Technical aspects of OER

An excellent source for in-depth discussion of issues about technical aspects of OER release and use is the JISC CETIS publication Into The Wild (full details below). This considers the range of technical aspects investigated by the three year HE Academy/JISC UKOER programme and highlights ongoing challenges.

Hosting and resource management

Processes and systems to manage the OER lifecycle.  Resource management includes decisions about hosting and storage and might also include activities around that to ensure that OER are preserved, and made accessible.  Version control is an important aspect of OER release. The systems used for resource management may include repositories, learning environments and content management systems, and Web2.0 services such as YouTube and flickr.

Resource description

Information about various properties of a resource to aid discoverability through machine readable metadata and which might help people use the resources. This might include standard metadata such as author, title, date published, publisher but in the case or OER it also needs to include information about the licence. Increasingly OER are released with other information around pedagogic context (sometimes as an additional ‘wrapper’) or a guides to accompany OER.

Licensing and attribution

Legal aspects of OER are complex and linked to wider issues of policy, risk management and ownership. In a technical context Licencing choice needs to be clear and made explicit.  Open licences encourage use, reuse, redistribution and modification with minimal restrictions. Creative Commons Licences have made choices easier to some extent although there are a range of open licences that could be applied to OER. Open licences do not transfer ownership but grant permission for specified uses and sometimes require attribution or other actions.


OER discoverability is supported by appropriate tagging, Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), effective use of social media, marketing and supporting discovery through community networks. Choices around hosting (particularly selecting a range of different hosts for either the OER or URLs) impact on discoverability. Making OER available through multiple platforms results to a high dependence on open feeds and open metadata, as this needs to be available to many different systems, services and users,  which also requires appropriate licensing to ensure discovery and use.

Tracking OERs

Efforts to establish how far OER are being used. Technically it is relatively easy to track views and downloads, but  harder to find out how resources are used.  (See below)

Paradata – activity data about learning resources

The following excerpt is taken from Into The Wild

“Activity data about a learning resource that effectively provides a dynamic timeline of how and in what context that resource has been used. Paradata is generated as learning resources are used, reused, adapted, contextualized, favorited, tweeted, retweeted, shared. Some of this data is deliberately created by users e.g. likes, comments tags; while some is generated incidentally as a result of the resources’ use, e.g. hits, download statistics, links to other resources. As more usage data is collaboratively gathered and published the paradata timeline grows and evolves, amplifying the available knowledge about what educational resources are effective in which learning contexts. Paradata complements existing metadata by providing an additional layer of contextual information. By capturing the user activity related to the resource, paradata can help to elucidate its potential educational utility.”


Accessibility is not simply a matter of technical interoperability or appropriate licencing, but is a complex mix of factors which requires consideration, experience and time to get right – OER may also need effective descriptions, appropriate pedagogic wrappers, helpful and alternative navigational mechanisms and signposting.

Educational accessibility refers to resources being at the appropriate educational level, and having appropriate pedagogical context for the intended users. This is discussed in OER use. It is worth noting that developing and releasing OER for specific user groups or courses can have a negative impact on wider accessibility, as educational context may not be easily transferrable.

Technical accessibility in a learning context relates to ensuring that content and services are made available to all users, whatever their ability, so that they can participate in learning in an equitable way. Due regard to the needs of different users, sensitive design and flexible ways of delivering resources all play a part in this. Factors affecting accessibility include: format choice (possibly offering a range of alternative – eg. pdf, word, odf), granularity (providing small individual assets or chunks as well as offering OER within  a structure), different routes and navigation/signposting mechanisms, using multiple platforms, providing additional support in the form of guides.


Other sources

  • Jorum support page 
  • Learning Registry – open source technical system designed to facilitate the exchange of data behind the scenes, and an open community of resource creators, publishers, curators, and consumers who are collaborating to broadly share resources, as well as information about how those resources are used by educators in diverse learning environments across the Web.