Posted by: MandyS | March 31, 2014

OER: sustainable reality or totally ‘eclipsed by the MOOC’? Three key issues

Education today is arguably a necessary but costly resource. Unsurprisingly, the current focus is therefore on ‘building open and sustainable communities to share practice and resources’ (McGill et al., 2013). Both the JISC HEFCE-OER-Review-Final-Report and the OER Research Hub laudably extol the virtues of OER but are equally pragmatic about the challenges widespread adoption faces.

In assessing the priorities for research in openness, I identified motivation, sustainability and cost as being key. Having now read the report and considered the OER Research Hub hypotheses, I still see these as three key issues.

1. Motivation: although ‘staff enthusiasm’ is a significant driver for OER, a market is just as fundamental to its sustainability. A business phenomenon maybe, but educational institutions are firmly entrenched in the commercial sphere and need to be alive to the fact that learners are equally as significant. Whilst the report identifies that financial pressures on learners makes ‘informal and work based learning much more attractive and evidences ‘increased student engagement and confidence in using open resources’, it is significant that ‘the majority of students had not heard of the term OER’ and there is no direct evidence of  ‘improved performance and satisfaction’, as envisaged by the OER Research Hub. The challenge is convincing learners of the perceived benefits to motivate their engagement.

2. Sustainability: what is the reality for OER when the funding runs out? provided motivation is maintained then, arguably, OER can be sustained. The report suggests that mainstreaming OER is the way forward but there is a danger that progression will slow because of the need to comply with institutional policy and practice. Arguably, what is envisaged is a cultural change in both teachers and learners so that ‘sharing’ becomes the norm and ‘open thinking’ is embedded into the ‘curriculum design process’ rather than open resources themselves.

3. Cost: OER, as freely shared and reused learning material, has no cost implication for educational institutions. In fact, it is a cost efficient ‘marketing tool’; widening participation and improving the ‘equitable access’ envisaged by the OER Research Hub, will likely enhance institutional reputation and ultimately the learner base. But at what cost to the academic and teaching staff? reduced numbers, creator to curator, diminished reputations? Clearly these are factors likely to impact on motivation to adopt open practices but in reality, many are already engaged in the widespread sharing of materials via social media e.g. blogs, Twitter.

Ideally, the way forward is ‘integrating OER into established blended learning’; a type of hybrid course, half ‘open’, half traditional, which allows teachers and learners to co-construct resources appropriate to their needs and context, which also fits with the OER Research hub hypothesis of ‘different usage and adoption patterns’.

But beware the MOOC! Although a medium for raising interest in open resources amongst learners, there is a risk that, whilst academics and institutions are at variance as to the benefits of OER and how it might be effectively and efficiently introduced, learners will take the impetus and turn to MOOC’s as a means of supporting their ‘informal and work based learning’.


McGill, L., Falconer, I., Dempster, J.A., Littlejohn, A. and Beetham, H. (2013) Journeys to Open Educational Practice: UKOER/SCORE Review Final Report, London, JISC. Also available online at







  1. I completely agree with you about ‘blended learning’ being the most effective way forward. You have also prompted me to think about how well OER can be reworked without loosing vital ‘core content’.

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