Genesis of the OER Term [...]

The idea of open educational materials goes far back, and in fact predates most of the technology we associate with the movement today. The use of the particular term “open educational resources” however, has a more recent provenance, and can be traced to a 2002 UNESCO resolution. But what about the initialism “OER”? Where does that come from?

The initial UNESCO report does not mention the initialism. Here is the core of the resolution:

Participants then adopted a Final Declaration (Annex 6) in which they “express their satisfaction and their wish to develop together a universal educational resource available for the whole of humanity, to be referred to henceforth as Open Educational Resources.” [http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0012/001285/128515e.pdf source]

At the same time, the Hewlett Foundation was looking at the ways in which technology had and hadn’t impacted education and educational practice.  Under the leadership of John Seely Brown and others a new strategic initiative: Using Information Technology to Increase Access to High-Quality Educational Content. This project also used, initially the full term. However, by 2007 the term OER was prominent enough that it formed the title of their report: A Review of the Open Educational Resources (OER) Movement.[http://www.hewlett.org/uploads/files/ReviewoftheOERMovement.pdf cite]

The impact of Hewlett funds was quick and visible in the Open Education world. To give a sense of scale, between the initial report at the end of 2002 and 2007, a period of five years, Hewlett invested $68 million in OER projects, and it is likely their use of the term had broad impact.

Additionally, early debates tended to pair off OpenCourseWare with Open Educational Resources — explaining that Open Educational Resources was the larger lens. It’s likely that the constant use of the OCW initialism invited a parallel use of OER.


Report: Forum on the Impact of Open Courseware for Higher Education in Developing Countries (Paris, 1-3 July 2002)   [http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0012/001285/128515e.pdf pdf]

Paris Declaration on OER (2012). [http://ru.iite.unesco.org/files/news/639202/Paris%20OER%20Declaration_01.pdf pdf]

See also The Hewlett Wave