Open Educational Resources

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= The open provision of educational resources, enabled by information and communication technologies, for consultation, use and adaptation by a community of users for noncommercial purposes. - Unesco 2002 [1]


Intro at


1. Stephen Downes:

Open educational resources are materials used to support education that may be freely accessed, reused, modified and shared by anyone. [2], p. 133

Important: please read, Defining Open Educational Resources. by Stephen Downes.


Open Educational Resources are defined as "technology-enabled, open provision of educational resources for consultation, use and adaptation by a community of users for non-commercial purposes". They are typically made freely available over the Web or the Internet. Their principal use is by teachers and educational institutions support course development, but they can also be used directly by students. Open Educational Resources include learning objects such as lecture material, references and readings, simulations, experiments and demonstrations, as well as syllabi, curricula and teachers’ guides." (

3. The Industrial Cooperation Project:

"The philosophy of open educational resources (OER) places educational materials as common and public goods from which all should benefit, especially those who receive the least benefit and support from current systems of education (whether publicly or privately funded). This view is supported by the notion that sees knowledge itself as a collective social product that naturally forms a commons. OER's philosophy finds fertile ground to bloom on the Internet, where the expansion of digital technologies ruptures pre-network barriers of space, time, and money, allowing socially beneficial consequences such as new forms of knowledge production and distribution to emerge.

The Cape Town Open Education Declaration addresses this philosophy by stating three main strategies for the OER community:

  • Collaborative production: Educators and students are encouraged to participate in creating, using, adapting, and improving
  • Open content licenses: OER should be freely shared through open licenses, which facilitate use, revision, translation, improvement, and sharing.
  • Open education policy: Governments, school boards, colleges, and universities should ideally make taxpayer-funded educational resources OER. (Cape Town Open Education Declaration 2008)

That said, the definition of OER currently most often used is “digitised materials offered freely and openly for educators, students and self-learners to use and reuse for teaching, learning and research” (CERI 2007, 38). "OER includes learning content, software tools to develop, use and distribute content, and implementation resources such as open licenses" (CERI 2007, 10)." (


Norm Friesen [3] details two approaches:

The Wiki Model

"The first OER model we discuss is the creation of open educational content from scratch in online Wiki environments specially designed for the organization and collaborative development of such resources. The Wiki-based approach is primarily associated with the Wikiversity and WikiEducator initiatives. Both initiatives were founded in 2006 and share many points of commonality in terms of process, form and content.

Wikiversity was launched with the aim of “...empower[ing] people to achieve their educational goals using resources produced by the free culture movement. The to create a community of people who support each other in their educational endeavors.” WikiEducator has set itself a slightly more ambitious and specific task: To work “collaboratively with the Free Culture Movement towards a free version of the education curriculum by 2015.” It is significant that both make clear reference to the free culture movement associated primarily with Creative Commons and other alternatives to common copyright restrictions. WikiEducator departs from Wikiversity in emphasizing the development of contents for formal education.

WikiEducator and Wikiversity are not limited to addressing post-secondary learning needs, but are designed to serve many educational levels. Both provide separate portals for primary, secondary, tertiary, and other categories of education. Wikiversity's portals offer a number of resources such as courses, discussions, essays, handouts, lesson plans, presentations, reading groups, study guides and syllabi. WikiEducator's portals contain a variety of resources with varying forms of organization and content types.

The ambitious range of resources, services and educational forms and levels encompassed by Wikiversity and WikiEducator is evident in their recent articulations of their surprisingly congruent primary priorities and goals:

build capacity in the use of Mediawiki and related free software technologies for mass-collaboration in the authoring of free content (WikiEducator, 2009)

create and host a range of free–content, multilingual learning materials and resources, for all age groups in all languages (Wikiversity, 2006)

WikiEducator is sponsored, in part, by the Commonwealth of Learning, “an intergovernmental organisation created by Commonwealth Heads of Government to encourage the development and sharing of open and distance education knowledge, resources and technologies.” WikiEducator places significant emphasis on international development. Wikiversity is a brainchild of the Wikimedia Foundation, which is also responsible for Wikipedia. Wikiversity and Wikipedia currently share eight sister projects ranging from Wikimedia Commons to Wikispecies. Wikiversity aims for an impact that could not be more general and widespread, covering both formal and informal types of education, for learners in wealthy as well as developing countries.

Wikiversity and especially WikiEducator sponsor workshops to build capacity and enable volunteers to create content using the Mediawiki content development and management software. At the time of writing, WikiEducator has delivered over 100 workshops to over 2,000 participants. Wikiversity boasts that it has over “10,537 learning resources and growing”.

The Open Courseware Model and MIT

The second approach we discuss is the conversion of existing classroom course content to make it freely available on the Web. MIT's OCW initiative focuses on the conversion of conventional classroom resources. Announced in 2001, the project's goals were originally described in the press as follows: "[MIT] announced plans to post on the Internet materials for nearly all of its courses. Access to the materials, which will include lecture notes, course outlines, reading lists, and assignments, will be open to the public and free of charge. The information posted could be used as reference material, as a source for curriculum development, or as a foundation for independent study".

This approach to OER has met with considerable success. MIT met its own ambitious goal of posting “virtually all” of its courses online by 2007. The MIT project is also noteworthy for its emphasis on MIT's own institutional products and for being one of the few early, high-profile online initiatives announced by a campus-based institution to survive to the present day. The project effectively pioneered the notion of free access to course materials, and popularized the term “open courseware.” The OCW Consortium, founded in 2005, takes MIT’s OCW approach to a consortial level, bringing together MIT’s courses with those of many other universities internationally. At the time of writing, this consortium includes over 200 members and affiliates and has brought together about 10,000 courses. The consortium defines its principle goals as follows:

  • extend the reach and impact of open courseware by encouraging the adoption and adaptation of open educational materials around the world
  • foster the development of additional open courseware projects
  • ensure the long-term sustainability of open courseware projects by identifying ways to improve effectiveness and reduce costs"



Read: the current state of OER, at

A Brief History of OER

In 1994 Wayne Hodgins coined the term "learning object" and this term quickly entered the vernacular of educators and instructional designers. One role of learning objects in the history of OER is its popularization of the idea that digital materials can be designed and produced in such a manner as to be reused easily in a variety of pedagogical situations. Along with its emphasis on reuse, the learning object movement spawned several standards efforts aimed at detailing metadata, content exchange, and other standards necessary for users to find and reuse digital educational content (ARIADNE, IMS, IEEE LTSC / LOM, SCORM, &c.).

In 1998 David Wiley coined the term "open content" and while targeted at the educational community (and learning object creators specifically), the term quickly entered the vernacular of internet users. One role of open content in the history of OER is its popularization of the idea that the principles of the open source / free software movements can be productively applied to content, and the creation of the first widely adopted open license for content (the Open Publication License).

In 2001 Larry Lessig and others founded the Creative Commons and released a flexible set of licenses that were both a vast improvement on the Open Publication License’s confusing license option structure and significantly stronger legal documents. One role of Creative Commons in the history of OER is the increase in credibility and confidence their legally superior, much easier to use licenses brought to the open content community.

Also in 2001 MIT announced its OpenCourseWare initiative to publish nearly every university course for free public access for noncommercial use. MIT OpenCourseWare has played many roles in the history of OER, including being an example of commitment at an institutional level, working actively to encourage similar projects, and lending the MIT brand to the movement.

Finally, in 2002 UNESCO held a Forum comprised of some of the many people who "wish[ed] to develop together a universal educational resource available for the whole of humanity". (


Open University (UK) Open Content Initiative

Rice Connexions

Carnegie Mellon Open Learning Initiative

UNESCO Open Training Platform


National Repository of Online Courses


Open Access to the means of instruction is critical

David Wiley:

"we have to understand that content is infrastructure to see current “open educational resources” projects and initiatives from the proper perspective. The OpenCourseWares, the Connexions, the GLOBEs, and all the other repositories of open educational resources in the world are critical infrastructure. As such, they are necessary conditions for revolutionizing education. The revolution can not happen without them. However, open content itself is by no means a sufficient condition for the revolution to succeed. So much more is needed! The list above includes only a handful of what needs to be worked on (localization, translation, low-bandwidth delivery, accreditation, degrees, certificates, support, tutors, study group locators).

To say that content, and therefore these projects, are necessary but not sufficient conditions is not to say that content is unimportant. Anything but! Every piece of the system, including content, is critical.

Content is infrastructure. An important beginning step that absolutely must be completed, and there is much more to follow." (

Open Educational Resources should be Free as well

"As mentioned previously, the adjective "open" does not express the essence of this freedom to engage. It is also possible that the term OER, defined in terms of "intellectual property", was more acceptable at the time to those who would allocate funding to the initiatives. OCW and most prominent OER initiatives are institutionally focussed. Would the movement have been as successful to date if OER and OCW had been promoted as "Free Educational Resources" or "Libre CourseWare" etc.? This is similar to the "open source" versus "free software" situation described above.

Times change, awareness of global issues is growing, and it is more important than ever to inspire action towards holistic and well thought out visions of a sustainable future to inform and guide our efforts. For OER and other "open" initiatives, it is time to transform.

Recognise the need for universal participation in the global knowledge society, understand the perspective of development as freedom (Sen, 1999), and respect the freedom of local communities to localise, adapt, mix and share knowledge resources. Quality and utility is context-specific.

The "Open" communities are invited to re-assess their stated goals - for the most part, these are already orientated towards libre knowledge - and consider relabelling resources and titles "Libre" or "Free". At the very least, use these terms when freedom to use, copy, modify, mix and share is the intended meaning." (

Comparison with Open Source Sofware


Monica Mora [4]:

"OER and OSS are similar in that both rely heavily on sharing materials, publicly accessible repositories of open assets, and licenses that allow the use, modification and redistribution of assets.

OSS relies on collaborative development much more so than OER. With OSS, collaborative development makes the code progressively better. Many eyes decrease the number of bugs in software. However, few OER rely heavily on collaborative development. Two examples of OER that do rely heavily on collaborative development are Curriki and Wikieducator.

OER and OSS differ in terms of their quality assurance, business models, reuse, and skills required to make changes. OSS strives to be defect free with no errors in the code. There are well established tools and processes that help developers produce defect free software. These tools and processes can not be used to improve open content. The quality of OER is associated with accuracy of facts and the pedagogical methods it supports while the quality of OSS is associated with errors per line of code and the fit between function and customer requirements.

The ways to make money from OER production and distribution are not well understood. Large companies are not making money from OER development. We have a much better understanding on how companies and individuals make money from OSS. Large companies like IBM, SUN and HP invest in OSS projects with the expectation to make money.

File type and pedagogical structure determine the extent in which an OER can be reused, edited or extended. For example, many OER are built so the content is open; however, the file type and structure may make the reuse of the content closed. OSS that runs on one platform but not on others has a similar problem.

Users with no skills in development can make changes to the content of an OER. However, users can't make changes to the OSS unless they have the requisite development skills." (


Jenna McWilliams gives many detailed reasons why OER differs from FLOSS, and proposes the alternative concept and approach of Community Source Software as more appropriate for collaborating institutions.


OER Project Sustainability

1. Monica Mora [5]:

"OER projects involve the production and sharing of OER and the use and reuse of OER by end users. The OECD defines sustainability of an OER project as the ability of the project to accomplish its goals and continue operations. Sustainability issues are not exclusive to OER. However, what is unique about OER projects is the "determination to give away the results of all these efforts, with no cost recovery mechanisms". The reports 'What makes an Open Education Program Sustainable? The case of Connexions' and 'Models for Sustainable Open Educational Resources' list some of the ways used to sustain OER projects. These include:

  • Endowment: interest generated from the investment of base funding
  • Membership: organizations make a one lump sum contribution or annual contributions
  • Replacement: funding using proprietary platforms are diverted to fund OER projects
  • Foundation: governments or foundations donate money to support the OER project
  • Segmentation/conversion: the organization responsible for the OER project provides free content and charges for value added services
  • Contributor pays: contributors pay for the cost of maintaining the distribution, while the content provider makes content available for free

OER resources are free for the users but there are technical and monetary requirements that should be covered to be able to produce and share the asset. The cost to maintain OER projects can range from hundreds of thousands of dollars to several millions of dollars per year.

Infrastructure requirements are linked to OER project goals. OER projects require hardware, software, connectivity, human resources, workflow processes, technical support and license policies among other resources.

Most OER projects are either funded by non profit organizations such as the William and Flora Hewlett foundation and the Wellcome Trust or by the universities that established the projects.

Connexions, an OER initiative at Rice University, emphasizes that before considering revenue models for OER projects, the focus of the organizers should be on increasing the aggregate value of the initiative to the users. If users do not perceive value, no revenue model will work in the long term. To provide value for the user, a vibrant OER user community anchored around the OER must exist. One aspect that encourages OER communities is the accessibility to content not only for use, but for modification and distribution.

In his report 'On the Sustainability of Open Educational Resource Initiatives in Higher Education', David Wiley explains that there can be many types of interactions between the type of reuse and the publication formats of OER. These interactions will affect the adaptation of OER. The formats that are suitable for publishing might not be the best adaptable by users. Therefore, conflicting goals such as publishing OER efficiently and supporting end-user reuse of OER should find a middle position.We do not have good ways to measure the health of OER projects yet. Basic metrics such as number of unique visitors and number of downloads are used to assess the health of OER projects." (

2. Norm Friesen:

"Sustainability, the capacity of an initiative to outlive its initial startup phase and the associated short-term project funding, is a major concern for OER projects. Both wiki-based resource sets and collections of courseware must find long-term support or revenue. They must develop their particular work from the status of a project to become a program, organization or consortium. It is disquieting to read in a recent report on OER that “the majority of OER development” are generally still being “undertaken on a project basis”.

OER activities, specifically when they follow the OCW model, present a relatively clear alternative to project funding: the financial support of the educational institutions with which the courses are associated. Reasons for providing ongoing funding can be compelling for an institution. A number of motivating factors are outlined in the findings of a 2005 Program Evaluation Findings Report produced as a part of MIT’s OCW project:

1. The majority of the use of MIT courses is for self-directed, informal learning: namely, to “improve” or “enhance personal knowledge” or to “explore areas outside [one’s] professional field”. In other words, the majority of materials use occurs outside of institutional settings. This helps to explain a contradiction apparent in the MIT initiative: it is educationally valuable but does not detract from the educational value of the face-to-face activities on which the collected content is based. The informal users of this material, generally located outside of North America, would not be potential on-campus students or “customers” of the institution generating the material.

2. A second finding is connected to the relationship of the project to MIT itself as an institution. It provides clear evidence of multiple areas of significant benefit accruing to MIT from the OCW project, and provides the strongest motivating factor for long-term local support. The report states that “OCW use is centered on subjects for which MIT is a recognized leader,” with areas in technology and science accounting for 62% of traffic. Majorities of students and faculty at MIT use the site to support their study and teaching, and 32% of faculty say that putting materials online has improved their teaching. Finally, the role of the project in student recruitment is significant: 16% of student users employ the MIT courses to “plan a course of study,” and “35 percent of freshmen who were aware of OCW prior to deciding to attend MIT indicate the site was a significant or very significant influence on their choice of school”. Significantly, this percentage of students more than quadrupled from the year before.

Commenting on this rapidly growing awareness of student recruits, David Wiley presents a conclusion that may be of the utmost significance for OER: "The time will come when an OpenCourseWare or similar collection of open access educational materials will be as fully expected from every higher education institution as an informational website is now”." (

Two kinds of OER approaches


"I feel that there is an ideological divide in the Open Educational Resources community. I see that there are two major Parties. I call them (1) content-people and (2) human-people.

The content-people believe that Open Educational Resources should primary be some kind of independent “courses” people study. Studying the OER courses will then lead to enlightenment. This approach can be compared to reading a religious text leading to deep religious belief and certainty.

The content-people are relying on non-questioning epistemology and to social philosophy of “equality of opportunity”. These two things are very much interconnected.

The non-questioning epistemology leads to action where people are aiming to create non-bias OERs that are representing universal truth. When you hold the universal truth it is fair to offer everyone an equal opportunity to access the truth. Take a course and the test: you made it!

The human-people see that the Open Educational Resources should primary be only reference materials that are used in a human-centered teaching and learning process. The OERs are never “courses” and one should never “take them”.

The human-people’s hold social epistemology where different interpretations of the world and the truth are in a continuous conflict. To promote equality people should be empowered to be active subjects in the process of defining the “truth” of their time. Because of this providing people with an access to the OERs is not enough. One must empower people to create their own OERs, modify them, break them, dishonor them. I call this intervention.

I also see some kind of difference in the two parties’ way of seeing tradition.

Same time when the content-people believe on universal truth, they do not give a lot of weight to tradition. At least I haven’t heard about any great OER projects focusing on classical philosophy or national epics.

The human-people who are more or less critical on everything are still more open to build on tradition and native wisdom. The fact that someone before found some content valuable is seen as a sign of the content’s high quality." (

Using a Open Copyright License for OER

David Wiley:

"An “open copyright license” is an irrevocable copyright license which grants the following permissions to everyone at no cost: permission to reuse the artifact (e.g., publicly display or perform), permission to copy and redistribute the artifact (e.g., share), permission to revise the artifact (e.g., translate or localize), and permission to remix the artifact with other artifacts (e.g., mashup or collage). This grant of permissions may come with restrictions. For example, a license may restrict these permissions to (1) those who agree to attribute the author of the OER when exercising the permissions, (2) those who agree to relicense any derivative works based on the OER under precisely the same license, or (3) those who agree to exercise the granted permissions in only noncommercial ways. The Creative Commons BY, BY-SA, and BY-NC-SA licenses are examples of open licenses.

“In the public domain” means that, while the nature of the artifact qualifies it for copyright protection, the artifact is not subject to copyright restrictions.

A benefit of defining an “open educational resource” in terms of copyright status is that the definition implies that all OER belong to the universe of copyrightable things. This explicitly precludes ideas, concepts, methods, people, places, events, and other non-copyrightable entities from being OER. (This helps us avoid some of the nonsense that went on with “learning object” definitions.)

For many high-level purposes this definition may be sufficient. However, there is a significant amount of nuance hiding beneath this quick-and-dirty definition. While adopting a blunt definition of OER may be common practice, understanding the underlying nuance would likely be valuable. One way of exploring this additional meaning is asking, “What would the ideal OER look like?” (

More Information

  1. OER Blogs: common access to various blogs on the topic
  2. OER Wiki
  3. See the video by Todd Richmond on Open Educational Resources
  4. Open Educational Practices and Resources: OLCOS Roadmap 2012
  5. A Review of the Open Educational Resources (OER) Movement: Achievements, Challenges, and New Opportunities (Atkins, Brown, and Hammond, 80 pages)
  6. Essay: Say "Libre" for Knowledge and Learning Resources. Kim Tucker.
  7. Journal: Special issue of elearning papers:


Finding OERs

"Because of the rapid growth in the development of OERs, there are many online repositories that contain OER material. The question for educators who want to use OERs is how to find them. There are a variety of methods to do this, including:

  • searching through OER compilations such as:
         o OCW Consortium
         o Creative Commons search
  • subscribing to an education-related listserv such as:
         o [email protected]
  • browsing through OER journals like:
         o The International Journal of Open Educational Resources
  • conducting searches in UMUC library databases such as:
         o ERIC, Education Research Complete, Professional Development Collection, and/or Teacher Reference Center (using search terms like "open education* resources")
  • conducting general Web searches using search engines such as Google Scholar"

For access to the links for above resources, go to

OER Collections

Some OER collections focus on particular subjects, while others are multidisciplinary.

Subject-specific OERs include:

   * Berkelee Shares (music)
   * Chemistry Collective
   * HEAL (Health Education Assets Library)
   * SERC (sciences)
   * Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Multidisciplinary OERs include:

   * Connexions
   * Open Learn
   * Open-of-Course 

For access to the links for above resources, go to


  1. OLCOS 2012 Roadmap on Open Education Resources: excellent introduction and overview for European audience
  2. OECD Report: Giving Knowledge for Free: The Emergence of Open Educational Resources
  3. Open Educational Resources: What are they and why do they matter

Ikka Tuomi:

"A report written for the OECD Centre for Educational Research and Innovation.

This report describes ongoing initiatives and underlying concepts in the area of open educational resources (OER). The aim of the report is to elaborate the concept of open educational resources, and provide a practically useful and theoretically solid definition of open educational resources." The link is to the the final draft.

I think the main contribution is on pp. 30-36. Three interrelated concepts need to be defined: one for learning (I use a pedagogic view that combines individual and social development), one for openness (I distinguish three levels), and one for resource (for the OER definition I distinguish traditional goods, common pools, and non-rival fountains of goods). In practice, there are many valid and coherent ways of using the term openness in the OER context. Openness at "level 3" is perhaps most interesting, as it assumes collective contributions.

The final OECD summary report (Giving Knowledge for Free, OECD 2007) skipped my argument about a Mertonian process for defining such collective contributions, probably because its relevance was not very clearly argued. Social evaluation of contributions is necessary, however. This is because, in my view, knowledge exists only as a social phenomenon. "Contribution" can only be distinguished from a "non-contribution" using social quality criteria implemented in a social process. I use the Mertonian approach to put a social theory of knowledge back into the theory of development and learning, without making extra assumptions about the "truthfullness," "empirical validity" etc., of the contributions. Knowledge, therefore, can be local to a specific culture and social practice, historical, and context dependent, but only if it is validated using the internal criteria available in the social practice in question. That’s how Wikipedia, for example, can distinguish spam and forgeries from real contributions."

Sustainability of OER

  1. What makes an Open Education Program Sustainable? The case of Connexions
  2. Models for Sustainable Open Educational Resources
  3. On the Sustainability of Open Educational Resource Initiatives in Higher Education