Open educational resources

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"Open Educational Resources (OER) are learning, teaching and research materials in any format and medium that reside in the public domain or are under copyright that have been released under an open license, that permit no-cost access, re-use, re-purpose, adaptation and redistribution by others." UNESCO, 2019, 2022.

“OER are teaching, learning and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use or re-purposing by others. Open educational resources include full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials or techniques used to support access to knowledge.” (Hewlett Foundation), retrieved 18:55, 23 May 2007 (MEST).

By "open educational resources" we understand:

  • Open courseware and content;
  • Open software tools;
  • Open material for e-learning capacity building of faculty staff;
  • Repositories of learning objects;
  • Free educational courses.
(OECD), retrieved 18:55, 23 May 2007 (MEST)

According to Bliss and Smith (2017) [1], The Open Educational Resources (OER) movement has been funded around 2001 but has roots in shared learning object repositories such as MERLOT which was created in 1994. Miao, Mishra and McGreal [2] in a summary of 2015 case studies explain that “OER are being used to address a variety of educational challenges — from increasing access to improving quality and reducing costs.”

Open educational resources are, according to Martin Weller [3], part of a longer a longer tradition. “Openness has a long history in higher education. Its foundations lie in one of altruism and the belief that education is a public good. It has undergone many interpretations and adaptations, moving from a model which had open entry to study as its primary focus to one that emphasises openly available content and resources. This change has largely been a result of the digital and network revolution. Changes in other sectors, most notably the open source model of software production and values associated with the internet of free access, and open approaches have influenced (and been influenced by) practitioners in higher education.” (p.2-3)

David Wiley (2017, p. 196) [4] defines OER with five Rs: “OER are materials that meet the criteria of free plus permissions – they are (1) freely available and (2) come with an irrevocable grant of permission to engage in the 5R activities – retain, reuse, revise, remix, and redistribute.”. These "rights" are formally defined on (retrieved April 2019) as follows:

The terms "open content" and "open educational resources" describe any copyrightable work (traditionally excluding software, which is described by other terms like "open source") that is either (1) in the public domain or (2) licensed in a manner that provides users with free and perpetual permission to engage in the 5R activities:

1. Retain - the right to make, own, and control copies of the content (e.g., download, duplicate, store, and manage)
2. Reuse - the right to use the content in a wide range of ways (e.g., in a class, in a study group, on a website, in a video)
3 Revise - the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself (e.g., translate the content into another language)
4 Remix - the right to combine the original or revised content with other material to create something new (e.g., incorporate the content into a mashup)
5 Redistribute - the right to share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others (e.g., give a copy of the content to a friend)

See also: Open textbook, Open source, learning resource, electronic textbooks and Open content

The Open Educational Resources (OER) Initiative

By Alain Senteni

In July 2001, the UNESCO, in association with the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and WCET, the Western Cooperative for Educational Telecommunications, convened a forum on the Impact of Open Courseware (OCW) on Higher Education in Developing Countries. The OCW initiative of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a principal point of interest in the forum, consists of providing educational resources for free consultation and non-commercial usage by university and college faculty members as well as students, with permission to produce adapted versions. It also includes technology to support open access to and meaningful use of these resources.

After the forum, where Mauritius was represented, our Virtual Centre for Innovative Learning Technologies (VCILT) became a mirror site of the MIT-OCW, availing the MIT open contents across the University of Mauritius since 2002. The problems faced at that time to disseminate the open contents and encourage the academics to contextualize and integrate the resources into their lectures, were more visible than the solutions it provided. Opening resources created double-bind1 situations and conflicts with existing institutional culturess and practices. Academics were not at ease using foreign educational material, IPR remained a concern, a culture of competition, created from the primary school, is still prevailing in Mauritius, groupwork is not encouraged. Education represents an investment for the families who expect return on investment and value for money, equating the mind of the population to individualism and competition rather than collaboration.

The Open Educational Resources (OER) Initiative, as the participants agreed to name it after the forum, is based on a philosophical view of knowledge as a collective social product to become a social property. However, five years ago, the OER initiative seemed to regard the sharing of knowledge, mainly considered as a final product rather than as a collaborative dynamic process. Although issues of contextualisation (i.e. re-processing) and knowledge-creation were raised, they were never central to the sharing process but rather left at the initiative of local stakeholders and institutions, who did not know most of the times what to do with it. From 2001 to 2007, after the MIT OCW, other major american universities joined up the project, Rice Connexions Project, and Utah State participated in several projects of the emerging OCW Consortium. Implicitly, the conception/production engine remained the prerogative of international organisations and institutions from the North.

The OER report published in February 2007 by Atkins, Brown and Hammond (2007) at the request of the Hewlett Foundation shows the evolution of this worldwide project, that targets educators, students, and self-learners worldwide, with the objective to help equalize access to knowledge and educational opportunities across the world. The report defines the OER as a strategic initiative to expand people's substantive freedoms through the removal of "unfreedoms": poverty, limited economic opportunity, inadequate education and access to knowledge, deficient health care, and oppression. It praises the extent to which OER has moved education institutions, not just individuals and small groups, to embrace a new culture of IT-enabled contribution and sharing and to help shift faculty perspectives from "this courseware is mine" to "this courseware is for (open) mining".

The report addresses also additional approaches to sustainability, including the following:

  1. Encourage institutions, rather than just individual pioneer-faculty, to buy into the OER movement so that institutional resources will be committed to sustain it.
  2. Situate OER collections not as distinct from the courseware environment for the formally enrolled students but as a low marginal cost derivative of the routinely used course preparation and management systems. Increase the amount of course preparation and management systems that service closed and open institutional courseware.
  3. Encourage membership-based consortia (along the lines of Internet2) to distribute and to share cost and expertise.
  4. Explore roles for students in creating, enhancing, and adopting OER. Consider an "OER Corps" in which students receive training, small stipends, and prestige to assist in material preparation, enhancement, and use (especially in historically disadvantaged domestic communities and developing countries).
  5. Consider a voluntary (or mix of voluntary and paid) wiki-like model, in which OER is the object of micro-contributions from many. This approach raises complex issues of quality, but much work on collective "converging to better" is under way.
  6. Examine ways that social software can be used to capture and structure user commentaries on the material. More generally, find ways to instrument the use of the material with special attention to capturing problems encountered by diverse student communities. Do the same for teachers using, remixing or repurposing the material.

The report presents the next phase of the project, that will aim at consolidating understanding, technology, and incentive from multiple threads of activity into an Open Participatory Learning Infrastructure (OPLI):

A socio-technical initiative to form an open participatory learning infrastructure is critical to this culture of learning. By open participatory learning infrastructure we mean the institutional practices, technical infrastructure, and social norms that allow a smooth operation of globally distributed, high-quality open learning. We include the word "participatory" to emphasize that the focus is not just on information access, but on the role of technology in supporting the social nature of learning. An OPLI can leverage diversity of use, radical repurposing of content, and critical reflection.

This perspective is consistent with collaboratories in science and humanities communities and the social software and the Web 2.0 movement more generally. Such an infrastructure supports diverse ecosystems of people and learning resources that could have profound implications for preparing people for a rapidly evolving knowledge-based world, one demanding creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurialism from us all. (Atkins, Brown & Hammond, 2007, p.10)

Such recommendations for an infrastructure supporting ecosystems of people and learning resources, meets our own stand for educational ecologies, stressing the necessity to reconcile a culture of knowledge with one of development process (Senteni, 2004). We insisted particularly on the importance of overcoming the dichotomy between learning and the development of societal practices, in line with a fractal conception of learning and development in a globalised society as the one outlined by (Wenger, McDermott & Snyder, 2002). Infrastructure supporting ecosystems of people and learning resources should allow to bridge the gap between micro and macro levels of analysis of educational structures and processes, and to bring closer implementors, stakeholders and policy-makers in integrated decision-making evolutionary frameworks.

The ADEA-WGDEOL, an example of policy and management divide

At the Arusha Biennal Meeting in 2001, the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA) expressed its concerns about the lack of capacity shown in Africa for going to pilot to scale. Africa has benefited several pilot innovative projects sensitive to the needs of learners, without ever being able to scale-up and mainstream. Mainstreaming involves a number of processes such as moving from the margins and going to scale. More important, it is facilitated by such things as gaining official recognition and public acceptance, as well as having access to regular public funding and being an integral part of the examination system (Wright, 2003).

However, through its four pillars (capacity building, coordination, research and advocacy), the ADEA Working Group on Distance Education and Open Learning (WGDEOL) was geared towards sensitizing all stakeholders ranging from practitioners to policy-makers about the importance of open and distance learning (ODL) methodologies and related innovations in the educational scenario and to demonstrate the effectiveness of ODL and more generally, of the introduction of ICTs in education. This Working Group was also concerned with training local expertise, developing forums and mechanisms for the sharing of experiences, research, and good practices in ODL.

The WGDEOL can be taken as a good example of "policy & management divide" whose consequences worsen the well known "digital divide". While the link between working groups such as WGDEOL and grass-root implementors in local institutions should be quite strong and dynamic, the handing down of ODL policies defined at its international (macro) level has always suffered a lack of commitment when it came to grass-roots implementation (micro level) and re-thinking of policies and practices that are the convention in traditional classroom-based education (meso level).

Central commitment, ownership, responsibility and participation of the whole educational community in the full process of integrating ODL along with systematized capturing and sharing of knowledge on the upgrading process, should be at the centre of the scaling up process. Moving from pilot projects to mainstream nationwide scales of action requires implementors participation in the conception, development, financing, and upgrading of educational systems. This is maybe how ODL could become successful and sustainable.

In this respect, an important step has been taken by COL when involving in the decision making process of the VUSSC project, not only government stakeholders (interlocutors) but also grass-roots level educators (implementors) in holistic teams, sharing decision making mechanisms.

The Virtual University for Small States of the Commonwealth (VUSSC)

At a meeting in Halifax (2000), the Education Ministers from the small states of the Commonwealth, fearing that their countries would be left behind in the online world for want of the critical mass of human and financial resources to exploit the new technology, proposed collective action in the form of a virtual university for small states. The keywords were: using existing structures and capacity, the point was to support the development of existing institutions rather than to create new ones. The Halifax Declaration on the virtual university for small states of the Commonwealth (14th CCEM, 2000) mandated the Commonwealth of Learning (COL) to develop a proposal for a virtual university. This was presented to the 15th CCEM in Edinburgh in October 2003 and endorsed by the Ministers of Education, who then invited COL to manage the continued development of the project as part of its next TYP (2003-6).

VUSSC objectives were set so as

  • to help small states - or even institutions within one state - work together to produce, adapt and use courses and learning materials that would be difficult for one state to produce alone, and
  • to expand access to learning, to help partner countries to become leaders in education reform and cutting edge in ICTs, as well as full fledge players in global development.

The model chosen for VUSSC was a network rather than an institution, a network with multiple nodes of activity that will contribute to strengthen existing post-secondary institutions. Our own participation to VUSSC is very consistant with the clustering policy developed at the university of Mauritius (UoM) during the last few years with the Lifelong Learning Cluster (LLC), clustering the three Centres of the university without questioning their autonomy nor adding further layers of bureaucracy.

Amongst most other large scale ODL projects for the developing world, VUSSC deserves a special mention for actually applying grass-root level empowerment policies discussed in the previous sections. Anticipating on the OER report recommendations, a wiki-like model in which OER content is the object of micro-contributions from many, was experimented at the first VUSSC course developers "bootcamp", held at the [VCILT] in August 2006, with implementors from fifteen countries. As mentioned in the OER report, this approach raises complex issues of quality, but collective converging to better is under way. In a first step, the actual involvement of educators in learning by doing content development takes precedence over other issues, such as reliability and quality assurance.

One conclusion of the bootcamp was that the benefits came mainly from the participants feeling part of an emerging community of practice.

Technical requirements

There are many legal OER models that range from truly open and free to "free to share and to use". Most online content probably prohibits commercial exploitation without sharing any derived product, e.g. the CC BY-NC-SA licence we use in this wiki. To support this or more open approaches, some technical requirements must be fulfilled. defines an ALMS Framework that “provides a way of thinking about those technical choices and understanding the degree to which they enable or impede a user's ability to engage in the 5R activities permitted by open licenses.”. It allows content creators to think about choices. Below we reproduce the "A-L-M-S" we retrieved on April 2019 from David Wiley's online definition:

  • Access to Editing Tools: Is the open content published in a format that can only be revised or remixed using tools that are extremely expensive (e.g., 3DS MAX)? Is the open content published in an exotic format that can only be revised or remixed using tools that run on an obscure or discontinued platform (e.g., OS/2)? Is the open content published in a format that can be revised or remixed using tools that are freely available and run on all major platforms (e.g., OpenOffice)?
  • Level of Expertise Required: Is the open content published in a format that requires a significant amount technical expertise to revise or remix (e.g., Blender)? Is the open content published in a format that requires a minimum level of technical expertise to revise or remix (e.g., Word)?
  • Meaningfully Editable: Is the open content published in a manner that makes its content essentially impossible to revise or remix (e.g., a scanned image of a handwritten document)? Is the open content published in a manner making its content easy to revise or remix (e.g., a text file)?
  • Self-Sourced: It the format preferred for consuming the open content the same format preferred for revising or remixing the open content (e.g., HTML)? Is the format preferred for consuming the open content different from the format preferred for revising or remixing the open content (e.g. Flash FLA vs SWF)?


Daniel K. Schneider's view

I always was a bit skeptical about this movement, although under the impulsion of transformative pedagogy movements, things seem to change at least at the planning level. IMHO the key issue is not so much about the lack of teaching materials, but rather:

  • getting teachers to acquire some sound (but easy) vocabulary of instructional design models (i.e. learn more about learning and teaching).
  • encouraging everybody to share, in particular rich public institutions, e.g. what I am doing with this wiki ;). There can be a need for central open content based digital libraries, but I rather feel that we all together are already a library.
  • encourage third world teachers to make their own blend of teaching materials (a good teacher usually should understand what he is teaching, and putting together stuff even if it's not perfect will help).

An other reason for my skepticism is dominance of a top-down approach. It doesn't work in most countries and for various reasons which I won't discuss here. The history of bringing educational technology into the educational system started over 40 years ago and globally speaking it still didn't happen. OER must become part of the culture and not part of some marketing strategy.

TheParticipatory Learning Infrastructure (OPLI) described by Alain Senteni above is a step in the right direction. Atkins, Brown and Hammon (2007) does mention Learning Theory, Participatory Systems Architecture, Cyberinfrastructure-Enhanced Humanities, etc. in addition to "Open Contents" that were the hallmark of open educational resources. I believe that they should focus on a truly participatory systems architecture, on the technical side start with a light-weight services-based infrastructure based on web widgets, social software, etc. An enterprise kind of service-oriented architecture will be too heavy, also initiatives like E-framework may also open up possibilities.

Since we wrote the few paragraphs above (in the late 2000'), the world experienced the "MOOC tsunami" and we wonder if had a good effect on the movement as also Weller [3] asks himself in a book about The Battle for Open. “Put bluntly, it looks as though openness has won. And yet you would be hard pushed to find any signs of celebration amongst those original advocates. They are despondent about the reinterpretation of openness to mean ‘free’ or ‘online’ without some of the reuse liberties they had envisaged. Concerns are expressed about the commercial interests that are now using openness as a marketing tool. Doubts are raised regarding the benefits of some open models for developing nations or learners who require support. At this very moment of victory it seems that the narrative around openness is being usurped by others, and the consequences of this may not be very open at all.” (p3, read this free online book for some answers).


Open Educational Resource sites

See also: open textbook and Learning objects repositories. There is an overlap.

  • Open Education Network. “a consortium of 630+ higher education institutions working to advance the use of open educational resources in higher education.” As of 2018, an open textbook Publishing Cooperative was planned, to help institutions support their faculty who want to write openly licensed textbooks.
  • Open Knowledge Blog is dedicated to promoting the creation, sharing and application of Open Knowledge in the Digital Age.
  • OER Commons is a teaching and learning network of shared materials, from K-12 through adult learning, from algebra to zoology, open to everyone.
  • POERUP (Policies for OER Uptake) is a project running until April 2014 approved by the EU Lifelong Learning Programme. It so far (21:02, 15 November 2012 (CET)) produced some interesting critical reports. (not active anymore)
  • Boundless. Free textbooks made from OER materials.
  • Eliademy: In March 2015, Eliademy launched the crowdsourcing of OER courses under CC license [5].
  • oli Open Learning Initiative, from Carnegie Mellon University. A main actor in the area. Free or cheap online classes in various areas.
  • CK-12. Quote: “The CK-12 Foundation was founded with the mission to enable everyone to learn in his or her own way. We pair high quality content with the latest technologies. We equip students, teachers, and parents with everything they need. For free.”
  • Open Culture . Open Culture scours the web for the best educational media (founded by Dan Colman in 2006).
  • OER Switch (Swiss archive initiative)

Blogs, Wiki etc articles

Finding OER resources initiatives

Evaluation tools



  • Atkins, Daniel E., John Seely Brown and Allen L. Hammond, (2007) A Review of the Open Educational Resources (OER) Movement: Achievements, Challenges, and New Opportunities, Hewlet Foundation. Abstract, PDF

OER archive

Research projects

  • Encore+, European Network for Catalysing Open Resources in Education (ENCORE+) supports the uptake and innovation of OER for education and business. ENCORE+ is a ERASMUS+, Knowledge Alliances project co-funded by the European Commission:
  • OpenMed, Opening up Education in South-Mediterranean countries. The OpenMed project, supported by the Erasmus+ Capacity Building in Higher Education programme of the European Union, has been working during the period 2015-2018 to widening participation and adoption of Open Educational Resources (OER) and Open Educational Practices (OEP) as a bottom-up approach to support the modernisation of the Higher Education sector in the South-Mediterranean. The project involved an international consortium composed by five partners from Europe and nine from South Mediterranean Countries:
  • Open Game project, (Promoting Open Education through Gamification) aims to contribute to the uptake of Open Education Resources and Open Education Practices among educators in Higher Education in an innovative and motivating way, through the developing of a gamified and situated learning experience on Open Education. The online game will be based on real life cases of application of open teaching approaches where university teachers will learn how to apply open approaches in their daily teaching.
  • GRAASP, Communicate, Collaborate, Build Engaging Learning Experiences:
  • Research on OER for Development,, started in 2013 - ongoing
  • Swiss Digital Skills Academy,, 2021-4
  • Open Education Group,, started 2016?

Journals and researcher networks


Cited references with footnotes

  1. Bliss, T J and Smith, M. 2017. A Brief History of Open Educational Resources. In: Jhangiani, R S and Biswas-Diener, R. (eds.) Open: The Philosophy and Practices that are Revolutionizing Education and Science. Pp. 9–27. London: Ubiquity Press. DOI: License: CC-BY 4.0
  2. Miao, F., Mishra, S., & McGreal, R. (Eds.). (2016). Open Educational Resources: Policy, Costs and Transformation. UNESCO and Commonwealth of Learning. Retrieved from
  3. 3.0 3.1 Weller, M. 2014. The Battle for Open: How openness won and why it doesn't feel like victory. London: Ubiquity Press. DOI:
  4. David Wiley, "Iterating toward Openness: Lessons Learned on a Personal Journey," chap. 15 in Open: The Philosophy and Practices That Are Revolutionizing Education and Science, ed. Rajiv S. Jhangiani and Robert Biswas-Diener (London: Ubiquity Press, 2017), 196.

Various articles, reports and online books

  • The OER Knowledge Cloud: a Survey and repository of OER research. A curated database and repository to identify, collect, preserve and disseminate documents related to open educational resources.
  • Arts, Y., Call, H., Cavan, M., Holmes, T. P., Rogers, J., Tuiloma, S. H., West, L., & Kimmons, R. (Eds.). (2021). An Introduction to Open Education. EdTech Books.
  • Baas, M., van der Rijst, R., Huizinga, T., van den Berg, E., & Admiraal, W. (2022). Would you use them? A qualitative study on teachers' assessments of open educational resources in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education, 54, 100857. doi:
  • Blessinger, P., & Bliss, T. J. (Eds.). (2016). Open Education. International Perspectives in Higher Education. Open Book Publishers.
  • Clements, K.I. and Pawlowski, J.M. (2012), User-oriented quality for OER: understanding teachers' views on re-use, quality, and trust. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 28: 4–14. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2729.2011.00450.x.
  • Downes, Stephen (2007). Models for Sustainable Open Educational Resources, Interdisciplinary Journal of Knowledge and Learning Objects, vol. 3 PDF
  • Draxler-Weber, N., Reinken, C., & Hoppe, U. A. (2022). Towards a Maturity Model for Open Educational Resources in Higher Education Institutions. PACIS 2022 PDF
  • Patrick McAndrew, Steve Godwin, Alexandra Okada and Andreia Santos (eds.) (2008). Researching open content in education, JIME Special issue, index. (Includes 14 articles which I should read at some point - Daniel K. Schneider 15:15, 20 August 2008 (UTC)).
  • Cullen, M. A., & Dill, E. (Eds.). (2022). Intersections of Open Educational Resources and Information Literacy. Association of College and Research Libraries.
  • Hegarty, B. (2015). Attributes of Open Pedagogy: A Model for Using Open Educational Resources. Educational Technology, (August), 3–13
  • Mackintosh, W. (2016). OERu: Realising Sustainable Education Futures. In F. Miao, S. Mishra, & R. McGreal (Eds.), Open Educational Resources: Policy, Costs and Transformation (pp. 129–146). UNESCO and Commonwealth of Learning.
  • Marín, V. I., Peters, L. N., & Zawacki-Richter, O. (Eds.). (2022). (Open) Educational Resources around the World. An International Comparison:
  • Marín, V. I., & Villar-Onrubia, D. (2022). Online Infrastructures for Open Educational Resources. In Handbook of Open, Distance and Digital Education (pp. 1-20). Singapore: Springer Singapore.
  • Weller, M. 2014. The Battle for Open: How openness won and why it doesn't feel like victory. London: Ubiquity Press. DOI: Quote: “With the success of open access publishing, Massive open online courses (MOOCs) and open education practices, the open approach to education has moved from the periphery to the mainstream. This marks a moment of victory for the open education movement, but at the same time the real battle for the direction of openness begins. n this volume, Martin Weller examines four key areas that have been central to the developments within open education: open access, MOOCs, open education resources and open scholarship.”