Open Educational Resources (OER)

The world is changing to meet the demands of globalization and the advancement of technology. Educational organizations need to be flexible and innovative in order to tackle new challenges facing communities around the world.  Open Educational Resources (OER) are a viable option for widely dispersing affordable, relevant, and up-to-date information to people who might not otherwise be able to obtain or afford an education.

How does it work?

The Open Education (OE) movement is an alternative to traditional education that combines “open licensing and web-based social media. It brings some fundamental challenges to the way we think about higher education and the institutional arrangements in which it is organized” (Katz, 2008; Liyoshi & Kumar, 2008 as cited in Scmidt, et al., (2009), Background section, para. 1).  According to Hylén (2006), “although learning resources are often considered as key intellectual property in a competitive higher education world, more and more institutions and individuals are sharing their digital learning resources over the Internet openly and for free, as Open Educational Resources” (p.1).  OER initiatives “challenge the notion that formally credentialed “experts” are the only producers of knowledge or the sole sources of innovation” (Schmidt, et al, 2009, Background section, para.2).  According to Johnstone, “While it is clear that higher education systems and institutions worldwide face unprecedented challenges in meeting the increasing demand for initial and continuing education, it is also clear that there are [OER] developments that will increase access, make learning opportunities more flexible and help contain costs” (2005, para. 1). 

“OER are teaching, learning or research materials that are in the public domain or released with an intellectual property license that allows for free use, adaptation, and distribution” (UNESCO, n.d.).  OER are available over the internet and do not have technical, monetary, nor legal barriers.  Users can learn from, create, adapt, reuse, and build upon OER as long as license restrictions such as giving the original creator attribution and not using new adaptations for profit are followed (Hylén, 2006).   OER promote an increase in intellectual capacity around the world by freely sharing knowledge and information (UNESCO, n.d.).

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) was a pioneer in Open Education Resources.  In 2002, MIT began to publish online course materials for free.  This OpenCourseWare (OCW) initiative offers thousands of MIT courses to millions of users around the world (Lerman, Miyagawa, & Margulies, 2008).  Today, many OER repositories and programs use MIT’s OCW.

Wikipedia, the world’s largest online encyclopedia, is another pioneer in OER.  In 2001, co-founder Jimmy Wales launched a free, open content encyclopedia.  Comprised of user generated and maintained OER, Wikipedia quickly gained participants and articles.  Hosting millions of users every year, Wikipedia is one of the most visited sites on the internet (Schmidt & Surman, 2007).

More General Information about OER

OER Programs and Organizations

Obstacles to OER    

Many traditional higher education institutes argue that traditional core curriculum, face-to-face interaction with professors and hands-on experience are necessary components in gaining a trustworthy, valuable education worthy of official recognition (Young, 2008).  However, the skills needed to obtain and perform certain jobs such as computer programming are changing.  Traditional higher education institutes such as MIT and Rice University can keep costly traditional degrees on campus while offering alternative OER certification programs such as OCW and Connexions at a minimal price (Young, 2008).  In this manner, traditional degrees maintain their prestigious, rigorous qualities while alternative OER programs provide opportunities that “open up knowledge across the world” (Viruly, n.d., para.3).

Since OER can be created or modified by virtually anyone with a computer and Internet connection, an immense amount of OER “exist in various stages of development and at various quality levels” (Baranuik, 2008, p.232).  How can the accuracy, quality, and validity of an OER program be deemed trustworthy by employers or other educational institutes?  According to Andy Lane (n.d.), three features of quality must be considered:

  1.       Is the material academically sound in that it appropriately covers the body of knowledge and meaning for that topic?
  2.       Is it pedagogically robust in that the way the material has been structured matches a stated pedagogical model and sets out appropriate learning outcomes and ways of assessing those outcomes?
  3.       Is the way the material is presented through the chosen media helpful in enabling learners to meet the learning outcomes? (Ensuring Quality of Open Educational Content section, para.1).

In order to be accredited, an OER program would have to set up review committees to carefully and constantly review OER materials.  MIT uses this process to review all OER material before publishing it on their OCW site.  Rice’s Connexions program uses “lenses”, which are third-party reviewers, editorial groups, or automated programs, to review and monitor the quality of OER (Baranuik, 2008).  The funding needed for the infrastructure to monitor quality would be minute compared to the expenses of traditional higher education institutes.  The small infrastructure fees could be paid by charging participants in OER accredited programs a nominal fee for certification.   Governments could subsidize OER programs to increase the potential workforce for the country.

Will employers take OER seriously during the hiring process?  Can a person use OER courses to get a job?  As mentioned before by Glen Moriarty, co-founder of NIXTY, companies can create their own OER programs or lists of specific classes needed to satisfy certain prerequisites required for certification or job placement.  OER can adapt quickly to new economic demands and changes in the skills necessary to perform various jobs.  “The rapid pace of change means employers want the latest skills without having to wait for employees to go off and get whole degrees. Proving you sat through an online course with a relevant expert might be good enough for plenty of situations” (Young, 2008, A13).

One possible argument against OER is their difficulty in serving and producing changes in developing countries because many OER are created by and for English speakers in developed countries.  However, OER are extremely adaptable because they are licensed under lenient copyright laws, and most OER can be altered or built upon without violating copyright.  Languages and contexts can be modified or new OER materials can be created to meet the needs of a certain community.  MIT’s OCW is translated into Spanish, Chinese, Thai, Portuguese, and Persian. WikiEducator, an international educational online community, services an international group called the Commonwealth of Learning that provides educational materials in a variety of languages for over 50 countries.


Baranuik, R. G. (2008). Challenges and opportunities for the open education movement: A connexions case study.Opening up education:  the collective advancement of education through open technology, open content, and open knowledge (p. 229-245). Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Hylén, D. J. (2006, September 1). Open educational resources: Opportunities and challenges. OECD Centre for Educational Research and Innovation. Retrieved November 7, 2010, from

Lane, A. (n.d.). Who puts the education into open educational content?  EDUCAUSE. Retrieved November 15, 2010, from

Lerman, S. R., Miyagawa, S., & Margulies, A. H. (2008). OpenCourseWare: Building a culture of Sharing. Opening up Education (p. 213-228). Cambridge and London: MIT Press.

Moriarty, G. (n.d.). OCW consortium – certification with OER : Considerations and examples.  OCW Consortium Blog. Retrieved November 7, 2010, from

Schmidt, J. P., Geith, C., Haklev, S., & Thierstein, J. (2009). Peer-to-peer recognition of learning in open education. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning10(5). Retrieved November 6, 2010, from

Schmidt, J., & Surman, M. (2007, September 2). Open sourcing education: Learning and wisdom from iSummit 2007.Open sourcing education: Learning and wisdom from iSummit 2007. Retrieved November 9, 2010, from

UNESCO. (n.d.). Open educational resources. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Retrieved November 21, 2010, from

Viruly, F. (n.d.). Free online course materials. MIT OpenCourseWare. Retrieved November 21, 2010, from

Young, J. R. (2008).  When professors print their own diplomas, who needs universities? Chronicle of Higher Education,55(6), A13-A13.


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