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Background and action paper on OER

A background and action paper for staff of bilateral and multilateral organizations at the strategic institutional education sector level

By: Paul G. West and Lorraine Victor


Report prepared for The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

Executive Overview

Intended Audience

Many reports have been written about OER by a number of authors and organizations. It is therefore not the intention of this report to re-research what has been done before, but to rather provide a condensed summary, background and action paper for use by institutions and agencies that are considering expanding their work in Open Educational Resources. This report should be provided to participants ahead of the meeting or workshop, to give sufficient time for pre-reading and additional personal research.

The intended audiences of this paper are those people who are associated with or work for international agencies, bi- and multilateral agencies, and agencies that fund educational programs.
If you are looking for a quick overview of OER, we recommend you read pages 9 to 11. If you then want more information than this, continue with pages 12 to 40. If you find you still have more questions after this, you may find them in the Appendix that start from page 41. There are a number of online discussions on the topic that may also help you to gain more traction with OER.

Purpose of the paper

The report is structured to provide a great deal of information in a compact manner. Links are provided throughout the report in two ways for the reader who wants more information for further research and investigation. For the on- screen reader, there are hyperlinks. Each hyperlink is also included in the footnotes so that the reader who prefers printed matter will be able to read the links and type them into an Internet browser. As far as possible, hyperlinks have been provided in the table of contents to the relevant text in the report, so that the reader may quickly move from the table of contents to sections of the text.

The original version of the report will remain available as a PDF so that anyone may compare emerging versions with the one that is published through this project. Project description:

The source document is at:
A version of this report will be uploaded to a public wiki so that others may, in time, add to it. Comments and suggestions for improvements to this report can be sent to: oerreportcomment@pgw.org

Table of Contents


Executive Overview

Intended Audience (see above)

Purpose of the paper (see above)

Executive Summary

Summary of recommendations

  • Governments
  • Institutions
  • Educators
  • Information Specialists
  • Learners

What is OER?

Why do OER Matter?

  • Cost Savings
  • Continuous Improvement
  • Learning Efficiencies and Effectiveness
  • Accessibility
  • Changing teaching and learning practices

How is OER being shared today and by whom?

  • K-12 sector – U.S. and International
  • Teacher Education in Sub Saharan Africa, Open Educational Resources for Teacher Education in Africa
  • MISTM Math Portal
  • Higher Education – U.S. and International
  • The Virtual University for the Small States of the Commonwealth, Commonwealth of Learning (COL)
  • African Virtual University
  • OER UCT, University of Cape Town (UCT)
  • OER Foundation, New Zealand
  • WikiEducator, New Zealand
  • Open Learning Initiative, Carnegie Mellon University
  • OpenCourseWare Consortium
  • OpenCourseWare, University of California, Irvine (member of OCW Consortium)
  • Connexions Project
  • Khan Academy
  • CORE
  • Utah State University
  • eduCommons software
  • TEMOA OER Portal, Tecnológico de Monterrey
  • OpenLearn, Open University UK
  • OTTER, University of Leicester
  • JorumOpen
  • The Community College Open Textbooks Collaborative
  • Turkey: Turkish OCW Consortium

Funding Organizations

  • The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
  • The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
  • CK-12 Foundation
  • Open Society Foundations
  • Lumina
  • JISC
  • Saylor Foundation

What’s Needed to Advance OER

  • Repositories and Platforms
  • International and Funding Agencies 

Government Initiatives

  • The United States of America
  • Netherlands: The Wikiwijs Project 
  • United Kingdom: The JISC Project
  • Canada: The BCcampus Free Learning Project

Removing barriers to OER adoption - Legal and practical implications of OER

  • Open source standards
  • The “not invented here” syndrome
  • Adoption by ministries of education
  • Copyright, repositories, ‘online courseware factories’
  • Curriculum Outlines

Current Challenges

  • Search and Discovery of OER
  • Interoperability
  • Quality Supply
  • Language Considerations
  • Sustainability – Emerging Business Models
  • Publishers
  • Institutions

Who could benefit from OER?

  • Learners
  • Information Specialists
  • Educators
  • Institutions
  • Publishers
  • Ministries of education
  • Inter-governmental, international agencies and funding agencies (multilateral agencies)
  • Development Agencies and project management companies (‘technical agencies’)


  • Orientation of staff in multilateral and other organizations (2-year horizon)
  • Setting the International scene (5 to 10-year horizons)


This section is still to be added. 

  • History of OER
  • Definitions of OER
    • UNESCO, 2002
    • The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
    • The Open University’s OpenLearn Initiative
    • Background and action paper on OER (CC-BY) 1st Edition: May 2011 4 of 78
    • Wikipedia
    • The Open eLearning Content Observatory Services project (OLCOS)
    • OER Africa
    • Open Courseware Consortium
    • MIT OpenCourseWare
    • OER Commons

Discussion on Definitions

  • The OER Infrastructure
  • Traditional institutions that have joined the OER movement
  • The rise of the alternative institutions
  • The success of Distance Education and the failure of Online Learning (eLearning)


  • Learning Management Systems (LMS)
  • Wikis
  • OER Glue
  • Virtual Science Laboratories

Learning content repositories

  • The Internet-in-a-box concept


  • Mixing content with difference CC licenses and referencing copyright licenses

How to find OER

  • Commonwealth of Learning (COL)
  • Curriki
  • OER Africa
  • OER Commons
  • WikiEducator’s Exemplary Collection of Open eLearning Content Repositories
  • DiscoverEd
  • The OLE Library Network
  • Free Text Book Projects

Organizations that have lead the progress of OER

  • Global Network for Higher Learning
  • Kinds of OER
  • Technical Platforms for OER
  • Bandwidth to support OER
  • Equipment to support OER



This report was compiled by Paul West and Lorraine Victor for the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

Copyright notice

This report is copyrighted as follows:

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