Paul Stacey

Overcoming Not-Invented-Here Syndrome – An OER Call to Action

The Commonwealth of Learning and UNESCO are doing a joint initiative on “Taking OER beyond the OER Community: Policy and Capacity”. As part of that they are hosting three online discussion forums over the next few months to address a range of issues such as (1) Why do HEIs have to invest in OERs?; (2) What works and what does not, and under what conditions?; and (3) copyright and the development and re-use of OERs. You can subscribe by going to

Susan D’Antoni who launched an international OER community while at UNESCO has migrated that community to Athabasca University. At the beginning of October this community started up again with a focus on discussions related to key OER conferences. You can subscribe to this one at

Discussion in this forum is currently around OpenCourseWare Consortium’s 2010 conference on Educational Policy and OpenCourseWare. The three subthemes, Building OCW, Using OCW as a Platform, and Sustaining OCW, provided opportunities to learn about and discuss the impacts and challenges of opening educational resources.

Its clear from everyone’s remarks in these discussion forums that there are still a lot of questions related to OER sustainability, financial investment, and academic use cases.

As part of my participation in these discussion forums I’ve made one simple recommendation which I believe will result in OER sustainability, financial return, and tremendous academic benefits. For OER to make the transition to mainstream we must see institutions like MIT, UKOU, Athabasca, and ideally all others who develop academic curricula, use OER that have been developed outside their institution as part of the for-credit credential opportunities they are offering. If this one thing was to occur OER would make the transition to becoming an integral part of education practice.

If you look at the OER field overall, and the highly cited initiatives in particular, one thing becomes clear. There is a great willingness to author OER but there is a huge reluctance to reuse anyone elses OER. Don’t get me wrong I admire MIT’s OCW, Carnegie Mellon’s OLI, UKOU’s Open Learn and all the others but I don’t think they’ve fully embraced the OER field. They are encumbered by a “not-invented here” syndrome where OER developed anywhere else except at that institution cannnot possibly be as good as what has been developed in house. OER is as much about reusing resources others have created as much as it is publishing your own.

For me the early leadership I saw exemplified by institutions like MIT is being lost by their failure to embrace the reuse aspect of what OER have to offer. Let me also be explicit about what I’m calling for here. I’m calling for higher education institutions to reuse OER others have created in their “for-credit” offerings that lead to a credential. If we start to see institutions using each others OER in for-credit offerings we’ll really start to see things start to make a lot of economic, societal and academic sense.

Here’s my call to action:

  • focus on OER use in for-credit courses that lead to credentials. This has a much higher value proposition (to institutions, Ministries, funders, and students) than OER use for informal learning.
  • establish OER development and use initiatives as multi-instititutional partnerships with each institution agreeing to contribute OER and use OER contributed by others.

This model provides for diversity, scaleability, and localization in a way that OER developed by single prestigious institutions does not. It also immediately lends itself to transfer & articulation agreements and the possibility of joint degrees. It encourages institutions not just pump out OER in isolation in the hopes that someone else will use it but instead plan for reuse up front and team up with each other in a complementary way where each contributes OER based on their strengths and the combined outcome is a credential both offer that is bigger and better than they could achieve on their own independently.

If this path of action were to be pursued it might mean that:

  • there is no longer any funding to simply develop more new OER. Additional funding is predicated on combining new with reuse of existing OER in credentials.
  • or maybe MIT takes its OCW and teams up with Carnegie Mellons’ OLI to offer joint online degrees made up of OER each contributes. How cool would that be?

A key need this kind of approach provides is a model that smaller institutions and locales can adopt and follow.


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Am I remembering it wrong, but a decade or so ago didn’t “not invented here syndrome” refer to how some educational institutions hesitated to use software applications that might have been developed somewhere else?

That seems absurd now, but maybe in a decade this apparent inability to reuse others’ content will seem equally incomprehensible.

I am heartened to see the new BCcampus OPDF actually has language to encourage reuse – to my knowledge, this is a first.

I hope this call-to-action gets some traction. I’ll be repeating it.

Comment by Brian

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