Four observations on how OER initiatives are modelled

Posted by on Apr 5, 2013 in Higher Education, Professional Learning, Sustainable Learning | 2 comments

Isobel FalconerLou McGillEleni Boursinou and I  have been commissioned by the EC to carry out a SWOT analysis of Open Educational Resource initiatives for adult learning. In 2012 we carried out a scoping of adult learning initiatives using OER. We identified over 150 different initiatives distributed across Europe.

In March we invited the leaders of the initiatives to fill in a structured questionnaire. We’re in the early stages of data analysis and plan follow up interviews. Here are four observations:

European OER initiatives are based (largely) on the traditional view of instructor using OER as content for teaching

  • Most leaders of initiatives view that their content is used by teachers (school teachers, HE teachers, adult educators).
  • There is some emphasis on students or lifelong learners using content (prioritisation given to ‘prospective students’ – emphasises marketisation motivation).
  • Though –responses suggested that future emphasis should be on communities.
  • The view was that OER users were mainly ‘teachers’ – with some divided views focusing on ‘students’ or ‘projects’ as key users.

2 Most European OER initiatives rely on government or institutional funding

  • Most OER initiatives are funded by governments or institutions (universities, colleges).
  • OER leaders view ‘lack of future funding’ as having the greatest potential impact.
  • Although sustainability was marked as a significant barrier (ie potentially likely to impact negatively on the initiative) there were few examples of sustainability models that move away from core funding from government/ institution – eg examples of OER self-funded, self-generated communities or networks.
  • Where we found examples of raising funding models, these tended to be through membership fees, fees paid by contributors for a hosting service, donations, or through bespoke funding models.
  • Perhaps it is not surprising that funding, staff, policy processes were marked as significant enablers.

 3. OER is often viewed as content curated by ‘experts’

  • The main focus of many initiatives is publishing content (45.7%).
  • Initiatives prioritise the creation/management of content with some focus on discoverability and accessibility.
  • Much of the initial setup effort was setting up the infrastructure and processes.
  • Respondents found it difficult to isolate key factors that make OER useful. However the key focus areas included metadata (80%), discoverability (88.7%), good search engine (88.7%). Medium focus areas included support for the user from teachers/ community.
  • Future directions planned by initiatives focus around creating more OER, either through projects being funded to create content or through nurturing various types of communities to create and release OER.
  • Currently there is little focus on ‘soft’ areas such as skills development. Yet there is recognition that research evidence, communities, ‘ecosystem’ are important.

Significant groups of people are not being considered as key users of OER

  • People outside formal structures (eg lifelong learners) were not considered key users of OER, yet learning is critical for this group of people.
  • Another key gap we identified are manual workers. These could be deemed a critical group of workers who could benefit from upskilling, yet only one initiative are considering this group.

These initial findings raise the question – how can we ensure OER initiatives are sustainable and are not locked into models of operation that exclude potential groups of learners or emerging forms of learning?

Our data analysis is ongoing so check as the story unfolds.


  1. Hi, this is a very interesting summary, and comes at a time when I am starting to explore how OERs can be used to support the activities of public health professionals here and abroad. My pressumption is that many people are not even aware of these resources or how to access them. Then I suspect the usual apparent technology barriers might mean some give up too easily. I wonder how easy it would be to develop a platform that automatically data searched and identified OERs across all the various sources that would be of particular interest to a profession or topic. This might already be possible and I could just be showing my own lack of understanding here (I’m a relative newby to much of this). But a an initial idea, is for example, if you had a say an internet site for a specific profession (such as an existing one run by an organisation) then could an area be dedicated that included a list of the relevant OERs to that professional group?

    just some random mussings



  2. Hi Allison,

    Nice overview, thank you. We (Wikiwijs) are already using many of the approaches you describe, but we can still learn from some of the other approaches. If you need (more in-depth) information on Wikiwijs, feel free to contact me.

    By the way, the link is broken :-S

    Best regards,

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