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Joining Hands in Peace: Summarising the 29th ICDE World Conference 2023 in Costa Rica

From 6-10 November, over 600 delegates gathered at the Costa Rica Convention Centre in San José, Costa Rica for the first ICDE World Conference in four years. 

Under the theme, “Joining Hands in Peace for the Futures of Education”, delegates heard fascinating presentations from 11 keynote speakers representing all world regions, participated in a range of parallel sessions covering important topics within the field of Open, Flexible and Distance Learning (OFDL), and were introduced to the warm hospitality and vibrant culture of Costa Rica. 

Pre-conference events

On 6 November, ICDE organized two pre-conference events: The ICDE Global Doctoral Consortium and the ICDE Global Presidents’ Forum.

Read more about the ICDE Global Presidents’ Forum here and the ICDE Global Doctoral Consortium session here.

Celebrating ICDE’s 85th anniversary

The conference was an opportunity to collectively mark the 85th anniversary of ICDE. As such, a special session was held on Wednesday 8 November, titled “ICDE at 85: The story and impact of open and distance education”. 

Left to right: Anna Fredriksen, Morten Flate Paulsen, Alan Tait and Sir John Daniel

To a full room of attendees, ICDE veterans Alan Tait, Morten Flate Paulsen and Sir John Daniel shared their lived experience of ICDE over the years – from as early as 1975 – in a lively discussion moderated by Anna Fredriksen from the ICDE Secretariat. They also spoke about the key developments they have witnessed in the field over the years, and their hopes and fears for the future ofOFDL. 

Not least, attendees were served a special anniversary cake while they reflected on the impactful and longstanding history of the organization. 

ICDE 85th anniversary cake

Awarding excellence

ICDE Prizes of Excellence 2023

During the closing session, the ICDE Prizes of Excellence 2023 were awarded to outstanding individuals and institutions for their work in the field. 

The 2023 winners are:

  • Institutional Prize: The Virtual University of Pakistan
  • Individual Prize: Dr. Kam-Cheong Li
  • Prize for Lifelong Contribution to the Field: Dr. Lorenzo García Aretio and Dr. Don Olcott Jr., FRSA

Read more about the prize winners here.

ICDE Honorary Membership

Furthermore, ICDE awarded two Honorary Memberships. ICDE honorary membership recognises distinguished contributions to ICDE, and recipients are awarded with lifetime membership in the ICDE community. Only 13 honorary memberships have been granted during the last 85 years.

This year, ICDE chose two special recipients:

Read the laudation texts for the new honorary members here.

#ICDEWC23 Podcasts by JFI Radio

During the conference, Learning Specialist Consultant and ICDE OERAC Ambassador, Józefa Fawcett, recorded four podcast interviews with conference delegates, discussing innovative projects, the role of AI in education, and radical collaboration. 

Check out the podcast episodes below:
Season 12, Ep 1: Korea Council for Online Universities
Season 12, Ep 2: Fab Lab Kä Träre, UNED Costa Rica
Season 12, Ep 3: Athabasca University, Canada
Season 12, Ep 4: Knowledge Equity Network, UK

What we learnt from the 29th ICDE World Conference

The ICDE Secretary General Torunn Gjelsvik summarised key learnings from the 29th World Conference during the Closing session as follows: 

“Looking back and looking forward from the perspective of an 85-year-old global association in the OFDL field, we have used different terms, technologies, teaching modes and learning techniques. However, the overall purpose has always been access and inclusion all along our historical lines. This is no less important today, in a world with conflicts, crises, increasing disparities and our whole planet being fundamentally endangered by climate change. 

Though it is nearly impossible to capture the highlights from all the keynote speakers and many presenters and panelists, some points stood out clearly to me:

  • The concept of “caring at scale” is about meeting students where they are,
  • Transparency and collaboration across institutions, sectors and borders within quality assurance and quality enhancement of OFDL is pertinent to ensure increased recognition of our field,
  • AI challenges teaching, learning and assessment, but we might be heading into the golden age of learning by building brains,
  • The transformative power of education now is widely recognized and OFDL institutions are well positioned to take the lead in upskilling and reskilling the workforce for tomorrow,
  • Micro-credentials and Open Education Practices can be a game changer for lifelong learning,
  • With the three C’s of Content, Capacity and Connectivity we can build smart global education systems,
  • We need to address epistemic justice and consider if decolonisation of Higher Education should be extended to nature and structure,
  • It is about time to radically rethink assessment of students for their well-being, and dare to ask the question if we should abolish examinations,
  • We need to support teachers in adapting their role appropriately to the changing needs of the students.”
ICDE President, Neil Fassina and ICDE Secretary General, Torunn Gjelsvik, on the stage at the 29th ICDE World Conference. Photo credit: Lucy Howe Lopez (Twitter/X)


ICDE would like to thank the wonderful team at UNED, including Rector Dr. Rodrigo Arias Camacho, Álvaro García Otárola, Maynor Barrientos Amador, and Rosibel Víquez Abarca, for their incredible work to make the 29th ICDE World Conference a resounding success. 

We are also incredibly grateful to TAM, the local organizing event coordinator, for their outstanding service and support. 

Additionally, a huge thank you to Contact North and Catalyst for generously sponsoring the ICDE World Conference, and for all contributions to the event. 

Finally, ICDE would like to thank all keynote speakers, presenters and panelists, and all the delegates who attended the conference. We hope it has inspired you in seeking new opportunities for international collaboration through the global network of ICDE. 

The way forward

In her final closing words, the ICDE Secretary General concluded:

“I would like to conclude by bringing us back to our conference theme “Joining hands in peace for the futures of education”. Because ensuring equitable quality education and lifelong learning opportunities for all is not only about access and inclusion, it is about saving our planet and the fundamental basis for living and well-being. It is to end all poverty, to achieve gender equality for all populations, decent work and economic growth – the whole United Nations sustainable development agenda relies on Peace. 

And I believe that international collaboration and partnerships across countries, regions, cultures and languages is the only way to reduce conflicts, establish trust and collectively build a better future together.”

Delegates experienced authentic Costa Rican culture

30th ICDE World Conference 2025: Welcome to Wellington, New Zealand!

If you are already looking forward to the next ICDE World Conference, we are delighted to announce that the 30th edition of the conference will take place in Wellington, New Zealand from 10-13 November 2025. 

The conference will be hosted by ICDE members, Te Pūkenga and Massey University, under the theme Ako Tuwhera: Open Learning for Open Learners.

You can already register for interest! Read more and register your interest here

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