Open Educational Resources

10 What are Open Educational Resources?

Open Educational Resources (OER) are defined by the Commonwealth of Learning (2011; 2015) as

“…teaching, learning and research materials in any medium that reside in the public domain and have been released under an open licence that permits access, use, repurposing, reuse and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions.”

The Commonwealth of Learning (2011; 2015) continues its definition by adding the following:

“The use of open technical standards improves access and reuse potential. OERs can include full courses or programmes, course materials, modules, student guides, teaching notes, textbooks, research articles, videos, assessment tools and instruments, interactive materials such as simulations and role plays, databases, software, apps (including mobile apps) and any other educationally useful materials. The term ‘OER’ is not synonymous with online learning, eLearning or mobile learning. Many OER — while shareable in a digital format — are also printable. (…) Open Educational Resources (OER) provide a strategic opportunity to improve the quality of education as well as facilitate policy dialogue, knowledge sharing and capacity building.


Using OER means wanting to provide free and open access to high-quality educational resources on a global scale. OER can be, as described in the above definition, any educational materials (lectures, textbooks, streaming videos,…) aimed at all educational levels (primary to third level, lifelong learning). These resources are freely available via open digital repositories and are produced by educators and organisations. OER are intended for students and teachers/trainers alike, to be used in their teaching & learning activities. OER furthermore exist within the wider ‘Openness’ movement, based on the idea that knowledge should be disseminated and shared freely through the Internet for the benefit of society as a whole (Commonwealth of Learning, 2011; 2015). This means that OER should be available for free and that there should be as few restrictions as possible on the use of the resource, whether technical, legal or financial.

The growth of ICT possibilities and available technology in education created unique challenges in a period of financial restriction. The Commonwealth of Learning (2011; 2015) stipulates that therefore it is important for educational institutions to support, in a planned and systemic matter, the following set of elements:


  • Development and improvement of curricula and learning materials;
  • Ongoing programme and course design;
  • Organisation of interactive contact sessions with and among students;
  • Development of the quality of teaching and learning materials;
  • Design of effective assessment tools for diverse environments;
  • Links with the professional field.


The use of OER can contribute to the processes mentioned above. However, the Commonwealth of Learning (2011; 2015) states that the transformative educational potential of OER depends on:

  • Improving the quality of learning materials through peer review processes;
  • Reaping the benefits of contextualisation, personalisation and localisation;
  • Emphasising openness and quality improvement;
  • Building capacity for the creation and use of OER as part of the professional development of academic staff;
  • Serving the needs of particular student populations such as those with special needs;
  • Optimising the deployment of institutional staff and budgets;
  • Serving students in local languages;
  • Involving students in the selection and adaptation of OER in order to engage them more actively in the learning process; and
  • Using locally developed materials with due acknowledgement.


It is clear to say that in order to comply with the above-mentioned elements that describe the potential of OER, a co-creative approach is needed. Developing resources should be done in close collaboration with the professional field, where many stakeholders can review and improve its quality. Involving students in this process creates opportunities to make these resources more personal and closely linked to the context of the institution and its programmes. Involving students in this co-creative approach will, according to The Commonwealth of Learning (2011; 2015), also engage them more actively in the learning process.


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