rights.


The Commissions first report is soon to be released and we have already received some signals about what is to come. The commission’s fundamental view is that MOOCs can strengthen Norwegian higher education by improving both the access and quality. Mark that I say can, because for this to happen we must use the tool right. I will now briefly touch on some of the insights from the commission about how we can use MOOCs right:


In knowledge-driven economies we need that people not only educate themselves, but commit to professional development in a lifelong learning perspective. We need to give people flexible opportunities for such education. If we use new technology people can have access to education without having to adjust work or family life. MOOCs show great potential for increased cooperation between universities, businesses and employers over adapted programs for professional development.


A good example is a project my government recently initiated: One of our highest priorities is to drastically increase the opportunities for professional development for schoolteachers. A great challenge to achieve this is the capacity in our higher education system – we cannot easily give opportunities to as many as we would like. Or maybe we can? We recently initiated a project to develop a MOOC-based program for this purpose, as one of our measures. And I am very excited to see how this will work out.


Quality assurance, accreditation and recognition of study periods will be important issues in the commission’s final report. But we already know enough to say that quality assurance of MOOCs is of key importance to make sure that their impact on our education systems is positive. Here I believe governments have an important role in facilitating schemes for accreditation and quality assurance. In the Norwegian perspective we see that we should be able to use our existing systems. But the potential workload is overwhelming. I believe we should strongly consider a European partnership on accreditation of MOOCs.


Using MOOCs well is not just about technical skills: utilizing the potential also requires new pedagogical skills and adaptations for university-faculty. According to our Commission, we should aim high when it comes to digital competence: If we want to make use of the full potential in MOOCs universities should not only use what others have made, faculty should also be able to develop their own courses.


We need to take control of what development we want of MOOCs by testing different ways of using it. But we also need to initiate and fund more research, both on the new provisions of learning opportunities and the large amounts of data produced by these systems. Next year we (my ministry) will discuss alternatives for an initiative on inter-disciplinary research in the fields learning science and learning analytics.


Today the majority of MOOCs providers are still American. It is exciting to note that the pan-European initiative OpenUpEd is based on Open Educational Resources. This principle might bring us one step closer to MOOCs making education accessible for all.


I look forward to following further initiatives from the EU on the subject Open Education, and the implementation through Erasmus Pluss. As a full member in the EU education programs, Norway will be an active and supportive partner.


As I mentioned, the MOOC Commission will present a more detailed report before the summer, including proposals on how Norway should respond to these issues. I would be more than pleased to continue our discussion and present my thoughts on further developments at a later stage!


Thank you very much for your attention.

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