What is the value proposition of OER? In this topic, we will investigate both the benefits and challenges of using OER.


In the introduction, we mentioned that OER should be considered a subset of a broader term, open learning. Key open learning principles include:

1. Increasing access for success

  • Learners have meaningful and affordable access to opportunities for lifelong learning.
  • Unnecessary barriers to access are removed.
  • Wherever appropriate, learning provision is flexible, allowing learners to increasingly determine where, when, what and how they learn, as well as the pace at which they will learn.

2. Enabling success

  • Providers create the conditions for learner success through learner support, contextually appropriate resources and sound pedagogical practices.
  • Learning processes centre on the learners and contexts of learning, build on their experience and encourage active engagement leading to independent and critical thinking.

3. Continuing success

  • Prior learning and experience is recognised wherever possible.
  • Arrangements for credit transfer and articulation between qualifications facilitate further learning.

The use of OER can support implementation of the principles of open learning if used creatively and thoughtfully. After all, OERs:

  • are free
  • are digital, allowing access via the internet, and are not geographically bound
  • can be adapted allowing others to repurpose for new uses
  • provide access to huge amounts of data and information via OER repositories and search tools
  • can, if structured carefully, offer students the ability to study at their own pace

The two lists above shows how OER can support open learning. However, OER can be harnessed to support any model of education and the benefits can be experienced by all educators.

Examples of the potential benefits offered by OER, drawn from the OER Africa database, include:

  • Bunda College of Agriculture Communication Skills textbook, created by adapting and combining a number of OER to produce a free student textbook.
  • Kamuzu College of Nursing Counseling by Caregivers, Nurses and Midwives, a course developed by adapting OER to work for a Malawian context.
  • United States International University (USIU) Agribusiness Course, created by different faculties pooling their expertise to support Kenyan farmers in becoming entrepreneurs by openly licensing their various contributions.


Despite the noble intentions described above, using OER is not always straightforward. There are various challenges that practitioners face when it comes to harnessing OER. Frustrations for users of OER often include:

  • Sourcing appropriate OER – This is an issue because there is no single repository for OER. They are scattered across the internet. (To find ways around this problem, see Topic 3.)
  • Understanding open licences – Not everyone is familiar with Creative Commons open licences and what they permit. (To overcome this problem, see Topic 2.)
  • Adaptation of OER requires new skills – To adapt and repurpose OER, the practitioner needs practice in revising and remixing resources, in addition to basic ICT skills.
  • Traditional mindsets – Many educators are uncomfortable or feel it is wrong to use other people's work and they choose to protect, rather than share, their own resources.
  • Access to ICT – Robust internet connectivity and good access to ICT are essential to access and adapt OER (even when the intention is to supply these resources to students in printed form).
  • Incentives – Universities seldom incentivize course creation, so many educators spend relatively little time preparing their materials due to competing priorities.

During OER Africa’s support to African institutions, we have often been confronted with these frustrations. See this report from our archive, based on experiences in Malawi, particularly the section on ‘Lessons Learned’, which highlights key challenges.


  1. Taking into account the challenges mentioned above, ascertain the state of readiness of your institution to engage with OER. You can use this OER Institutional Analysis template to assist in this exercise with a representative group from your institution.
  2. Which benefits mentioned above relate to your context?