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Open Educational Resources Operating Policy

  1. Overview
  2. Definitions
  3. Strategic contributions of Open Educational Resources
  4. Operating Guidelines
  5. Partnerships

1 Overview

1.1. This page provides The Open University's (OU) definition of open educational resources (OER), their main purposes and impact, and some principles guiding their delivery and development.

1.2. It sets out the strategic contribution OER play within the OU's overarching mission.

1.3. It describes the operating guidelines that we are working to.

1.4. Finally, it notes our approach to partnerships in this area.

2 Definitions

2.1. This Policy focuses on the OU's own OER, i.e. OU branded, educational content that is produced, commissioned or acquired by the OU and then released, for no fee, into the public domain via major branded OU media channels or third party channels.

2.2. Channels: Our open educational media channels reach around 12 million users of OU free educational content each year. The following channels allow the OU to distribute its branded content. They comprise the OU's OpenLearn channel as well as other third party channels which allow us to reach a wider and more varied group of learners.

The OU's own OER channel is OpenLearn, which has a global reach of over 10m learners a year.

Third party channels provide a means of sharing content directly through re-publishing, or by associating educational content with social media activity.  Whilst all such channels, including OpenLearn, provide social sharing functionality, they share features with other channels, but have their own distinct features as being a social media and networking platform, a digital media service, or a combination of both.

Third-party sites are shown on a continuum, from 'social media and networking' to 'digital media services'.  Twitter and Facebook closest to 'social media and networking'; YouTube and Instagram in the middle; Amazon and Google Play closest to 'digital media services'.

Aside OpenLearn, these third party channels include:

2.3. OER content is unaccredited: learners do not have the opportunity to gain academic credit by using the content. They may gain recognition for their achievements through a digital badge or certificate (statement of participation) via OpenLearn in recognition of completing an open course.  This content falls into two basic categories:

  • Existing content - adapted extracts of current or archived teaching and learning materials from OU formal (accredited) courses. These are our 'primary sources' - they are examples of the OU's structured and guided learning materials selected from its fully supported, accredited formal teaching and learning provision.
  • Commissioned content - these are additional educational materials that are commissioned specifically for public use but are utilised within the curriculum or as support materials. These educational materials must relate to courses or modules/qualifications, research programmes or other OU activities/services (e.g. an article on OpenLearn promoting general interest in psychology). However, these materials are not adapted through formal course production routes.

2.4. Licensing conditions: Wherever possible we will release materials under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 (see section 4 below for details). Requests to release these materials under a different licence will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. 

3 Strategic contributions of OER

3.1. The OU is committed to ensure that as many people as possible have the opportunity to easily access a meaningful, reliable, sustainable, high quality educational experience.

3.2. The OU charter and statutes states that through 'means such as broadcasting' and other technologies, it will 'promote the educational well-being of the community generally' (Object. 3 OU Charter).

3.3. The OU is particularly concerned to reach those that might not otherwise have access (financially, geographically or technologically) to learning experiences. We aim to ensure there are as few barriers as possible. As part of this commitment to access, the OU freely releases educational materials into the public realm. This helps to support the twin pillars of core OU activity:

  • Social mission (e.g. public awareness of, and easy access to, life-long learning opportunities - including free, non-formal learning).
  • Business mission (e.g. brand awareness, student registration, asset and archive exploitation/re-use in formal learning, asset sales income from fee-paying customers).

3.4. The primary function of OER is to support the social mission. In addition, the channels also support other business activities which have their own performance targets:



The number of non-formal learners converting to formal learning

Brand Impact

Brand awareness and reaching a range of audiences


Use of open media assets in learning and teaching with formal students


Opportunities to derive income from commercial sale of assets


Enquiries for formal learning (click-through from OpenLearn to enquiry and to registration on formal fee-paying courses)

Channel views, unique online visitors, dwell time, active engagement and comment/rating

Value of assets available and used


  • Conversion : Visitors to OER are given opportunities to actively engage with sample materials and be provided with clear opportunities to move into fee paying, formal, supported study with the OU.
  • Brand Impact : Visitors to OER channels are made aware of what the OU is, what it has to offer and its research. Our open educational activity complements our traditional marketing activities by also providing clear brand awareness and public representation of our content and services.
  • Asset Exploitation : OER should help existing OU students to enhance their current formal learning experience, employability and induction as well as help them identify new subjects of interest for further formal study. 'Dormant' students are also made aware of new offerings via newsletters and/or other alumni services. Non-formal open media should include materials that can also be reused in formal courses.
  • Income : OER assets and channels should be used to generate income where appropriate. For example, sales of Kindle ebooks via Amazon.

4 Operating Guidelines

4.1. The social and business benefits of OER must be optimised.

4.2. The following guidelines should be followed in respect of OER (where possible) and they should be used to evaluate whether the content is suitable:

To be openly licensed

The OU will release its content under a Creative Commons license wherever possible and practical.

We have chosen to make OU content available under the CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0 version of the licence. Our rationales for these choices are:

  • BY (Attribution): We recognise that, for some users, our content could be more effective on platforms other than the ones we chose for initial distribution. Therefore we support users or organisations who want to republish the material to other locations. All republished content must be attributed (while still properly attributing and linking back to the content owner as per the requirements of the licence).
  • SA (Share Alike): We expect others to share content under the same licence.
  • NC (Non-Commercial): 'The NC licence enables the OU to maximize the amount and accessibility of freely available OU content in the public domain without undermining the OU's social and business activities as noted in Section 3. In this context Non-Commercial is understood as follows: We do not expect individual users or organisations to use our content for commercial purposes (where the use of the content has a commercial value) including without limitation:
  • Selling our (otherwise freely available) content for profit . We recognise the argument that OU provision of free versions of our course content should make a fee-based version less (commercially) viable than the OU free version. However, this may not be the case, particularly where high-profile organisations exploit our free content for fee to their users and where they have significant resources available for competitive marketing of our materials. This may undermine the OU's opportunities for brand recognition and 'conversion' (see above for performance targets).
  • Republishing our content and placing advertisements around it . The OU does not allow third party advertising on its own channels (or where it has such control on the third-party channels it uses). This is important because (i) any content-related advertisements are likely to be for competitors to the OU's core social and business activities; and (ii) we would not wish advertisements for businesses within certain sectors to feature next to our content as they could damage our reputation through association.
  • In contrast, if individual users or organisations choose to invest their resources and add value to OU OER through adaptation and development, they are then justified in recovering (only) the costs and resources involved.
  • We provide a statement connected with our CC licence reflecting position which is extensively explained in OpenLearn FAQs.  A samle highlighting the non-commercial element of the Creative Commons licence is given below.

The Open University considers 'non-commercial' to include educational institutions, commercial companies or individuals making use of OpenLearn content on a cost-recovery basis.

We aim to make as much free learning content available as possible. We encourage others to adapt and develop our materials in the development of new free learning experiences.

You may charge for learning experiences you provide using our materials on a cost recovery basis under the following conditions:

  • You may represent these materials in any format or medium, including photocopied or hard copy printouts/DVD/SD Card. You may make a charge for the recovery of your costs for printing/duplication.
  • Where the OU OER forms part of a course you are presenting you may charge for the recovery of your costs for value added services such as the provision of the additional or adapted content or tutoring/teaching and support. 
  • You may not charge for services in order to return a financial profit (through sales of the content or through placing advertising around them). 
  • You may not charge for these services if you have not made significant adaptations of the materials or if our unadapted content forms the main basis of the course. Aggregation of our content does not comprise adaptation.

Please check the licensing conditions for ALL content that is to be adapted. Exceptions to the CC BY-NC-SA can be found in the acknowledgement pages of our free course content.

If you are unclear we are always happy to discuss the meaning of 'adaptation' and 'significant' on a case-by-case basis. So if you are unclear about these conditions - or feel your case needs special consideration - please contact us at We are keen to explore how we can support your educational service - however big or small.

ND (No Derivatives): We recognise that our materials may be more effective if they are adapted or built on (e.g. translated, disaggregated, mixed with other materials, localised with new case study examples etc.). Therefore, we strive to avoid the use of the 'No Derivative' restriction on our content.

Non-Creative Commons content: We believe the primary barrier to access high-quality educational experiences is cost, which is why we aim to publish as much free content as possible under an open licence. If it proves difficult to release content under our preferred CC licence (e.g. because we can't afford or gain the clearances or find suitable alternatives), we will still release the materials for free but under a more restrictive end-user licence.

To be representative of OU social and business activities
  • Commissioned, branded content should relate to and effectively represent the teaching and learning of the OU as a whole and meet agreed technical and accessibility standards.
  • All formal courses (modules/qualifications) should have some representation on OpenLearn.
  • Third-party materials can be included within open media channels but there must be some significant 'value added' in terms of contextualisation or adaptation by the OU. Where possible the OU should choose third-party materials which are cleared for use under the CC BY-NC-SA licence.
  • Third-party materials which have little or no OU-added value should be linked to, or, if necessary, deposited in third-party spaces (the OU also provides OpenLearn Create - a space for individuals and organisations to present and adapt their own learning content) - See below.
  • User generated or staff/student generated content should be released without formal branding/OU endorsement via a range of public channels (and shall be treated as third party material).
To be discoverable
  • Content should be produced and released with optimised discoverability so that it reaches a wide audience. There should be clear search engine optimisation (SEO) considerations to ensure content is surfaced appropriately in natural search (e.g. via Google).
  • Content should be commissioned and promoted to ensure the OU is associated with topical national and international events (e.g. Olympics, International Women's Day, general election etc.)
To be Branded, Brand-enhancing and Compliant
  • All open media output carries clear OU branding in a brand use compliant manner with a clear 'call to action' (i.e. an invitation to join a learning journey which leads towards OU formal study opportunities), save as set out above regarding non-commissioned user generated or student generated content.
To facilitate OU social and business activities
  • Open media commissioning should contribute to the enhancement of the teaching and learning experience at the OU.
  • All open media content must be clearly linked with specific modules and/or programmes of study or other OU services/products.
  • Where possible, open media should be linked through to other relevant content or service sales mechanisms.
  • Information materials which do not provide a significant educational service but are primarily descriptive of an OU service or product may be linked to from open media but will not be carried by the open media channels.
To be inclusive
  • Materials should be accessible to a broad public audience. If understanding or use of the materials requires access to specific software, systems or content that is not freely available (or considered affordable or highly adopted) then they are unlikely to be suitable for OU open media channels.
To have digital continuity
  • Content will be actively managed over time, for as long as the assets are used and have recognised on-going value (even if the related formal course is no longer available).
  • A "digital life cycle" approach will provide the systematic framework appropriate for the short/medium or long-term access, use and preservation of the content (free course content review on OpenLearn has a governance structure requiring yearly, three-yearly and five-yearly reviewing, update and archiving of all OpenLearn content).

4.3. Open Media should not distract from the OU's core business. Therefore the following guidelines should be followed in respect of syndication:

  • Syndication (distribution of OU open content across third-party channels) has important potential. The advantages are that these third-party platforms may have very niche (and appropriate) visitors, sub-groups or very large users groups with an interest in non-formal learning. However, syndicated content should be managed so that:
    • content retains OU brand association
    • content retains proper attribution to the OU along with clear links back
    • content has 'canonical referencing' (i.e. natural search for syndicated content will deliver the user to the OU not to the third party, who have provided a potentially high profile but additional platform for OU content).

5 Partnerships

We also support other organisations in achieving similar educational goals - especially in the domains of Teacher, Health and Management education.

International and National Government Development Programmes using Open Media

5.1 The OU helps to deliver development programmes in partnership with governments, NGOs, funding institutions and local partners.

5.2 We work where there is the greatest need: where our expertise can impact the many, rather than the few, and where our work helps create sustainable social and economic development, local and national.

Open Education Research and Evaluation

5.3 Our OpenLearn research focus is to understand why openness is important to the future of learning, identify those activities that need to be supported and show how evidence of impact can influence policies and decisions. Research in this programme includes the filtering of evidence and targeted extraction of themes, evaluation and experimentation in open approaches and establishing an international role to help bring out lessons and conclusions.

OpenLearn Create

5.4 The OU aims to ensure other organisations can develop small-scale OER projects of their own.

5.5 OpenLearn Create is an open educational platform where individuals and organisations can publish their open content, open courses and resources. It has tools for collaboration, reuse and remixing.

Principles for Partnership Projects

5.6 In general, when working with partners we look for solutions which are:

  • sustainable - not likely to incur unnecessary, unpredictable or unaffordable support costs for the stakeholder
  • inclusive - available on a range of appropriate platforms from print to smart phone
  • resilient - continue to deliver services through known trailing as well as unforeseen leading edge devices and platforms as they emerge
  • accessible - built to standards that do not exclude those with disabilities
  • free - to the end user or have substantial components which are free and open (but do not exclude local stakeholder monetisation for long term sustainability)
  • facilitative - encouraging, developing and using local capacity building (for content and systems) not damaging or limiting local provision or participation
  • participatory - solutions which encourage end user engagement and participation
  • localisable - encourage the promotion of local or community identity
  • flexible - can deliver a range of learning experiences/formats

5.7 For these reasons, in general we favour:

  • open content licenses
  • open software licenses
  • open data licenses
  • cross platform applications - not dependent on particular hardware/operating system
  • standards compliant solutions (e.g. standardised import/export formats)
  • support for interoperability with other systems.

5.8 We are also keen to ensure that any software or hardware systems have support communities that will remain available, affordable, scalable and resilient by ensuring wherever possible our partners benefit:

  • from OU investments and developments for our own learners on our own systems - we can aim to exploit the advantages of having similar underlying technology infrastructures
  • from our good existing relationships with other organisations
  • from third-party investments implemented for other partners' projects - we aim to exploit and encourage the connections between content and technology from other partner projects.