OER and Sustainability Models

Unit 1. Understanding the ‘open education approach’ and OER’s characteristics

1.2. Concepts and Characteristics of OER

In this chapter you will find the presentation of the concepts related with OER, work with some OER material and an Assignment on OER.

We will present some basic concepts related to the notion of “openness” namely open access, open source, open content, open practices and open courses.

Open Access - the opening sentence of the Budapest Open Access Initiative encapsulates what the open access movement and is a public statement of principles related to open access.

By 'open access' to this literature we mean its free availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself…“ (http://www.budapestopenaccessinitiative.org)

Open Source - referring to the use of free software, which movement was based on higher education. For example, Moodle (https://moodle.org) is an o pen source eLearning platform, a software package designed to help educators easily create quality online courses.

Open Practices - characterized by the combination of features with use of open architectures of open learning, with the aim of transforming the twenty-first century learning environments, in which educational institutions, adult learners and citizens have the opportunity to build their learning pathways throughout life, in an autonomous and self-directed way.

Open Courses, courses that are offered online, with various payment models or completely free.

There are several definitions of OER. We selected some of the most relevant for the understanding of this field.

UNESCO (2002) in Forum on Open Courseware

teaching, learning and research materials in any medium, digital or otherwise, that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions. Open licensing is built within the existing framework of intellectual property rights as defined by relevant international conventions and respects the authorship of the work.

William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public  domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others. Open educational resources include full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials, or techniques used to support access to knowledge.

Commonwealth of Learning (http://www.col.org)

materials offered freely and openly to use and adapt for teaching, learning, development and research.

WikiEducator ( www.wikieducator.org)

educational resources (lesson plans, quizzes, syllabi, instructional modules, simulations, etc.) that are freely available for use, reuse, adaptation, and sharing.

The core characteristics of OER are the following (Schaffert & Geser, 2008; OLCOS Roadmap, 2012):

Open Access

Content is provided free of charge for educational institutions, content services and users such as teachers, students and lifelong learners.

Open Format

Content is produced in open format with functionalities that allows for easy re-use.

Open  License

Liberal licenses to enable re-use combine and re-purposing of content.

Open Software

Produced with open- source software.

In Table 1 we present some examples of OER based on Content, Tools and Resources.

Based on



Complete Courses, Course Materials, Content Topics, Study guides, Journals, Syllabus, Books, Videos, Images,  Assessment Tools, Quizzes, Games, Simulations, etc.


Software and Services for creation, delivery, use of open learning content, search and organize content; Content Management and Learning Systems (CMS, LMS), content development tools and online learning communities.


Licences, Creative Common Licences

Table 1: examples of OERs

Another aspect to consider is the advantages and disadvantages in the adoption and use of OER, depending on the point of view. These are summarized in Table 2, along with arguments from both points of view.

Advantages to OER

Disadvantages to OER

Freedom of access, both for yourself and others

Varying degrees of time commitment

Freedom from proprietary systems and corporations

Teachers sometimes not rewarded by the system for their efforts

Encourages pedagogical innovation

Starting large projects can be difficult

Lowers costs to students

Some projects require startup resources

Potential publicity

Quality varies

Contribution to a community

May not meet accessibility requirements for persons with disabilities

Method of collaboration

Need to check accuracy before use

Helpful to future educators

May need a high degree of customisation (called localisation in the OER community)

Potentially beneficial to developing nations

Technical requirements vary and some require you to use a particular software

Avoids ‘vendor lock-in’ or a situation in which you have to use one company's products

Requires varying degrees of continual financial support


Some institutions may be concerned about ‘giving it away’

Table 2: WikiEducator’s OER Handbook for Educators


We can measure the openness of a content in terms of the rights a user of the content is granted (Wiley, 2007). The 4Rs Framework  is a great tool  and describes the four most important rights when we work with the concept of OER:


  • Reuse - the right to use the application without changing the original form (display an exact copy);
  • Review - the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or change the resource (translation, localization);
  • Remix - the right to match the original or adapted resource with other resources to create something new (mashup);
  • Redistribute - the right to share copies of the appeal, adaptations or remixes.


Another important issue related with “openness” is the differences between Big OER and Little OER.

What is a Big OER?

 "Big OER" are institutional projects, consortia and organizations that have the goal to have the learning content available.  Many of the big OERs have explicit learning aims  or an intended level They are institutionally generated and  have some  characteristics:

  • Usually high quality (quality control)
  • Explanation of planned learning (teaching aims, uniform style)
  • Reputation
  • Relatively high cost

An example of a Big OER is OpenLearn (http://www.open.edu/openlearn/ ). OpenLearn provides free educational resources (Interactives, games, video, podcasts or entire online courses).

What is a Little OER?

OER" are produced by individuals and are low cost resources. They can be produced by anyone; they may not have teaching aims and are usually low quality. They are distributed through online free services, such as blogs, Slideshare, YouTube, Scribd, and so on.

  • Produced individually, not necessarily by educators
  • May not have explicit educational goals
  • Low cost
  • More adaptable
  • Variable quality

An example of a Little OER could be a blog or a presentation for a session or a recorded lecture.