Commonwealth of Learning

1055 West Hastings Street, Suite 1200
Vancouver, British Columbia V6E 2E9, Canada

Tel: +1 604 775 8200

Fax: +1 604 775 8210



Chair: Burchell Whiteman OJ (Jamaica)

President and Chief Executive Officer: Professor Asha S Kanwar (India)


The Commonwealth of Learning (COL) is an intergovernmental organisation established by the Commonwealth Heads of Government in 1988 to encourage the development and sharing of open learning and distance education knowledge, resources and technologies.
COL is hosted in Canada by the Government of Canada. The major voluntary contributors – currently Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, Nigeria, South Africa and the United Kingdom – are each entitled to seats on COL’s Board of Governors.

COL works in close association with Commonwealth governments and local institutions and agencies, operating through a wide range of partnerships undertaken in a spirit of equality and participation.

It seeks to create mutually beneficial linkages, especially of a South-South character, among Commonwealth countries.

Key Commonwealth partners include the Commonwealth Secretariat and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as well as regional governmental organisations such as the:

  •  Caribbean Community Secretariat (CARICOM)
  • Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and
  • Southern African Development Community (SADC).

COL and the Commonwealth Secretariat’s Social Transformation Programmes Division work together closely to ensure that requests from governments for assistance are addressed in a prompt and effective manner. They also maintain effective links with Commonwealth associations (e.g., the Association of Commonwealth Universities) and non-governmental organisations (such as the Commonwealth Consortium for Education) for the same purpose. COL and the Commonwealth Secretariat are specifically harmonising their work in teacher education, health, respect and understanding (Civil Paths to Peace) and the Virtual University for Small States of the Commonwealth (VUSSC). COL’s expertise and experience in distance education and educational technologies is particularly useful. COL is also working with the Commonwealth Foundation and UNESCO.

COL has strong networks of partners in its various areas of activity.

In education, these include the Commonwealth’s distance teaching universities, open schools, and regional centres for distance education such as, in Africa, the Regional Training and Research Institute for Distance and Open Learning (RETRIDOL) and SADC Distance Education Centre (SADC-CDE).

COL’s regional agency, the Commonwealth Educational Media Centre for Asia (CEMCA), was established in 1994 to promote cooperation and collaboration in the use of electronic media resources for distance education. CEMCA is particularly active in supporting the expansion of community radio in India and other Commonwealth Asian countries.

COL’s work is supported by:

  • focal points – individuals nominated by ministries of education in each country to act as COL’s primary contact
  • honorary advisers – eminent open and distance learning (ODL) professionals from across the Commonwealth, and
  • UNESCO-COL chairs – distinguished academics who serve in an honorary capacity, complementing the political and administrative role of the focal points and honorary advisers.

In addition, COL also sustains links with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in many countries and has an important relationship with the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for developing the use of open educational resources (OER).


COL helps governments to expand the scale, efficiency and quality of learning by using appropriate technologies, particularly those that support ODL.

Impact statement

A substantial and equitable increase in the number of Commonwealth citizens acquiring the knowledge and skills for leading productive and healthy lives, through formal and nonformal open and distance learning opportunities.

Programmes and initiatives

The theme of COL’s new three-year plan (2012-2015) remains Learning for Development. This plan extends to 2015, the target date set for the achievement of a number of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). COL uses the internationally agreed MDGs, the Education for All (EFA) goals and the Commonwealth priorities of peace, democracy, equality and the rule of law as its framework for action. The emphasis in this three-year plan is on skills development,the education of girls and women, and promoting the use of OER.

The plan has three strategic goals, as outlined below.

  • 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’s work is focused on seven initiatives in two programme sectors. The Education sector includes open schooling, teacher education, higher education and VUSSC. Under Livelihoods and Health, there are three initiatives: technical and vocational skills development, lifelong learning for farmers, and healthy communities. Each sector pursues its aims through five core strategies, namely, partnerships, models, policies, capacity and materials. In practice, most COL activities incorporate more than one of these strategies and, in some cases, all five. Gender and elearning are cross-cutting themes that underpin and complement all seven initiatives.