reflections and ideas on open and distance learning - by irwin devries

OER as ecosystem

Occasionally you hear something that pops a cork in your brain, lets out some confusion and makes room for fresh insight. That happened to me at the UNESCO World Open Educational Resources Congress in Paris, when Neil Butcher of OER Africa responded to a question by suggesting that reuse of OER is in fact a form of new knowledge construction. That was a clarifying moment for me.

The very act of finding, validating and incorporating existing OER into a program or course requires skill, patience and dedication. Working through licensing and formatting issues is not easy. Either revising OER or building contextual content or learning activities around OER, or even providing translations, are themselves creative acts and contributions of value to learners and to an OER ecosystem at large. By undertaking these activities, reusers of OER are making a contribution to the OER movement.

As noted by several presenters throughout the congress, collaboration and constant improvement are key to the development of high quality OER. Every individual or agency that reuses OER is contributing to its improvement and extension. Even by the acceptance of OER as-is and reusing it without further modification, a vote of confidence is being placed in the resource, giving it more credibility for other reusers. Beyond that, the reuse of OER inherently expands the reach of the original development to new learners, a credit to the intentions of the OER originator. And the lessons learned by undergoing this process can be shared with others at events as large as the OER Congress, or as small as a local capacity development workshop.

I like to think of OER as surrounded by a community of users who continue to reuse and improve them, rather than as packages that are developed and then moved down a supply chain to the next user in a linear manner. I don’t think a producer-consumer concept of OER is compatible with the ecosystem model.

To those who get past the barriers we all face to create content and release it to be reused under an open license, even as a small, tentative experiment: well done. Not only are you addressing the needs of your own learners, but also you are providing an opportunity for others to build on and extend your work; and you are an inspiration for all of us.


  1. oerfoundation

    Hi Irwin

    Great post! I hope that our OERu developments will be developed as living artifacts which will be continually reuses and improved – -rather than packages. Another reason why our wiki development environment is so powerful. This has been our experience with the #OCL4Ed courses — each iteration gets better and we can even improve the courses materials in a live teaching context — as we do 🙂

  2. Irwin DeVries

    Thanks Wayne – that’s been my experience as well working in the wiki environment.

  3. Mark McGuire

    Hi Irwin (and others)
    I think your use of the word “ecology” is key, as is the focus on collaboration. It’s not about products, but about the ongoing processes of co-creation. It’s like a good conversation — it’s constantly changing, it’s never finished, and it’s linked to other conversations as part of a complex web of dynamic relationships. It yields many quotable quotes, although it is often hard to know who to attribute, because the best ideas, like the tides, are a natural, magical outcome of interrelated processes that move and change us all.

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