Timeline – the history of open educational resources

Open Educational Resources (OER) are freely accessible, openly licensed documents and media that are useful for teaching, learning, and assessing as well as for research purposes. For anyone that wants to understand why Open educational resources in so many ways are changing global education today, I think it is crucial to understand the history of OER.

During the last weeks I have been setting up a list of projects that I feel has had an impact on this open educational movement, and at one point I decided to make a timeline.  As many of you might be aware of the OER movement was inspired by the free software movement and open source. I have chosen to start my timeline in 1985 when Richard Stallman founded the Free Software Foundation.

Although OER is the leading trend in distance education as a consequence of the openness movement, many OERs are not truly open. When listing these OER projects I have been very liberal in terms of witch projects to include. So this is by no means a list of OERs but rather a list of projects that have influenced the development of OERs.

Do you know about any projects that should be in the timeline? All feedback is appreciate!

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Technological roadmap for developing OER

We at NDLA are working on a roadmap that will define the guidelines for all our future projects, architecture and technological plattform. This is work in progress but we have narrowed the scope to focus on some core elements. From these core elements I have picked out the most important ones and written down my thoughts.

It all starts with User Experience

Start developing with strong focus the user experience and always keep the user at the centre of you development. Its natural to think about UX when developing the fronted of a solution but one tends to forget that the way we build APIs and other infrastructure components also affects the user experience.

User experience is«a person’s perceptions and responses that result from the use or anticipated use of a product, system or service»

Build your systems for change

The edTech marked is changing rapidly and new and innovative solutions is being presented on a weekly basis. Not all of these new services will of course be relevant for projects developing OER but…. as we see fields like adaptive learning, learning analytics, crowdsourcing and game based learning developing over the next decade it will be important not to build OER plattforms as monolithic structures.

Open licenses, open source and open standards

We at NDLA(Norwegian Digital Learning Arena) have build our project on a strategy with open content and open source as core elements. We do this for many reasons. The most important aspects are that openness gives us flexibility in terms of development and higher quality on the end product. At the same time it prevents vendor lock-in and lets other projects re-use and build on our content. Many OER projects are looking to a more decentralized model of production. Having a free license on the content is crucial to support this transition.

It is important to be aware that having a strategi with open content does not exclude the possibility of also bundling with Copyright material.

Separate technology, design and content

It is a goal in itself not to develop content for a specific technology or platform. If you manage to separate content from technology it will provide easier transition from one platform to another and it also provides greater opportunity to introduce the digital resources to your users on different platforms based on the same core content.

A practical example is an online resource developed for a web based plattform where you at one point would like to use the same content in an mobile app. If implemented correctly the content(or parts of the content) can be presented to the user seamlessly between these to plattforms.

In many projects, it is to costly to implement this strategy fully. For these projects there are standards for embedding content from different platforms together. One of these is LTI.

A modular approach to development

In computing, microservices is a software architecture style in which complex applications are composed of small, independent processes.  These services are small, highly decoupled and focus on doing a small task, facilitating a modular approach to system-building.

Some key properties of microservices architecture:

  • The services are easy to replace
  • Services are organized around capabilities, e.g. user interface front-end, recommendation, logistics, billing, etc
  • Services can be implemented using different programming languages, databases, hardware and software environment, depending on what fits best
  • Architectures are symmetrical rather than hierarchical (producer – consumer)

The term «Microservice arcithectur» simply means you focus on building small in order to keep it simple.

As mentioned earlier in this blog post, this is something we’re working on right now, and the areas that I have mentioned her are only a selection.  This means that this bloggpost by not in any way represents our final roadmap.

Creative Commons License
This work by Christer Gundersen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microservices.

How to make your own taylor made Open educational resource – mashup from Khan, CK-12 and H5P

This video tutorial is based on workshops that we did in 2014, both in Uganda and Sweden. The basic idea is that instead of just consuming resources or writing your own from scratch, you take bits and peaces from global OER projects and build your own OER based on your specific local needs. This will ensure high quality and at the same time make it easer to build OERs for those with limited resources.

In this video tutorial I walk you trough the practical aspects of actually making your own taylor made OER based on a mashup of text, video and illustrations from the following projects:


Global Sharing of Digital Learning Resources: A Paradigm Shift in the Making

The rise of open educational resources(OER) and Massiv Open Online Courses like MIT OpenCourseWare, Coursera, Khan Academy, CK-12 and edX represent a distinct change in how people all over the world can learn new skills and get educated. Many of these project allow free access witch means that you can take the courses for free and access all the resources.

So this idea is something «everyone» tries to replicate, a result of this is that everyone is making their own content, but very few are reusing what others have developed when making something for themselves.  For the future we have to re-think OERs and MOOCs and start building our content on what others already have made, if at all possible.

One reason for this might be that the current situation does not provide tools for users to mashup, and re-create and translate. In practice it should be possible for a teacher to search for high quality learning resources(this is already solved by Google) and then in an easy way make their own learning resources based on their needs.

How can we go about changing this?

Lets learn from the success of Wikipedia and crowdsourcing

The freedom to share, re-use, change, translate and mash up new versions are some of the reasons for Wikipedia becoming the most important source of knowledge on the internett.

At the hart of  Wikipedias growth is the «magic» that emerges around crowdsourcing – a method where a large number of people work together on solving a problem or creating a knowledge univers like Wikipedia. More than 10 million people have written something on Wikipedia.

At the «foundation» for crowdsourcing lies the freedom to share, re-use, change, translate and mash up new versions and this will also be important when we are talking about high quality digital learning resources.   

Did you know that you can translate Khan Academy into your own language?

Khan Academy is one of the most famous open educational resources giving their users access to thousands of lectures in subject like math, history and science. One thing about Khan that is not that well known is that you can translate Khan Academy into your own language. You can do this legaly because:

  • Khan Academy publishes all there resources under a Creative Commons license
  • Khan Academy offers a tool for anyone that wishes to translate into another language


When we talk about Open educational resources(OER) that are released under a free license like creative commons it is crucial to distinguish these from those online giving free access. The factor of free access is important, but this alone limits the possibilities to make changes, create new content and translate into new languages.

Some basic principals must be at the core of a global community sharing OER:
  • All content must be available for free, free access
  • All the resources must be under what is called a free license, for example Creative Commons
  • All the resources must be available plattform independent, this will make it possible for local startups and businesses to make new edTech based on this content
  • There must be a mechanism for micropayment for those that contribute in to the community

After attending and speaking at this weeks eLearning Africa conference in Addis Abeba I am convinced that our global community of educators will succeed best if we go for the model of Wikipedia with sharing trough a crowdsourcing community.

Tanx to Nuug Foundation as sponsor for my trip to eLearning Africa.