OER The Origin Story


Every superhero has an origin story.  OER stands for Open Educational Resources–free and openly licensed educational materials that can be used for teaching, learning, research, and other purposes. OER truly is a superhero in k12 and post secondary education, but its origin story has had a few key players that led to its remarkable birth and growth.

In 1994, Wayne Hodgins coined the term “learning object” and this term quickly entered the vocabulary of educators and instructional designers. The idea of “learning objects” was that digital materials could be designed and produced in a manner as to be reused easily in a variety of situations.   This was revolutionary. It would be the equivalent of discovering that when reading a magazine, you could tear out a specific page you wanted to save and reuse it, rather than being stuck with the entire magazine in its bound form.

In 1998, David Wiley came along and coined the term “open content”. This term was targeted for the educational community but it was quickly adopted by internet users.  What this term did was to apply the principles of the open source/free software movement to content.  This term led to the the creation of the first widely adopted open license for content (the Open Publication License).


In 2001 Larry Lessig and others founded the Creative Commons and released a flexible set of licenses that were a huge improvement on the Open Publication License’s license structure. The major role Creative Commons played in the history of OER was to increase credibility and confidence to the open content community through their easy-to-use Creative Commons licenses.


In 2001, MIT announced its OpenCourseWare initiative to publish nearly every university course for free public access for noncommercial use. This was a big move for such high profile, well-respected school.  MIT jumping on the OER bandwagon? It was like OER being asked to the prom by the football team captain; it gave OER an instant shot of cred.



Finally, in 2002 UNESCO held a Forum where a bunch of smart people got together and came up with the lofty dream “to develop together a universal educational resource available for the whole of humanity.” They chose the term “open educational resource” to describe their efforts.  And thus– the birth of a super hero.



OER 1 2 3 2013 VSSOER is in its toddler stage; but it is becoming a very popular toddler.  Educators in Utah have spearheaded some signficant OER projects, including the USOE Science Textbooks and the Mathematics Vision Project. Research studies continue to support the benefits of OER; the growth and adoption of OER by educators will have a major impact on k12 and post-secondary education the coming years.

Sarah Weston

Sarah is a graduate of Brigham Young University, holding a BA in Mathematics Education and earned her M Ed from Western Governors University. She has built over 20 courses using OER and currently oversees all course development and teacher training on building with OER at Mountain Heights Academy. Sarah was awarded Utah Charter Educator of the Year in 2010; the first online educator to receive the award. She was also privileged to be awarded 2011, 2013, and 2014 Best of State in Curriculum Development. In 2015 and 2015, she was awarded the Open Education Excellence Award for Outstanding Site and Outstanding Courses.

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