Recently I attended a mini conference dedicated to Open Educational Resources (OER). I found it to be quite interesting as there aren’t many events completely dedicated to OER these days. In fact, the organizers made it quite clear that the event was exclusively for discussing all matters OER. However, maybe not surprisingly, almost all presentations including the keynotes dedicated a significant amount of time to discuss their takes on Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC).

With the new drive towards accessible and open information, OER have taken center stage after being first adopted in a UNESCO forum in 2002. The definition of OER has evolved since its inception. However, it is generally accepted that OER are web based educational material which are freely and openly available for reuse, revision, remixing and redistribution (the four ‘R’s); governed by a set of globally accepted conventions.

Resulting from the dramatic changes taking place in Higher Education (HE) within the past 10 years, academics have had to adopt new cost effective approaches in order to provide individualized learning to a more diverse student base (Littlejohn, Falconer, & Mcgill, 2008). In this context, OER have the potential to become major sources of freely reusable teaching and learning resources, especially in higher education, due to active advocacy by organisations such as UNESCO, COL, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD); and the International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE).

As the statistics suggest, the global demand for education is currently not met through the existing conventional educational institutions, especially in the developing countries or the ‘Global South’. This deficiency is further heightened when ‘excluded communities’ which have limited access to education due to geographic, demographic and sociographic circumstances are considered. OER initiatives such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Open Courseware (OCW) initiative, the Rice University’s Connexions initiative and the Commonwealth of Learning’s (COL) WikiEducator initiative provide high quality learning material for use and re-use through the Creative Commons (CC) licensing scheme. This ability to freely use and modify content for teaching and learning purposes has boosted the drive towards OER for educating the masses. Although many of the Western countries have embraced the concept of OER, many of the Asian counterparts are yet to harness the full potential of this new global phenomenon. Asian countries such as India, China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam have made the move towards the use of OER but are still in the process of making the use of OER ‘accepted’ practice among academics due to various inhibitors.

Farber (2009, p. 28) states that

just as the Linux operating system and other open source software have become a pervasive computer technology around the world, so too might OER materials become the basis for training the global masses”.

This statement clearly outlines the significance of OER as a global movement. Claims have also been made by Caswell, Henson, Jenson & Wiley (2008) that the move towards OER can significantly reduce the costs of learning. Initiatives such as OCW, Connexions and WikiEducator help those who reuse these freely available materials in bringing down costs. As a result, institutions and individuals globally can adapt and reuse material without investing in developing them from scratch. i.e. OER has the potential to broaden access and provide equity in education. This is especially important for countries in the Global South such as India, which has 411 million potential students, of which only 234 million enter school at all, less than 20% reach high school and less than 10% graduate (Kumar, 2009). Another example is Sri Lanka where there are only 15 Universities who accepted only 61.95% of the total 233,634 who sat for the GCE (A/L) exam in 2012 (Department of Examinations, 2013).

How can MOOC help?

The words ‘Open Educational Resources’ were synonymous with all that is good in the world of education in the past decade or so. However, I think that fortunately or otherwise OER have lost some of its romance as a movement among the community. There may still be ‘die hard’ fanatics who will deny this fact but in actuality many of us who have been doing research on the ground for the past few years have moved on to other things such as MOOC.

The concept of OER is subject to constant evolution. The latest incarnation of this concept is in the form of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC). Daniel (2012) argues that the concept of MOOC is also constantly evolving trying to define itself within the open education movement. In his article he quotes the Wikipedia definition of MOOC which is “a MOOC is a type of online course aimed at large-scale participation and open access via the web” (Daniel, 2012, p. 3). There is constant and somewhat heated academic debate currently taking place with respect to the origins of the concept of MOOC. However, MIT’s MITx program which has now morphed into edX is accredited as the first implementation of MOOC. Since then, Stanford University too has launched its MOOC platform Udacity which doubles as a commercial entity providing services to new MOOC start-ups. Coursera is another example of a commercial start-up which claims to have, at the end of 2012, over 1.4 million learners enrolled in more than 200 courses offered by 33 partner institutions (Lewin, 2012; DeSantis, 2012). All of these comprehensive courses are openly and freely made available to global learners potentially bridging the knowledge divide. Therefore, from the perspective of the ‘Global South’, MOOC has the potential to educate the massive numbers of students who did not get the opportunity to pursue a degree under the conventional University system.

So… has the MOOC movement killed the OER movement?

The true culmination of the OER movement, in my opinion at least, was the Paris OER declaration in 2012 (UNESCO, 2012). Although it was made out to be an attempt at promoting the movement, it served the greater good of pointing out for the first time the pitfalls in this ideology. Ten areas emerged which painted OER in a new light forcing many of us to really squint our eyes and look beyond advocacy into practice. As such, since 2012, the use and reuse of OER has been widely debated as quite a challenging agenda.

Earlier this year I presented some preliminary results of a study which analyzed the public (stakeholder) opinion towards OER and MOOC on twitter using sentiment analysis (Abeywardena, 2014). Based on my findings, there is growing interest in MOOC in comparison to OER. However, when considering the public opinion on MOOC, it is apparent that the stakeholders haven’t yet formed strong opinions on MOOC due to it being a relatively recent phenomenon. In contrast, the positivity towards OER is on an upward trend. The neutrality towards OER has also decreased over a time span of 12 months post Paris OER declaration suggesting that the public is slowly but surely forming informed opinions about the use of OER.

So… has the MOOC evolution killed the OER revolution?

Well maybe not completely; but MOOCs have definitely forced the OER movement to re-evaluate itself in terms of how it fits in to the modern education landscape.

In the world of MOOC, many OER advocates and practitioners have switched sides to look at educating the masses from a different perspective. Arguably OER are a major part of the MOOC movement but not a defining one. Rather, the OER movement has started a retrospective journey looking at what was deemed to be good about it before the bandwagon started doing its rounds. Among the areas being revisited are pedagogy, actual reuse of resources, licensing, curation and most importantly business models for sustainability.

Due to the fickle nature of any philanthropy, the OER movement has really been forced to look at how it can sustain itself for the years to come. Some pioneers have already taken a page out of the FOSS movement to redefine the word OPEN in OER omitting the monetary connotation and maintaining only the ideological implication. Furthermore, much emphasis has been placed on the actual curation or archiving of these materials in a sensible manner following established metadata standards for more efficient reuse. A good indicator of this is the revision of the four ‘R’s model (Hilton, Wiley, Stein, & Johnson, 2010) to include a 5th R, ‘Retain’, which emphasizes the “the right to make, own, and control copies of the content” (Wiley, 2014).

As I see it, the world now realizes that it has enough open material without a way to effectively classify them according to the actual ‘usefulness’ for teaching and learning purposes. Quite a bit of research is currently underway in this area, surprisingly by computer scientists in contrast to the educationists who gave the movement its initial thrust. Now the terms big data, sentiment analysis, learning analytics and text mining among others dominate most of the research in OER. In this regard the term ‘Linked Open Data’ is starting to take prominence promoting the interconnected use of the large volumes of resources available. As time passes, many of these research projects will move towards MOOC and beyond which seem to be, at least as it stands, a more practical way of educating the world. In this regard, the question of to what extent will the ‘Global South’ harness the potential of OER and MOOC to increase access / equity in education still remains unanswered.



Abeywardena, I.S. (2014). Public Opinion on OER and MOOC: A Sentiment Analysis of Twitter Data. International Conference on Open and Flexible Education (ICOFE 2014). Hong Kong SAR, China: Open University of Hong Kong.

Caswell, T., Henson, S., Jenson, M., & Wiley, D. (2008). Open Educational Resources: Enabling universal education. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning , 9 (1), 1-11.

Daniel, J. (2012). Making sense of MOOCs: Musings in a maze of myth, paradox and possibility. Journal of Interactive Media in Education , 3.

Department of Examinations. (2013). Chapter 13: Education. In Statistical Pocket Book 2013 (p. 77). The Department of Census and Statistics, Sri Lanka. Retrieved 06 27, 2014, from

DeSantis, N. (2012). After leadership crisis fuelled by Distance-Ed Debate, UVa will put free classes online. Chronicle of Higher Education .

Farber, R. (2009). Probing OER’s huge potential. Scientific Computing , 26 (1), 29.

Hilton, J., Wiley, D., Stein, J., & Johnson, A. (2010). The four R‘s of openness and ALMS Analysis: Frameworks for open educational resources. Open Learning: The Journal of Open and Distance Learning, 25(1), 37-44.

Kumar, M. S. (2009). Open educational resources in India’s national development. Open Learning: The Journal of Open and Distance Learning, 24(1), 77-84.

Lewin, T. (2012). Education site expands slate of universities and courses. New York Times .

Littlejohn, A., Falconer, I., & Mcgill, L. (2008). Characterising effective eLearning resources. Computers & Education, 50(3), 757-771.

UNESCO. (2012, June 22). 2012 PARIS OER DECLARATION. Retrieved June 13, 2013, from

Wiley, D. (2014, 03 05). The Access Compromise and the 5th R. Retrieved 06 26, 2014, from