OER Handbook Intro to Adaptation (straw dog)

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NB The original page has changed. Some of the text here may not be relevant any more.

Introduction to Adaptation

Providing quality education effectively in the classrooms of today is challenging on account of the diversity of learners, changes in educational systems and approaches, new pedagogical thinking, changes in attitudes towards learning, an unprecedented rise in the demand for education, and the changing needs in the workplace.

The OER movement is opening up opportunities to empower and enable society to rise to the challenges and cooperate on building the required platforms and educational resources.

Adaptability is a critical success factor.

"Design for re-use" is an ideal for OER intended for wide distribution. In practice, most educators compose educational resources for their own learners in their own local context. This is pragmatic: doing what is needed to meet the immediate needs as well as possible under constraints of time and other resources.

Sharing the resources on the Internet for widespread use is easy. Using the resources in a different context will inevitably require adaptation.

Contexts may vary from slightly to considerably.

Here are two scenarios:

  • Repeating the same module on HIV/Aids education in the same, well resourced urban school, with the same teacher in the next year with a new intake of 20 learners from the same community.
  • A class in a poorly resourced rural school on another continent, with an inexperienced teacher with 50 learners of various ages from a different socio-economic and cultural background.

Even the first will require adaptation. Times change, communities change and the dynamics of that particular group of learners and the interaction with the educator is not easily predicted. The diversity of learners is extended when we add on-line, open participation.

In the second, the need for adaptation is more obvious and the amount of effort may approach that required to design and build the learning resources from scratch.

In general, an OER might need to be adapted to:

  1. simply improve it (corrections to spelling, grammar, re-ordering activities, etc.)
  2. accommodate a particular teaching or learning style
  3. pitch the material to a different grade level
  4. rework for a different discipline
  5. adjust for a different learning environment
  6. address diversity needs
  7. address a cultural preferences and respect cultural norms
  8. support a specific pedagogical need
  9. to align with a school or a district’s standardized curriculum

Although there will be no leaning design section as such, some of the following may be useful

In this section we touch on general learning design issues which apply to the first scenario with the educator involved in or close to the original design, while the rest of the chapter focusses on localisation of resources developed elsewhere.

Learning Design

perhaps this should be in the Compose chapter ...

OER are not restricted to any particular approach to teaching or learning. Although some may describe an approach, educators may develop or adapt OER to suit the context.

OER may be described in terms of granularity and context-dependence.

For example, an aerial image of a landscape showing mountains in the background with snow/rain, and a river flowing down through forests on the slopes and shrublands to the sea may be used for a variety of purposes in a variety of situations (highly granular and context independent). The image could be adapted to illustrate the water cycle in a geography module, habitat diversity for aspiring ecologists, geological processes, and even cultural differences of the people living in the different areas.

On the other hand, an x-ray showing a stress fracture of the 3rd metatarsal bone would have limited generality beyond fields of medicine.

Composite OER tend to be highly contextualised collections of resources pieced together into a coherent set of sequenced activities and resources for specific learning objectives.

... See Developing a teaching resource for some ideas on where to go with this ... (be selective and concise)


An important form of OER adaptation is translation into different langauges. Translation is the simplest form of localisation which typically also requires recontextualisation of the resources for the target culture.


  • A teacher translates a web page about Queen Elizabeth from English to French.
  • A teacher replaces pictures depicting Russian children working on a water project with images that are more familiar to her students in Ghana.

... etc. ...