2nd World OER Congress
2nd World OER Congress Logo


Mainstreaming OER practices

Key Issues

The mainstreaming of OER by educational stakeholders worldwide entails key factors related to the recognition of the benefits of OER, the mobilization of educational stakeholders as well as issues related to financing and clarity on the issue of ‘open’ as it refers to OER.


OER offers the potential to provide more equal access to knowledge and educational opportunities by making quality and affordable educational resources widely available at a time when education systems worldwide are facing growing challenges. Rapid growth in education enrollment, limited or no growth in financial resources available for education, and the ongoing rollout of enabling ICT infrastructure have made it increasingly important for educational systems to support – in a planned and deliberate manner – the development and improvement of quality teaching and learning materials, curricula, programmes and course design, the planning of effective contact with students, the design of effective assessment, and meeting the needs of a greater diversity of learners. These activities aim to  improve the teaching and learning environment while managing cost through increased use of resource-based learning. OER helps to manage this investment and the resulting copyright issues in a way that supports ongoing, cost effective improvements in the teaching and learning process.

Role of Educational Stakeholders

Governments have an interest in ensuring that public investments in education make a meaningful, cost-effective contribution to socio-economic development. The Paris OER Declaration calls for Governments to openly licensed resources funded by public funding. Sharing educational materials produced using public funding has significant potential to improve the quality and accessibility of educational delivery across national education systems by making OER more readily available for use by all education providers, not just the recipients of public funds (UNESCO and Commonwelath of Learning, 2011). As governments often play a key role in policy development and funding of educational institutions and as policies on education funding also indicate key priorities, they are ideally positioned to encourage or mandate institutions to release materials as OER and to license materials developed with public funding under an open license. Government can also use open licensing regimes to increase the leverage of public investments, by facilitating widespread re-use of those investments with minimal additional spending.

Governments, institutions, educators, and students need to make continuous investments in developing educational resources to improve the quality of teaching and learning. The most cost effective way to invest in materials design and development is to incorporate effective adaptation and use of OER, because this eliminates unnecessary duplication of effort by building on what already exists elsewhere, takes advantage of pooled alternative resources to meet accessibility obligations, removes costs of copyright negotiation and clearance, and can engage open communities of practice in ongoing quality improvement, quality assurance, and translation.

Financing: How ‘free’ are OER?

One of the key benefits of open content is that it is ‘free’ for the end user (i.e. it does not cost anything to download, leaving aside costs of bandwidth). However, OER does incur costs related to developing, adapting and/or remixing material. Historically, much of this has been supported by funding from donors. Whilst donor funding has been an essential component of initiating OER practices, in order for them to become sustainable and effectively used, governments and educational institutions need to invest systematically in programme, course, and materials development and acquisition. Costs include wages for the time of people in developing curricula and materials, adapting existing OER, dealing with copyright licensing (where materials are not openly licensed), and so on. They also include associated expenses such as ICT infrastructure (for authoring and content-sharing purposes), bandwidth, costs of running workshops and meetings when content development teams meet, and so on.

‘Open’ in OER

‘Open’ is a term which is loosely applied, and, having gained currency is now being appropriated in many different sectors, such as open government, open architecture, open society, open access to education materials, and open source software (Weller, 2011). In many cases, current discussions on educational reform, particularly in higher education, have moved from OER to MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). Both are related to general policies of open education and reform, but there are differences. In particular, most MOOCs allow users only fair-use rights or rights stated in specific licenses. Most cannot be legally copied, and users cannot update them or use them to create their own courses. They are therefore not OER.

OER, as stated above, must be available on an open license which allows users to legally use/reuse and modify them.

Challenges to mainstreaming OER practices

It has been observed that awareness of OER has spread faster than its implementation. There remain obstacles that hinder the mainstreaming of OER by the global educational community. The Paris OER Declaration 2012 highlighted these obstacles and had flagged them for  international cooperation. While advances have been made in each area, increased efforts by  the international community are still necessary. These obstacles are: 1) the capacity of users to access, re-use and share OER; 2) issues related to language and culture; 3) ensuring inclusive and equitable access to quality OER; 4) changing business models; 5) the development of supportive policy environments.

Capacity of users to access, re-use and share OER

Capacity building for all education stakeholders

Harnessing OER requires leaders who are flexible, open to new ideas, and willing to make decisions. Thus there is a need to build capacity in leaders to ensure that leveraging OER is both a top-down and bottom-up process. This includes capacity building of educational stakeholders (policy makers, educators, students) to support capacity building to share materials created under an open license and the need to facilitate finding, retrieving and sharing of OER through the development of user-friendly tools to locate and retrieve OER that are specific and relevant to particular needs.

Skills development for OER use, re-use and sharing

In addition, building capacity requires relevant ongoing professional development activities to be made available to educators to enable them to acquire the skills and competencies necessary to use OER. There is also a need for necessary digital and media literacy skills to find, share, create, and re-mix OER effectively. As available OER may not always match methods or subject matter as taught locally, there is a need to train staff to source and adapt OER. Further skills required are the ability to ‘see value’ in someone else’s work that could be used in a new context, technical skills to effect changes to the OER, translation skills, and the ability to distribute and share the new version of the OER to students and the open community.

There is also a need for capacity to focus on intellectual property rights issues, and developing a good understanding of open licenses, its implications, and understanding how these work in practice. Mechanisms to recognize the time, effort and skills required to develop and adapt OER by educational staff needs to be developed.

Simplifying and popularizing OER storage and retrieval systems (UNESCO, 2016) to have the necessary tools and information to develop OER is needed. Currently there are no standards for accessibility when accessing, using and re-using OER. Furthermore, the available tools to share resources are limited and there are a few options available, with current platforms often being difficult to use.

Language and Culture

This issue is related to the need to promote multilingual in cyberspace. The Internet which is the main medium through which OER are shared, provides opportunities to improve the free flow of ideas by word and image, it also presents challenges to ensuring the participation of all as the majority of the content is in English. Producing OER in local languages allows for increased diversity, quality, and relevance of the content.

Furthermore, there is a need to address cultural issues around attitudes to sharing. It is important to provide incentives to encourage or, where appropriate, require the use of OER in education institutions. As part of capacity building efforts, there is value in creating and sustaining effective communities of practice to foster sharing of information and collaboration. Such collaboration has additional potential side benefits of improving quality (through reviewing and vetting others’ materials), increasing access and reducing costs through sharing.

Ensuring inclusive and equitable access to quality OER

This point relates to 2 concepts: accessibility of OER for persons with disabilities; supporting the use of OER in all ICT environments.

Accessibility for Persons with Disabilities

While OER includes an open licenses, it is not inherently technically accessible, and there is a need to ensure that accessibility issues are mainstreamed into all use of OER whether it be creating, sharing and / or re-mixing.  Approximately 15% of the population, representing some 1 billion people in the world, have a disability2. This figure is accelerating in line with the population increases, growing poverty, natural disasters, ongoing conflicts and an ageing populations. With such a large number of people living with a disability, it is vital that access to educational opportunities is made widely available.


Despite the great potential of OER, there are challenges in accessing OER, particularly in developing countries related to access to the Internet. Being able to access OER requires adequate ICT infrastructure. A robust and fast connection to the Internet, which is still lacking in many institutions, is also very useful. Furthermore, the high cost of bandwidth, coupled with students’ poor socio-economic situations in some contexts, means that many students are unable to access ICT the Internet and OER. In addition with the increased use of mobile technologies and networks to access the Internet in all parts of the world, particularly in developing countries, it is important that OER is mobile friendly both to share, create, and/ or re-mix, and easily downloadable so that it can be shared on networks ‘off line’ if necessary.

Quality Concerns

A common debate in OER focuses on concerns about the quality of OER. Proponents of OER point out that the transparency provided by OER (where resources produced by staff are shared openly) usually places social pressure on institutions and teaching staff to increase quality. Some institution-based providers use the brand or reputation of an institution to persuade the user that available materials on a website are high quality. If they are not, then the prestige of the institution is at risk. Another approach is to use peer review, one of the most commonly used quality assurance processes in academia. As more institutions around the world are, at different levels, requiring their educators to share more materials under open licenses, experiences clearly demonstrate that this opening of intellectual property to peer scrutiny is having the effect of improving quality of teaching and learning materials. This happens both because educators tend to invest time in improving their materials before sharing them openly and because the feedback they receive from peer and student scrutiny helps them to make further improvements. In the development of materials for K-12 education, and for teacher training , ensuring that mechanisms for the quality assurance mechanisms of content for non-OER materials is applied where possible has proven useful and should be further explored.

Changing business models

Globally, the traditional publishing business model has come under growing pressure as a consequence of technological development and the digitization of content. The changes experienced by the publishing industry are affecting its market paradigms and business models. Basic principles, such as economies of scale, which used to be a mantra for this sector, have become less significant. Digital books are usually sold at a lower price compared to physical books, and, as free public domain books increasingly becoming available, this availability may further threaten the traditional business model of the publishing industry.

The increasing demand for access to quality education, combined with rising education
enrolments, calls for more educational resources, particularly affordable textbooks.  However, textbook prices are soaring along with the rising cost of education resulting in the overall price of education to increase significantly. As textbook costs rise, there is a simultaneous move toward digital textbooks, due to the increasing availability of ICT. The potential of affordable electronic textbooks, combined with the potential of OER, is regarded as an option to mitigate the rising cost of textbooks, with several organizations and institutions making electronic textbooks available for free.

Such developments are forcing publishing industry actors to reassess their business models and redefine their products and services, in order to align them with changing conditions, needs, and requirements. A growing number of governments and institutions – from national to regional to local levels – require that all educational resources funded by taxpayers or public resources must be licensed as OER. At the same time, educational and academic publishers in these countries are undergoing a period of evolution and reflection regarding the future dynamic between traditional copyrighted publishers and publicly funded OER.

There is a need to identify innovative solutions to develop new business models, so that the interests of the OER community and educational publishers are addressed. Several  possibilities include: publishers providing customized education services, publishers concentrating on new subjects where OER do not yet exist; providing joint products (for example producing conventional textbooks while releasing other products such as educational games with an open license), publishers assembling OER, and developing hybrid models which allows for both OER and traditional copyrighted publications to co-exist, each meeting different audience needs (UNESCO, 2016).

Development of supportive policy environments

The Paris OER Declaration 2012 states that publicly funded educational resources should be
made available under an open license to the public. This creates a need to foster the creation, adoption, and implementation of policies supportive of effective OER practices. Governmental and institutional policy makers play a crucial role in setting policies that help to shape the direction of education systems, and these policies can accelerate or impede the adoption and creation of OER. Several countries have already adopted OER policies3, and the presence of country policies that are supportive of OER can be used as a gauge to determine levels of commitment to OER. The lack of such frameworks can limit and delay the process of adoption or may even discourage institutions from pursuing OER undertakings. Furthermore, commercial interests, lack of awareness, and absence of strong leadership may limit the development and implementation of supportive OER policies. Once governments and institutions have decided to adopt an open license policy (requiring the outputs of grants or contracts be openly licensed), it is also important to provide implementation guides and professional development for how to implement the open policy.