Open educational resources hewlett foundation

Open Educational Resources

A distance learner attending a tutoring session in Mozambique. The Open Educational Resources portfolio makes grants to make high-quality educational materials available for free, anywhere in the world. Photo: Rosario Passos

Open Educational Resources (OER) are high-quality, openly licensed, online educational materials that offer an extraordinary opportunity for people everywhere to share, use, and reuse knowledge. They also demonstrate great potential as a mechanism for instructional innovation as networks of teachers and learners share best practices.

OER are 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.

Since 2002, the Hewlett Foundation has worked with OER grantees to improve education globally by making high-quality academic materials openly available on the Internet. The Education Program continues to work toward establishing a self-sustaining and adaptive global OER ecosystem and demonstrating its potential to improve teaching and learning.

The Education Program invests in organizations that:

  • Develop OER for K-12 and community colleges, expand OER networks, and develop guidelines and tools for the field
  • Promote policies or strategies creating funds and incentives, or provide communications and technical assistance to policymakers, that will advance greater access to learning through OER
  • Research and evaluate the impact of OER on teaching and learning
  • Develop innovative OER models

The Program’s OER investments will focus primarily on supporting:

  • The infrastructure needed to sustain a well-functioning open educational ecosystem
  • Demonstration projects that strengthen student access to deeper learning in K-12 and community colleges

For more information about the Education Program’s support of OER, please read the Program’s strategic plan .

The Education Program does not accept Letters of Inquiry for its Open Educational Resources grantmaking.

Open educational resources sparc

How Do Open Educational Resources Work?

The OER movement is comprised of four main categories:

OpenCouseWare (OCW):  OpenCourseWare is the digital publication of high quality educational materials that are freely and openly licensed, and are available online to anyone, anytime.  They frequently include course planning and evaluation tools along with thematic content. OpenCourseWare initiatives range in scope from mirroring traditional classroom sized endeavors, to the emerging MOOC (massive open online courses) model, which enables large-scale participation by anyone with Internet access.

OER Publishers:   The rapid rise in the cost of textbooks, combined with the high demand for affordable alternatives, has led to the emergence of new open publishing efforts for textbooks and other OERs.  This category also includes initiatives geared toward developing specific collections of OER, such as Khan Academy and the Saylor Foundation.

OER Repositories:   Digital repositories have evolved into a convenient place to find, share and remix OER from a variety of sources.  They range in scope from portals and gateways that provide access to information on OER and aggregated content resources to institutional repositories with source content and tools to develop OER.

Publicly-Funded Initiatives: Increasingly, policymakers on the local, state and national levels are developing policies that encourage the creation and adoption of OERs. Approaches vary from directly funding the creation of OERs to conditioning federal or state research dollars to require that any Education Resources produced as a result of that funding be made openly accessible.

How Do We Enable Open Educational Resources?

There are three main strategies that can be used to promote Open Educational Resources:

Supporting OER adoption. OERs are available in a wide variety of subjects and course levels, yet many educators are not aware of these resources or do not know where to find them.  Students, professors, librarians, and administrators can help spread the word to other educators and advocate adoption of OER whenever appropriate.

Supporting OER development. Frameworks for creating, vetting and evaluating the efficacy of OER are evolving.  Institutions, foundations and governments can support this process by offering funding and resources that can pay authors, reviewers and researchers.  Educators, authors and other experts can consider writing or reviewing OER materials, either through an existing initiative or starting one of their own.

Advocating effective policies.  At the state and national level, policy makers should ensure that all educational resources created with public funds are openly licensed as OER, and that they are released in technical formats that enable use, editing, and compatibility with multiple technical platforms. At the local level, policymakers should incorporate OER into professional development programs, reward OER creation and adoption, and remove policy barriers and provisions in vendor contracts that interfere with OER use.

SPARC has endorsed the Cape Town Open Education Declaration. which provides a strategic framework for supporting policies and practices that promote the creation and adoption of OERs.

Why Should You Care About Open Educational Resources?

During the past several years, Open Educational Resources have begun to be developed across a wide range of subjects, in an increasingly diverse set of educational settings. Researchers, scholars, students, educators and librarians are being called upon to participate in an environment that is evolving quickly, and that poses new challenges and opportunities for the creation, sharing, review, and use of educational resources.

Enabling the efficient creation and widespread adoption of Open Educational Resources will play a key role in ensuring that the scholarly communication system evolves in a way that supports the needs of scholars and the academic enterprise as a whole.