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Benefits and Challenges of OER

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


In the introduction, we mentioned that OER should be considered a subset of a broader term, open education. Advocates of open education believe education should:

  • be open to anyone
  • be affordable and, ideally, free
  • encourage students to try the course before signing up
  • offer flexible study times not bound by weekly timetables or semester calendars;
  • allow students work at their own pace
  • be available from anywhere and not restricted by access to school or college;
  • offer access to a large amount of study materials
  • allow courses and study materials to be offered with an open licence encouraging adaptation and reuse

The use of OER can realize some of these open education ideals 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 open education and OER work together. 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 open resources 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, it turns out that using OER is not always straightforward. There are various challenges that face practitioners when it comes to harnessing OER. Current 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 licenses – 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 practise in revising and remixing resources, in addition to basic ICT skills.
  • Traditional mindsets – Many educators 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 is essential to access and adapt OER.
  • Incentives – Schools and universities seldom incentivize course creation, so educators want to spend as little time as possible preparing their materials.

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

  1. Taking into account the challenges mentioned above, ascertain the state of readiness of your institution to engage with OER. You can use the 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?



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