Thu 14th December 2017 - 14:08

How to make open educational resources sustainable

Open educational resources (OER) have undeniable benefits – they allow educators to use affordable (mostly free) learning resources, they can be easily updated or customised according to their purpose, they make education more accessible to a wider group of learners and allow for creativity in course design. The low or no cost aspect of OER is often mentioned as one of their biggest assets. Although OER are mostly free to use, this does not mean they are free to produce and maintain, which often raises the issue of their sustainability.

Sustainability issues in OER refer to when the funding used to cover the initial costs is not sustainable in the long term. For the most part, OER initiatives receive one-off seed capital, which most often comes from the government, EU programmes or philanthropy. The question of sustainability appears when the funding stops and OER organisations need to continue their activities. Additionally, OER creators face the challenge of maintaining their initial momentum and preserving the high quality of their OER in the long run.

Three cost recovery models for OER

In its publication Open Educational Resources: A Catalyst for Innovation, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) laid out three models that can help an OER organisation to recover the costs of production, maintenance and adaptation of OER in a systematic way.

The community-based model

In this model, OER are created by a group of educators who decide to share their own educational resources. In a community-based model, the people who create the OER also use and maintain them – they are prosumers.

To make this model sustainable, it is vital for the community to actively contribute and keep the resources up to date. To do this, members of this community need to have a clear common goal and activities of work. The challenge comes in striking a balance between opening up the community to more potential members and making sure they are all invested and engaged enough to be active and valuable contributors.

Examples of OER creators that use the community-based model:

The revenue-based model

This model can be seen in organisations who, among their other activities, have a strategy for developing OERs. This model can sometimes be seen as contradictory to OER values, as it implies that using OER is associated with a cost. To keep OER free, these organisations usually charge for other services related to the OER (certification, counselling or learning management systems) or have adverts on their OER platforms.

To make this model sustainable, these organisations have to be able to collect enough funds in one area (by offering paid services) to cover the costs of offering OER. The organisation needs to make sure these additional paid services and features are of high value to the users and sufficiently different from what the free resources offer. Additionally, if the organisation uses ads, the revenue-based model relies heavily on how many people click on these ads, which can be difficult to plan and predict.

Examples of OER creators that use the revenue-based model:

The philanthropy-based model

In this model OER creators rely entirely on donations from philanthropic organisations or government funding.

These donations are usually offered only for a limited period, so in order to be sustainable, OER creators need to ensure that they receive a constant flow of funding from various donors, which can be challenging. It is also important to note that sometimes by accepting donations from certain donors, OER organisations have to focus their work on an area that the donor is interested in.

Examples of OER creators that use the philanthropy-based model:

Institutional (hybrid) model

Institutions that market OER as part of their existing educational offering, often use the revenue- and philanthropy-based models. For example, if a higher education institution wants to reach out to a wider circle of students, it may start offering OER. By doing this, the institution can draw more revenue-paying students and/or donations.

Examples of OER creators that use the institutional model:

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