Open education resources: Moving from sharing to adopting

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Educators have been sharing open educational resources (OERs) for over 12 years now. There are literally tens of thousands of them out there, many structured as collections of course materials known as open courseware (OCW), some structured as complete open courses, some structured as complete open textbooks, and many not really structured at all. The “sharing ball” is rolling. There are more materials that need to be shared, but the eventual sharing of these materials has now become inevitable.

What is anything but inevitable is the adoption of any of these open educational resources. As a thought experiment, pick your favorite institution you believe is committed to open education. Have they ever adopted an open education resource produced at another institution for in-class use? If they have an open courseware collection, can you find a single third-party OER in the collection? If even the institutions that claim to be committed to open educational resources aren’t reusing them, who will?

While the mainstream of education will finally begin sharing OERs this decade, those leaders who think of themselves as being on the cutting edge of the open education movement need to start walking the walk / becoming living examples / modeling the desired behavior of adopting others’ OERs.

If open education practitioners (both individuals and institutions) cannot move from large-scale sharing to large-scale adopting, the field is dead. I’m reminded of a scripture:

For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift.

A sustained program of giving becomes pretty pointless when it’s clear that no one is willing to receive, regardless of how impressive the scale of would-be giving is. And if the givers don’t play the role of receivers every now and then, the field risks a damning perception of arrogance whereby reusing OERs becomes something that only second-class programs do. Who will adopt / reuse then?

We need brave adoption leadership now just as badly as we needed brave sharing leadership ten years ago. Who will provide it?

This article was originally published by Dr. David Wiley at iterating toward openness and released under a CC by license. We have made slight changes for publication with permission from the author. If you would like to reprint the article, please use the original version and attribution.

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Dr. David Wiley is Associate Professor of Instructional Psychology and Technology at Brigham Young University, where he also serves as Associate Director of the Center for the Improvement of Teacher Education and Schooling with responsibility for the research unit. David is founder and board member of the Open High School of Utah and Chief Openness Officer of Flat World Knowledge.


"pick your favorite institution you believe is committed to open education." Okay: The Wikimedia Foundation "Have they ever adopted an open education resource produced at another institution for in-class use?" Sure, they accept contributions of OERs all the time; in a way they accept nothing but OERs for redistribution.

However, I have thus far been unable to convince them to adopt Moodle's GIFT format for self study quiz markup, which needs to be far more pervasive for utilization in order to match different levels of content -- or different sections of the same OER -- to learners' varied individual skills at any given point in time. I wonder if you were meaning to refer to with that scripture passage.

In any case, please email Foundation Director Sue Gardner, sgardner at wikimedia dot org and ask that GIFT be included in the Mediawiki Quiz extension. Thank you!

If the tens of thousands of OERs you reference were any good, they'd be adopted. That they aren't tells you something.

Anyone can put together something that suits their particular class and upload it to a big slushpile. And anyone does! What they generaly don't do is make their content relevant to other schools' classes. Why should someone adopt something for any reason other than it's the best for their class AND convenient for them?

"Who will adopt / reuse then?"

Developing countries. That's who the OER movement primarily benefits. Developed countries have no need for it. Advocates for this movement are like people who raise funds for the symphony orchestra. Nice cause, but not essential, and most people wouldn't miss it if it were gone (as evidenced by the low third-party adoption rate).

I am unsympathetic to complaints of high textbook prices as the raison d'etre for the OER movement. Get tuition prices in line and have full-time college faculty work a full 40 hour work week instead of calling 24 hrs/week full-time. That savings will pay for textbooks. It will even leave a slush fund to pay for all the ancillary class supplies many students need that cost far more than textbooks.

...Because I know a few great professors who would love to transfer to such a place. :)

I imagine such folk exist, but most of the academics I know (from community colleges to Ivy League) work far more than 40 hours/week, between teaching, research, grading, student guidance, grad student advising, committees, conferences, travel, and publishing.

My suspicion about the lack of adoption of OERs is that it's human nature to think you can do something better than what's already out there. Maybe the first step is adopting and mashing-up and reposting OERs? Many have licensing that allows it, from what I've seen.

I do suspect there is informal adoption that happens, too. A prof may use lots of the sources listed in an OER and save time in course prep, for example.

Dr. David Wiley has extensive experience with Open
Education. He is working with programs that are doing very well.

This is the time to try everything, use anything that might work.
All over the world we are in a mash-up culture now. Take any
Idea and adapt it to your needs. Roll your own!

Education has for far too long been in the hands of people that
are not trained in education. There needs to be an Open Source
Education Community, focused of the students.

Community, work together of perish!

Not sure if that was directed to me, but I'm not questioning Dr. Wiley's experience with Open Education. He seemed to be wondering why more people haven't adopted 3rd party OERs. I suggest it's because they're not very good. It can also because they're hard to find or take too much work to adopt to one's own class.

I have no reason to go to Connexions or wherever and spend hours-days-weeks-months or more stringing together chunks of modules when perfectly good textbooks are already written and available. I can adopt those to my needs far easier than I can third party OERs.

There are plenty of actual complete, very current textbooks listed at