Open Educational Resources: The Education Ecosystem Comes to Life

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I was asked to explain why the introduction of open educational resources into the education ecosystem might in fact be one of the most important things that has happened to education in the last 100 years. I guess in centuries before we might have said that it was the Socratic Method, or the advent of public schooling, or teaching to the agrarian calendar. Each of these has certainly contributed to moving some part of learning more visibly into the public sphere. Similarly, open educational resources (broadly defined as educational content that is made free to use or share, with the intention of being able to modify content and reshare it back out to the commons), has in many ways taken education by storm (and surprise in some cases). Why?

Because it provides a learner-centered platform that authentically marries technology with education, provides access and equity to education resources for all, and last but not least, is in some cases enabling the re-professionalism of teaching.

The concept, in some ways, is fairly simple. I create a lesson plan and activities for my class and I post it online. I license it in a way that allows others to use it for free, to share it, to adapt it to their own unique teaching needs, and then to re-post it for others to use. Teacher B comes along and says, “Hey, I like that, but I don’t think Teacher A really got that part right.” So Teacher B modifies the content, improving it in the process, adds some additional activities and reposts online. And so on. Why is this a great idea? Well, because now, not only has this material become a part of a continuous improvement cycle, it has also been made available for anyone else in the world to use. An added benefit is if you assume that Teacher A and B are paid by the state (such as a public school teacher or 2- or 4- year public college or university instructor), then we’ve even already paid for this content through our well-spent tax dollars. Either way, licensing content openly signals the start of the “commons” a place where all people, teachers and learners, can have access to the world’s knowledge. It’s free, sharable, dynamic, and remixable.

Early on in the open education movement, the case was made that free content would save the education sector millions of dollars if they didn’t have to buy expensive textbooks (perhaps there is something to be learned from the demise of the Recording Industry?). However, more affordable education is just one part of the package. But perhaps equally as important, to an educator like myself, is the potential that open education resources have to offer the professionalism of teaching. At ISKME, our research in open education and also in working with teachers and educators around the globe, we have seen that while reduced cost and ease of use have been initial drivers of use, open content also encourages new patterns of collaboration in curriculum development and in enhanced student-centered learning. It places the teacher back in the driver’s seat as the pedagogy expert. But best of all, this is no longer accomplished alone in a silo as many teachers currently practice their craft, but in an open space that encourages collaboration, improvement, access, and innovation.

One example of this is ISKME’s OER Commons, an open education network that focuses on the curation and federation of open content from over 200 content partners (such as NASA, MIT OpenCourseware, WGBH, and many others). This has evolved into the networking and professional development of teachers worldwide who collaborate on improving and creating open content. A key component of this work has been to help educate the educators about copyright and content licensing as well as to introduce social collaboration environments that serve as catalysts to encourage teachers and learners to the shift from a consumer culture of education (where teachers deliver and students buy) to one in which teachers and learners gain leadership and support to share and build expertise from within.

Now what would Socrates think of that?

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Lisa Petrides, Ph.D., is president and founder of the Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education (, an independent, non-profit educational research institute located in Half Moon Bay, CA. ISKME’s work includes social science research, research-based innovations, and the facilitation of field-building to improve knowledge collaboration in education.


I've been really excited to hear so much about open education resources lately. I am web developer who is a user and proponent of open source software. Having such incredible resources freely available has broadened my education tremendously and I can see great benefit to both educators and students from this model sharing.

My mother and I started a website a this past year geared specifically to freely sharing resources among teachers called Linda Loo's at

My mother is a preschool teacher, so most of the material on the site is currently targeted at early education, preschool through 2nd grade. We hope people find the site useful and welcome their contributions.

I think the advent of open source educational technology is representative of a significant shift in consciousness, in terms of the most fundamental of all human acts; that is, to learn and to adapt. Taking the learning process out of the hands of commercial gatekeepers and those "experts" who feel their mission is to control how and what people learn, will be the benchmark of success or failure of OS ed-tech IMO. Idea's, which are at the heart of learning, are only dangerous when no greater context is permitted (i.e., other ideas). Our current system of business-as-usual does not promote an enlargement of the context and freedom of ideas. OS ed-tech does by lowering the entry barriers.

Life in the 21st century now presents us the idea of the <cite>democratization of the learning process,</cite> putting the responsibility to learn and to adapt squarely where it belongs. With each one of us, rather than teacher or organization! Those constructs will act as facilitators and learning opportunity hubs; very important roles, but not the most important.

OS ed-tech can make everyone a teacher and a learner, which is how it should be (no one is a know-it-all). We all have knowledge and skills that might be passed along to others who see a value proposition, despite what conventional thinking may imply. OS ed-tech dramatically reduces the price of admittance to the theater of learning. With this, each person can potentially see their part in social play, the role they have adopted and the competencies they exhibit. It will be very difficult to hide from that fact when greater and more affordable learning opportunities exist. Perhaps that will make us all more accountable to the quality of our play - the human drama, through more discrimination in the learning selections we make and the level of our participation.


I really enjoyed the website, there are some great information and comments. One thing I have found invaluable on my professional journey is connecting with people of similar interests. There is a really strong community of educators and students on Twitter who are talking about their experiences with open education resources and sharing their work.

This community uses a variety of hash tags to talk about open education and courseware, so I made a widget that combines the popular ones. It would be a useful widget to post on your page so you and your readers can view up-to-the-second conversations that the open education community are having without needing to leave your website.

I tried to make it as easy as possible to install the widget. You just copy the code from right below the widget and paste it onto your website. Let me know if you have any issues with the installation or feedback on the widget.


Cate Newton

@ cate
Thank you for the link.
That was what I am looking for.
I will contact you very soon.

But there are also some points are that result in critic, like that the OER movement has been accused of insularity and failure to connect with the larger world: "OERs will not be able to help countries reach their educational goals unless awareness of their power and potential can rapidly be expanded beyond the communities of interest that they have already attracted.
BR Thomas / <a href=""></a>

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