A Short History of OERs

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Note: Deprecated. This section has been merged with the introduction.

There are now many incredible projects, but two have attracted a lot of attention: Wikipedia and the MIT OpenCourseWare project. (Some text in this section was adapted from Surman and Schmidt 2007)

  • In January 2001, Wikipedia was launched as an online encyclopaedia that anyone could edit. Most people thought that it would never work. During its first month it collected 17 articles, by April it had 1,000, in October more than 10,000 and by the end of 2002 it crossed the 100,000 article mark (Zachte 2008). It is now the largest encyclopaedia in the world and a tremendous resource for students and lecturers.
  • In 2002, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) launched its open courseware project. It announced that it would publish almost all of its course materials online, open for others to use, modify and share free of charge. The world of higher education was in shock - how could MIT give away its "crown jewels" when the rest of the world was trying to commercialize teaching and learning activities? With a combined belief in open access to education and the power of collaboration to improve materials, and with financial support from the Hewlett Foundation, MIT began to release hundreds of courses to the public. The success has been resounding. To date, MIT has published over 1800 courses online, and they are being accessed by more than one million users every month. (MIT CourseWare)

In the years since, dozens - or, more likely, hundreds - of initiatives have emerged to promote the cause of open educational resources. This includes initiatives focused on: creating royalty free textbooks for primary and secondary schools; making content licensing easier for educators; packaging and indexing educational materials so they are easier to find and use; nurturing online communities for teachers and authors; and growing open education as a field and a movement. Important global players like the Hewlett Foundation, UNESCO, Sun Microsystems, and the OECD have also entered (and helped to create) an open education space. For example, since MIT started the first open courseware project, the OCW consortium counts more than 100 members from across the world who have committed themselves to publishing course materials online using free and open content licenses.


MIT CourseWare. Site Statistics. Retrieved 12 May 2008 from http://ocw.mit.edu/OcwWeb/Global/AboutOCW/evaluation.htm. Schmidt, Philipp. "3.2 From ODL to Open ODL and Open Educational Resources (OER)." UNESCO OER Toolkit draft. Retrieved 21 Mar. 2008 from http://www.wikieducator.org/UNESCO_OER_Toolkit_Draft#From_ODL_to_Open_ODL_and_Open_Educational_Resources_.28OER.29.
Zachte, Erik. (2008). Wikipedia Statistics. Wikimedia. Retrieved 12 May 2008 from http://stats.wikimedia.org/EN/TablesWikipediaEN.htm.