Commonwealth of Learning

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Commonwealth of Learning
Abbreviation COL
Formation 1988; 30 years ago (1988)
Type Intergovernmental organisation
Purpose To develop open learning and distance education
Headquarters Vancouver, Canada
The 54 member states of the Commonwealth of Nations
President and chief executive officer
Asha Kanwar
Parent organisation
Commonwealth of Nations

The Commonwealth of Learning (COL) is an intergovernmental organisation of the Commonwealth of Nations headquartered in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Founded at the 1987 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM)[1] and inaugurated in 1988,[2] COL's mandate is to promote and develop the use of open learning and distance education knowledge, resources and technologies throughout the Commonwealth's 54 member states.[1][3][4] COL has evolved into one of the world's leading distance education providers[5] and leads the international development in distance education along with UNESCO.[6] COL is the only intergovernmental organisation solely concerned with the development of distance education.[6]

COL's activities are grouped under two sectors: Education and Livelihoods & Health.[1] COL helps nations increase access to quality education at all levels by focusing on quality assurance, teacher development, new approaches to higher education and the creation of expertise in Electronic learning.[1] It helps countries to identify where livelihoods can be improved, and to create matching learning opportunities.[1] Successful approaches to improving rural and peri-urban economies draw on COL's close relationship with international agricultural bodies.[1]

Financial support for COL's core operations is provided by Commonwealth governments on a voluntary basis, with primary funding renewed every three years. COL also receives extra-budgetary income from other development sources and provides fee-for-service distance education and open learning course delivery and training for international agencies, such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

COL's major financial contributors currently include Canada, India, New Zealand, Nigeria, South Africa and the United Kingdom, all of which have representatives on COL's Board of Governors.[1] The Board of Governors is chaired by Dr. Linda Sissons, CNZM[1], former Chief Executive Officer of New Zealand’s Wellington Institute of Technology (WelTec). Dr. Sissons has worked in university and institutes of technology management roles in New Zealand and the United Kingdom. The current President and chief executive officer of COL is Professor Asha Kanwar. COL's professional staff includes an internationally recruited group of education specialists.

COL works co-operatively with Commonwealth governments and operates through a wide range of partnerships.[1] COL's partners include national and international development agencies and banks, such as non-governmental organisations, other Commonwealth agencies like the Commonwealth Secretariat, United Nations bodies such as UNESCO, UNICEF, UNIFEM, UNDP and the World Bank, national and regional distance education associations and industry.

COL's overall approach and the focus, scope and type of specific programmes and projects is directed by a guidance document referred to as the Three-year Plan, revised with each funding cycle. Revisions are based on input and feedback from Commonwealth member governments and organisations, and are informed by the changing development needs of Commonwealth member nations. Learning for Development is the theme of COL's Three-year Plan 2012–2015.[1] COL uses the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and Education for All (EFA) declarations and the Commonwealth's priorities of peace, democracy, equality and good governance[1] as its framework for action. The Three-Year Plan, 2012–2015 has three Strategic Goals:

  • Quality education for all Commonwealth citizens

Increased access to affordable primary, secondary and tertiary education, especially for girls, women and the marginalised.

  • Human resources development in the Commonwealth

Sustainable and replicable learning systems in place for farming, health and skills development in the formal and informal sectors.

  • Harnessing ODL and technologies to achieve development goals

Improved capacity of governments and civil society to provide quality learning for achieving MDG and EFA goals.

COL co-ordinated the development of a Virtual University for Small States of the Commonwealth and WikiEducator, a community resource for the development of free educational content. COL has been at the forefront of the OER movement, which promotes the creation, sharing and adaptation of learning materials that anyone can freely use for teaching, learning, development and research. Most recently, COL spearheaded an initiative to get governments worldwide to recognise officially the importance of sharing OER. "Fostering Governmental Support for OER Internationally" involved consultation workshops in every region of the Commonwealth and a survey of governments worldwide, culminating in the presentation and approval of the Paris Declaration on OER at UNESCO's World OER Congress in Paris in June 2012. The Paris Declaration is a commitment to making educational resources developed with public funds available for re-use and re-purposing under open licences.

COL hosts a biennial Pan-Commonwealth Forum on Open Learning where its Excellence in Distance Education Awards (EDEA) are presented. In 2002, COL awarded the BBC World Service the EDEA for Institutional Achievement for the standard of its English teaching on radio and online.[7]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Commonwealth of Learning
  2. ^ Commonwealth of Learning Opens Archived 12 May 2006 at the Wayback Machine.
  3. ^ New Zealand Contributions to Commonwealth Funds – 2007/08: Commonwealth of Learning
  4. ^ Lalage J. Bown (2003). Education in the Commonwealth: The First Forty Years : from Oxford to Halifax and beyond. Commonwealth Secretariat. p. 149. ISBN 0-85092-692-0. 
  5. ^ The Commonwealth of Learning looking ahead to CHOGM 1999
  6. ^ a b David H. Jonassen (2004). Handbook of Research on Educational Communications and Technology. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. p. 388. ISBN 0-8058-4145-8. 
  7. ^ BBC World Service wins English language teaching award BBC

External links

  • Official Website
  • COL in the Commonwealth of Nations Website
  • UNESCO/Commonwealth of Learning "Schoolnet Toolkit" Now Online
  • infoDev, Commonwealth of Learning releases public report on NEPAD e-Schools
  • Nigeria: Country Partners Commonwealth on Distance Learning
  • SLADE, COL to empower farmers
  • Unesco guidelines way to go in distance education
  • Information Management Resource Kit (IMARK)
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