The Future of OER

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Image courtesy of Amir Fathi

OER are just one part of a rapidly changing education environment that is referred to as open education. (See for example Downes, 2005; Keats and Schmidt, 2007; Schmidt and Surman, 2007)

As the movement gains strength, it poses a number of interesting questions related to sustainability and the role of universities in innovation and society. One key question deals with the missing pieces that will allow OER to move from publishing educational resources to truly changing the way we teach and learn. Susan D'Antoni, head of the Virtual Institute of the UNESCO International Institute for Educational Planning, summed up the requirements for this to happen as the four A's (2006): accessibility, appropriateness, accreditation, affordability. Others (for example Downes, 2007) have started sketching out their ideas on some of these issues.

The following list provides an introduction to some of the questions the international open education community is looking to address in the next few years.

  • Student assessment: when OER is integrated into a traditional classroom, assessment can follow traditional methods. However, in some cases assessment in open education can be different from traditional assessment. For example, if a student goes through a course on MIT's OCW, there are questions of how that student should be assessed. A standardized test might be possible, but those tests carry limitations and require resources to proctor.
  • Quality of materials, education, learning: quality is the primary concern for most people learning about open education and open educational resources. Initially there has been some concern about whether or not OER can be trusted. Over time, this concern seems to have diminished, but has not been eliminated. The repository sections of this handbook covered several places to find OER. What was not mentioned was the quality of these resources. In OER distribution it is fairly common to make a resource available online and receive little feedback on how the OER is being used (if at all). This lack of feedback makes establishing standards of quality difficult. Quality of materials also affects finding materials. Some are concerned that OER repositories will eventually face a large number of well intentioned, but poorly constructed, OER. This excess of OER would make finding high-quality ones more difficult, and might turn educators away from OER. Several in the OER community are finding ways to overcome that possibility including the use of rating systems, folksonomies and specialized search engines.
  • Affordability: sustainable production models for OER. This handbook walks through the development of a single OER, such as a course, lesson, or even an individual resource. For these projects, the time and resource commitment shouldn't be too drastic. However, establishing an OER repository, or undertaking large OER projects can be costly and expensive, both to develop and maintain. For the creators of these large OER repositories, it becomes increasingly important to generate enough income to cover costs. Many of these projects rely on funding from non-profit organizations such as the Hewlett Foundation or higher education institutions. But grant money cannot fund OER projects indefinitely. Eventually other forms of support will need to replace this money. OER projects often cite the open source software development model as their inspiration. In open source software projects, money is raised by soliciting donations, selling manuals, training, software development and providing technical support. While some of these methods can be applied to OER, some can not, and some funding methods remain largely untested. Few of the well-known OER projects exhibit the same vibrant communities of contributors that well-known open source software projects have. This issue is one of the most serious the OER community faces.
  • Global perspective: many OER communities form with the express purpose of being global in scope. But inclusion is more difficult than a statement on an organization's charter. Countries with little technological infrastructure are at risk of being underrepresented in OER community decision making. The allocation of funding is also controversial, with some suggesting wealthier countries receive the bulk of OER funding (Wiley, 2007; Downes, "A Review"). Along with the question of funding distribution is how much "absorptive capacity" a country has. In other words, how much assistance can a country effectively handle? Others are concerned about the effect that OER borrowed from one country might have the on the culture of another country.
  • Accessibility and access: accessibility has been discussed throughout this handbook. As new technologies emerge, accessibility will continue to be both challenged and enhanced. Maintaining accessibility while retaining affordability and simplicity is a concern. Legislation and legal action also shape how accessibility will be handled in the future.
  • Appropriateness / Adaptation: understandings regarding adaptation are constantly changing and evolving.

Though these issues are presented individually, each one affects the other. For example, the factors that determine quality influence how students are assessed. Issues such as affordability can affect every part of the OER life cycle.

The challenges the OER community faces are not an indication that it is on the verge of collapse. Rather, it shows a vibrant, self-conscious community that is in its infancy. Some of these questions are so large and complex it is unlikely that there will be any resolution soon. Nonetheless, in order to ensure the strength and success of the OER community it is important that these questions are carefully - and calmly - considered.


D'Antoni, S. (2006).
Downes S. (2005). “E-learning 2.0.” eLearn Magazine. Association for Computing Machinery. Retrieved June 24, 2008, from
-. (2007). “Open Source Assessment”, Retrieved June 24, 2008, from
-. (2007, March 26). A Review of the Open Educational Resources (OER) Movement: Achievements, Challenges, and New Opportunities. Stephen's Web. Retrieved May 27, 2008 from
Keats D.W., Schmidt J.P. (2007, March). The genesis and emergence of Education 3.0 in higher education and its potential for Africa, First Monday, 12(3). Retrieved May 20, 2008, from
Schmidt, P. "8 The future of open education." Retrieved March 21, 2008, from
Wiley, D. (2007, June 6). For God's Sake, Please Stop the Aid! Iterating Towards Openness. Retrieved May 27, 2008, from