EPRSLibrary By / October 1, 2013

Open Education: OER, OCW and MOOCs

Updated 17.1.2014. The potential of ICT for modernisation of education and training has become a key priority for the European…

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Updated 17.1.2014. The potential of ICT for modernisation of education and training has become a key priority for the European Union. In its  Communication on Opening Up Education (procedure 2013/2182(INI), press release 25.9.13), the European Commission proposes actions at EU and national levels to “support the development and availability of Open Educational Resources (OER)” in education and skills development. The EP CULT committee published a draft report on New technologies and open educational resources on 11.12.2013 (procedure file 2013/2182(INI)).

OERs are “digital learning resources offered online freely and openly to teachers, educators, students, and independent learners in order to be used, shared, combined, adapted, and expanded in teaching, learning and research.”, OECD, 2012.

The term was first introduced at the 1st Global OER conference hosted by UNESCO in 2002. By providing open access to course content, the development of OER initiatives have paved the way for free online courses, such as OpenCourseWare (OCW) and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC).

See also the Library Keysources on Rethinking Education, May 2013 and on Validation of non-formal and informal learning, November 2012.


OER initiatives aspire to provide free access to high-quality educational resources on a global scale. They are:

© DigitalGenetics / Fotolia
© DigitalGenetics / Fotolia
  • educational materials (lectures, textbooks, streaming videos, multimedia applications, podcasts, curriculum outlines, etc.);
  • aimed at all educational level (primary to third level, lifelong learning);
  • freely available via open digital repositories (eg OER Commons);
  • produced by educators;
  • intended for students and teachers/trainers alike, to be used in their teaching & learning activities.

OERs exist within the wider ‘Openness’ movement, based on the idea that knowledge should be disseminated and shared freely through the Internet for the benefit of society as a whole. The two most important aspects of openness are free availability and as few restrictions as possible on the use of the resource, whether technical, legal or price barriers.

OER initiatives have resulted in the development of open access courses in higher education: OCWs and MOOCs. This infographic provides an overview of the rapid rise of online learning.

OpenCourseWare (OCW) is a “free and open digital publication of university-level educational materials. These materials are organized as courses, and often include course planning materials and evaluation tools as well as thematic content” (OCW Consortium). MIT’s OCW programme started in 2001.

MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are free online courses without formal entry requirement nor participation limit.   They include interaction, feedback and assessment (via automated quizzes or peers) but do not lead to official credentials/ do not currently earn credits.

Currently most of the MOOC movement is based in the US, although some European universities have joined US initiatives, and recently a paneuropean MOOC platform has been launched, OpenupEd, as well as some national initiatives in Member States, e.g. FutureLearn LTD in the UK. It started in 2012 when a number of prominent US universities began offering them, eg: Coursera, developped by Stanford University; eDx, funded by MIT and Harvard University. These are sometimes referred to as xMOOCs, to differentiate them from an earlier version, the cMOOCs. While in the latter the instructor acts as a coach for participants formulating their own learning outcomes, xMOOCs are content-based, with the lecture as their didactic model.


  • Contrary to MOOCs, OCWs do not offer an entire course, only materials.
  • OCWs are under Creative Commons licenses, which allows the use, reuse and distribution of materials, whereas the most successful Moocs (xMoocs of renowned universities) are under copyright licences

OER is not synonymous with online learning or e-learning, as some material may be used in traditional learning environments. MOOCs and OCWs are a form of distance learning that is online-based.


  • Open and flexible learning opportunities: OER facilitates informal and lifelong learning, and can bring learning opportunities to disadvantaged and excluded groups of learners;
  • Increased efficiency and quality of learning resources: teachers have easier access to high-quality learning resources; collaboration and sharing has the potential to further enhance the quality of learning resources and to foster pedagogical innovation due to exposure to large communities of learners and educator;
  • Cost-efficiency: OER save course content development time and money, and reduce duplication; they promote inter-institutional collaboration and sharing.


  • Sustainability: OERs are resources intensive, in terms of labour and capital, both for the development and ongoing maintenance of the materials
  • Quality assurance: there are currently no formal quality standards
  • Accreditation: the validation of skills and competences acquired through OER has yet to be put in place.


OER infokit / Lou McGill, 2013. This information kit produced by JISC/Higher Education Academy as part of the UKOER programme provides overviews for new users as well as advanced sections for higher education managers and experienced practitioners. The right hand side navigation provides an additional entry point to the contents.

A Basic guide to Open Educational Resources / Neil Butcher et al., 2011. This guide, produced for UNESCO and Commonwealth of Learning, comprises three sections. The first, a summary of the key issues, provides readers with a quick and user-friendly introduction to OER and some of the key issues to think about when exploring how to use OER most effectively. The second section is a more comprehensive analysis of these issues. The third section contains more detailed information about specific areas of relevance to OER.


Top universities embrace MOOCs, but opinion is divided/ Karen MacGregor in University World News, 23.09.2013. This article summarises a literature review on the topic of MOOCs, and presents the various points of view on the subject.

7 Things You Should Know About MOOCs I (2011) and 7 Things You Should Know About MOOCs II (2013). Short overviews provided by EDUCAUSE, a U.S. nonprofit association whose mission is to advance higher education by promoting the intelligent use of information technology.

Switched on to learning/ Ian Mundell, European Voice, 7 March 2013. A look at the rise of MOOCs and why European universities are trying to catch up with their American counterparts.

Plugged in, but not switched on / Ian Mundell, European Voice, 3 October 2013. Europe is lagging behind the US when it comes to embracing the possibilities of digital open educational resources.

European MOOCs Scoreboard/ Open Education Europa (2013). The scoreboard compiles the existing European-provided MOOCs and open courses available on different open websites.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs): development and trends in innovative learning / Michael Gaebel, European Universities Association, 2013. The EUA Secretariat has followed the development of the MOOCs since the beginning of 2012. The EUA Board discussed this development during its meeting on 30 November 2012. The paper – slightly altered – was presented and discussed at the EUA Council in Istanbul, 25 January 2013. It provides an overview of the literature on this topic and identifies the key issues in order to inform the Council’s discussion.

Introduction to MOOCs: avalanche, illusion or augmentation? / UNESCO –  Institute for Information Technology in Education (IITE), 2013. This IITE Policy Brief aims to provide a background to the expansion of MOOCs, explain their differences and similarities, identify the types of students using MOOCs, investigate their business models and potential direction, and finally to scope the risks and benefits associated with their development and make policy recommendations. See also: IITE Open Educational Resources Gateway and IITE OER resources.

MOOC: a European view and  MOOC in Europe / Yves Epelboin, Sorbonne Universités, UPMC wiki, 2013. These posts provide a European perspective on this movement born in North America.

Free education – Learning new lessons – Online courses are transforming higher education, creating new opportunities for the best and huge problems for the rest / The Economist, 22 December 2012. This article introduces MOOCs and their potential disruptive effect on higher education.



Perspectives on Open and Distance Learning: Open Educational Resources: Innovation, Research and Practice/ Rory McGreal et al.,  2013. This book, initiated by the UNESCO/COL Chair in OER, is one in a series of publications examining OER. It  describes the OER movement in detail, providing readers with insight into OER’s significant benefits, its theory and practice, and its achievements and challenges.

Open Educational Resources and the Transformation of Education/ Ilkka Tuomi, 2013 in European Journal of Education 48 pp 58–78. The extremely rapid expansion of OER initiatives and the millions of learners they attract can be interpreted as an indicator of an emerging revolution in education and learning. This article describes recent developments in this area, develops conceptual foundations for studies and policies on OER, and discusses how the wide adoption of OER may constrain and accelerate the transformation of learning and education in the knowledge society.

Trend report: Open Educational Resources 2013/ SURF – OER Public Interest Group, 2013. The OER Trend Report for 2013 provides an extensive survey and explanation of OER developments, primarily from the perspective of experts. It thus provides a balanced picture of the opportunities and possibilities of OER but also of the objections to them.

OER perspectives: emerging issues for universities/ Don Olcott, 2012 in Distance Education 33(2) pp 283 – 290. This reflection examines some of the continuing and emerging issues in the OER field. These include blending OER with university management structures; formal and non-formal OER; the need for sustainable OER business models; and expanding awareness, adoption, and use of OER.

OER impact study/ JISC and Higher Education Academy and JISC, 2011. This publication reports on the OER Impact Study that was conducted between November 2010 and June 2011 by a team from the University of Oxford. This publication reports on a study conducted under the UKOER programme, investigating university lecturers’ and students’ use of open education resources (OER). The study’s purpose is to inform the higher education community of the current impact of OER from the perspective of use rather than production. Specifically, the research team addressed the following questions: What benefits can OER offer to educators and learners in HE in the UK? What are the pedagogic, attitudinal, logistical and strategic factors conducive to uptake and sustained practice in the use of OER; conversely, what are the impediments?

Open Education: Changing Educational Practices/ Various contributors, 2011, eLearning Papers nº 23. The purpose of this special issue is to outline the way in which open access and OER impact educational practices in organisations, learners, and other stakeholders, both now and in the future. The contributions suggest a shift from open educational resources to open educational practices.

Giving Knowledge for Free. The Emergence Of Open Educational Resources / OECD Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI), 2007. The first comprehensive report on OER.


Making Sense of MOOCs – Musings in a Maze of Myth, Paradox and Possibility/ Sir John Daniel (2012) in Journal of Interactive Media in Education.  The paper describes the short history of MOOCs and sets them in the wider context of the evolution of educational technology and open/distance learning. While the hype about MOOCs presaging a revolution in higher education has focussed on their scale, the real revolution is that universities with scarcity at the heart of their business models are embracing openness. We explore the paradoxes that permeate the MOOCs movement and explode some myths enlisted in its support. The competition inherent in the gadarene rush to offer MOOCs will create a sea change by obliging participating institutions to revisit their missions and focus on teaching quality and students as never before. It could also create a welcome deflationary trend in the costs of higher education.

MOOCs and Open Education: Implications for Higher Education/ Li Yuan and Stephen Powell, 2013. This JISC report sets out to help decision makers in higher education institutions gain a better understanding of the phenomenon of Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) and trends towards greater openness in higher education and to think about the implications for their institutions.

The maturing of the MOOC: literature review of massive open online courses and other forms of online distance learning/ The Observatory of Borderless Education et all, 2013. This report, written for the UK Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, highlights the wide diversity of opinions and arguments about MOOCs and gives visibility to both critical and enthusiastic voices. It consists of a comprehensive review of literature related to MOOCs and open and distance learning (ODL), and includes research suggestions and recommendations. It aims to capture the state of knowledge and opinion about MOOCs and ODL, how they are evolving, and to identify issues that are important, whether consensual or controversial.

MOOCs and Beyond/  Various contributors (2013), eLearning Papers no 33. This issue focuses on the challenges and future of MOOCs, and aims to shed light on the way MOOCs affect education institutions and learners. Which teaching and learning strategies can be used to improve the MOOC learning experience? How do MOOCs fit into today’s pedagogical landscape; and could they provide a viable model for developing countries?

Online Educational Delivery Models: A Descriptive View / Phil Hill, 2012. The author offers a descriptive overview of online education models, including but not limited to MOOC, in order to capture the growing number of approaches enabled by educational technology. He then discusses the key issues they raise for traditional higher education institutions.

Stakeholder views

European Parliament

Parliamentary question on MOOCs:
“European plan to launch massive open online courses in universities”- Georgios Papanikolaou (PPE), 16 May 2013.
“OpenupED and Iversity” – Marc Tarabella (S&D), 26 September 2013.

Council of the EU

EYCS Council policy debate of 25.11.2013 on OER and digital learning, based on discussion paper 15591/13.

European Commission

Communication on ‘Opening up Education’ COM(2013)654, 25.09.2013. In the area of OER, one of the main objectives of the initiative is to “Boost the use of Open Educational Resources (OER) by ensuring that educational materials produced with public funding, such as Erasmus+, the new EU programme for education, are freely available to all. The new ‘Open Education Europa’ portal, launched today, will provide a gateway to high-quality OER produced in Europe, in their original language. OER are learning content, generally in digital form, that can be used and shared, free of charge for users.” Related Staff Working Document SWD(2013)341 “Analysis and mapping of innovative teaching and learning for all through new Technologies and Open Educational Resources in Europe”.

See also: MEMO/13/813 – FAQ on ‘Opening up Education’.

Speech by Neelie KROES and Androulla VASSILIOU, Rapid press release, 25 September 2013.

Commissioner Vassiliou’s speech on Opening Up Education, Rapid press release, 10 December 2012.

Between August and November 2012 the European Commission organised a public consultation (the results have been incorporated into SWD(2013)341) on “Opening up Education“,  a Proposal to exploit the potential contribution of ICTs and Open Educational Resources (OER) to education and skills development. See also: Commission’s Roadmap.

Ad hoc expert seminar on ‘Open Education’ Brussels – 13 July 2012 summary record/  European Commission’s Directorate General for Education and Culture, 2012. The aim of the meeting was to gather high level experts in the field of OER and ICT & education to have a first exchange of views on the Commission’s initial plans for “open Education”. Experts were also invited to identify areas where an EU intervention could bring the highest value added.

International organisations

2012 Paris OER Declaration/ UNESCO. The Declaration calls on governments worldwide to openly license publicly funded educational materials for public use. It was formally adopted at the 2012 World Open Educational Resources (OER) Congress held at the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris from 20 – 22 June 2012. The “Implementing the Paris OER Declaration” project was launched in March 2013.


Creative Commons
Open Educational Resources Policy in Europe
. The goal of the project is to support the adoption of Open Educational Resource (OER) policies in Europe. It aims to promote the best practices and high standards of the Creative Commons and OER communities within the educational sphere.

European Civil Society Platform – Lifelong Learning
Position on Opening Up Education: maintreaming and priorizing digital access in LLL“, January 2014.EUCIS-LLL supports the plea made by the European Commission for an integrated and collective approach to the digital agenda seen both as a challenge and a great opportunity especially to support a cultural shift in the way we teach and learn in Europe.

European Association of Distance Learning Universities (EADTU).
Message of Cyprus 2012 EADTU aims to promote the progress of open and distance education and e-learning and its position in Europe. It established a Task Force to promote further institutional development and collaboration on OERs, and to stimulate their use by individual learners and in businesses. “The challenge will be to embed OERs into the mainstream curriculum, extending accessibility, and creating new dynamics between informal to formal learning. The next challenge for us will be to determine how to respond to the advent of MOOCs.” EADTU ran the Open Educational Innovation & Incubation (OEII) project, which surveyed the Open education environment.

European Foundation for Quality in E-Learning (EFQUEL).
EFQUEL is the leading international network in the field of quality in education. They have developed a guide, Mainstreaming Open Educational Practice – Recommendations for Policy (2011) for policy makers to explain open educational practice, and make recommendations for how this concept can be embraced by education systems. The publication draws on work carried out by the Open Educational Quality (OPAL) Initiative.

European Network for coordination of policies and programmes on e-infrastructures (eInfraNet).
Open as the Default Modus Operandi for Research and Higher Education, 2013. Various European opinion leaders and technical experts from higher education and research have worked together on the eInfraNet project. In order to realize the full potential of ‘Open’ e-InfraNet recommends that a broad policy framework covering open access to content and infrastructure as well as open approaches to the further development of ‘Open’ itself, and to the way research and higher education is established and developed.

European Open Educational Resources Policy Project
“Open Educational Resources Policy in Europe” is a project that brings together a coalition of international experts to strengthen the implementation of open education policies across Europe. The goal of the project is to support adoption of OER policies in Europe and European states by raising awareness of the OER model and demonstrating its advantages to governments, users and businesses.

European University Association (EUA)
EUA welcomes European Commission Communication on ‘Opening Up Education’
, 2013. EUA broadly welcomes the latest Communication, which it understands as a call to institutions to further pursue the development of innovative ways of learning and teaching in line with their institutional missions. EUA believes that e-learning, and possibly also MOOCs have great potential with regards to the further development of the European Higher Education Area, and that the “open learning” aspect could further catalyse the structural changes already introduced through the Bologna Process, and boost the institutional cooperation developed, for example through EU programmes.

ICORE, the International Council for Open Research and Open Education.
A non-profit association which aims at supporting the recognition, progress and application of promote, support and enhance Open Research, Open Science and Open Education e. g. through the usage of digital resources within the fields of Open Research and Open Education and through innovations in policies, systems and tools.

International Publishers Association.
IPA position paper: Publishers and Open Educational Resources can work together, 2013.  IPA recognises the beneficial role that OERs can play in a mixed media environment and in some specific educational environments. They are sceptical however about the capacity of OERs to provide high quality content in core curriculum subjects in the longer term. An over-reliance on OERs would endanger the quality of school level education until a number of challenges related to extensive use of OERs are addressed, especially sustainability, quality, and efficacy. They believe there are also issues associated with public funding of OER development.

EU projects

Partners in 11 countries have joined forces to launch the first pan-European ‘MOOCs’ (Massive Open Online Courses) initiative, with the support of the European Commission. “At the start around 40 courses, covering a wide variety of subjects, are available, in 12 different languages. OpenupEd has been initiated and is coordinated by the European Association of Distance Teaching Universities (EADTU) and mostly involves open universities. The 11 launch partners are based in France, Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, and the UK, and outside the EU in Russia, Turkey and Israel.” See Rapid press release, 23 April 2013.

Open Education portal
The European Commission launched Open Education Europa in September 2013 as part of the Opening Up Education initiative to provide a single gateway to European OER. This portal was developped on the basis of the elearningeuropa.info portal, active since 2002 to support the transformation of education through technology.

MOOCs  for teachers
The Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs  plans  to promote news ways of learning through MOOCs for teachers. The project is led by EUROPEAN SCHOOLNET, who will evaluate the feasibility of creating MOOCs for secondary school teachers, to support students in acquiring science and technology skills and increase the attractiveness of ICT jobs.

Open Educational Resources And Practices In Europe (OREU).
The OEREU project, led by the Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (IPTS), based in theEuropean Commission’s Joint Research Centre, has as main objective to provide empirical evidence to policy makers in order to guide policies on the field of Open Education. It is focused on three educational levels, School Education, Higher Education and Lifelong Learning. They have published a paper on Open Education Initiatives in Higher Education – An Overview of Current Business and Sustainability Models / Haché, A; Ferrari A &  Punie, Y (2012) in Proceedings of EADTU 25th Anniversary Conference 2012, Pafos,  Cyprus, 27-28 September 2012 (pp 81-98).

POERUP (Policies for OER Uptake).
POERUP is part funded by the European Commission’s Lifelong Learning Programme. The project, which built on previous OER initiatives, such as OPAL, OLnet and OERtest, produced country reports, case studies investigating the communities behind OER activities, and policy papers. The overall aim of POERUP is to develop policies to promote the uptake of OER, especially across the EU, in all main educational sectors.

Further reading

Library search on Open Education [intranet acces only]. You can also subscribe to the alert [intranet acces only] to keep informed about any new material added to the Library website on Open Educational Resources (OER), Massive Open Online Cources (MOOCs) and the European Commission’s initiative “Opening Up Education”.

OER Knowledge cloud /UNESCO-Commonwealth of Learning. Extensive bibliography on the subject, regularly updated.

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