Why OER should be free

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The purpose of this page is to develop an informative essay on why OER should be free so that educators:
  • can take informed decisions when they select licenses for sharing education materials with a clear understanding of the implications of their choices
  • familiarise themselves with the key debates and issues associated with free education materials
  • provide practical guidelines on how educators can help to ensure that OER remains free


  • The idea is to distribute the essay as widely as possible among the mainstream free culture projects, education institutions, policy-makers etc -- free content wants to be free and should be replicated in as many OER repositories as possible.
  • The mainstream OER projects will collaborate on joint press releases for the dissemination of the stable version of the essay.


  • For the purposes of this essay we will use the concept Free and Open Resources for Education (FORE) to distinguish OER which is free from OER which isn't.


  • Identify the key debates and issues typically used in the formal education sector suggesting that OER does not necessarily need to be free.
  • Brainstorm a list of ideas and concepts for the essay
  • Identify research data which support the propositions

Key issues, myths and debates

  • Conflating and/or confusing the concepts of "open" in OER and "free" -- Derek Keats provides a lucid summary when he says; “To be free it must be open, but it can be open without being Free”
  • Education institutions will loose "competitive advantage" in recruiting students if courses and educational resources are distributed as free content
  • The best way to protect education materials from commercial exploitation is to use the non-commercial restriction
  • Those advocating for OER under free cultural works licenses are radical, ideological, and judgemental of educators actions who do not subscribe to free cultural works license. See for example David Wiley's blog post on Openness, Radicalism, and Tolerance.
  • Free content is different from software in meaningful ways, consequently the "essential freedoms" associated with free software should not be translated or imported for defining free content.
  • The foundations informing the evolution of free software are outdated and do not necessarily hold true for today's educational realities in a digital world.

Brainstorm list

  • Is giving enough? As Mark Surman of Mozilla says "Share. Leverage. Share again. Open source is not just about giving (share), it’s also about receiving (leverage)." Good connections with the concept of sustainability here.
  • Learning materials should be free (read “libre”) for all students of the world. Whose freedoms are important for sustainable education futures? Learners, the freedoms of authors / creators, the freedoms of future educators who want to remix FORE, the freedoms of the content?
  • Think about the connections between freedom and human rights in education. That is, the freedom to reuse, revise, remix and redistribute education materials without restriction. This includes the freedom to use free software, and the freedom to earn a living. For example, NC results in difficult ethical dilemma of potentially contravening the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights – most notably the rights to “work”, “free choice of employment”, “free education” and an adequate “standard of living”.
  • Education is fundamentally about sharing knowledge freely. "You make a living by what you get; you make a life by what you give (MacEwan[1]) and very often the way we share is more important than the act of sharing itself. Why would an educator share a digital knowledge resource knowing that the learner may not be able to open or access the materials?

Research data

Ideas for format of presentation and dissemination

  • Remix video with key leaders in the free culture, especially leaders from the formal education sector. May need to record new snippets.

Links and references

  1. Often attributed to Winston Churchill, but not confirmed. Some sites attribute Sir Norman MacEwan"