4. Learn for Free: The Commoditization of Educational Content (OER is here)

10 Disruptive Factors Transforming the World of Education and Learning — Consequences, Opportunities, Tools

OER, Open Educational Resources, are freely accessible, openly licensed documents and media that are useful for teaching, learning, and assessing as well as for research purposes (Wikipedia).

OER offer a growing library of courses, research reports, textbooks, manuals, selected reading lists and annotated bibliographies, freely accessible by anyone across hundreds of different online repositories and institutions.

AS these OER resources become better organized and accessible, they offer a tremendously powerful resource, which, if curated, can give way to deep transformations in the way we access, consult and learn from existing knowledge and textbooks.

The Story of Prof. Thrun

At the end of 2011, Sebastian Thrun, a computer science professor at Stanford, conducts an experiment by offering a free, no pre-requisite online ten-week course in the Introduction to Artificial Intelligence that parallels his on-campus course.

One hundred and sixty thousand people (160,000) register. During the course, students post questions to the class blog, where other students use the Facebook system of likes. The best questions rise to the top.

Students then submit answers and are rated by their peers with an Amazon five-star system for the most helpful answer. The best answers rise to the top.

Students are teaching students.

23,000 students passed the online course. 253 with perfect scores.

Professor Thrun realizes that during this session, at 160,000, he has taught more students the subject than all of the rest of the computer science professors in the world.

The 23,000 who passed the course represent more students than most faculty will teach in their career. Out of the 200 Stanford students attending the traditional course, only 41 were in class at the end of the course. The other 159 opted for the online asynchronous presentation. Professor Thrun gave one of his hardest examinations. The on-campus passing rate was the highest ever.

Link: http://www.masternewmedia.org/future-education-breaking-connection-learning-assessment/

Today, OER educational offerings are so many and cover so many categories that what is needed the most is a way to more easily find what you actually need inside this fast growing quantity of content.

As a matter of fact there are now thousands of free courses available to all and offered by all kinds of universities. The topics of the courses offered range from molecular biology to digital marketing strategy and more and more are added every day.

Thus, the key challenge for any student interested in pursuing a cost-effective study-path, is how to find within such a broad selection of free course alternatives, which ones are truly the best and most valuable courses to apply to in any specific area of interest.

Furthermore, with such abundance and variety (in quality) of educational materials that allow students to pursue independent study paths outside of the traditional classrooms and with no academic supervision, it is foreseeable that a growing number of them will soon express need for trusted guides to help them identify and select top quality learning resources and curated learning paths on any specific topic.

This is where opportunities for both educational institutions and students lie.

Read this following passage carefully. It’s full of valuable info:

OER is unbundled and uncurated.
It’s pieces of the puzzle.
Someone needs to add all the bits together, make sure there are no content gaps, and determine scope and sequence.
Someone has to turn the content into a course.
Someone has to ensure that course complies with ever-shifting goals and standards, and add new research as it becomes available.
And someone needs to create teacher editions.

There are definitely lots of things to do for curators in this realm.


  • Lots of free content will be available for educational uses and applications. Amazon Inspire (free unlimited access to educational resources) is already a reality.
“OER will commoditize education content. Nothing can stop that.”
Jose Ferreira
  • The sheer quantity of free educational content will in turn create opportunities for those who can organize it, vet it, sort through it and suggest the best resources, playlists and learning paths to those in need of them.

“The broader significance of MOOCs is that they are part of a trend towards the unbundling of higher education. This will shake many institutions whose business model is based on a set fee for a four-year campus-based degree course.
As online education spreads, universities will come under pressure to move to something more like a “buffet” arrangement, under which they will accept credits from each other — and from students who take courses at home or even at high school, spending much less time on campus.”
The Economist 2012


  • Finding, selecting and organizing quality open educational resources. This is where the opportunity lies.
  • Traditional academic institutions may become trusted curators and guides to the greater universe of information out there, while focussing their efforts toward a set of specific areas, needs and communities of interests.
  • To curate the fast-growing amount of learning and educational resources available out there, may be one of the most appealing and cost-effective opportunities that traditional academic and training institutions may have at this point.
“And, like everybody else, [also traditional] publishers get the benefits of OER — they could create sticky ecosystems of crowd-sourced content, recommending the best OER to pair with each product.”
  • As learning and educational content will become overabundant and ubiquitous, individuals and organizations who will be able to be the first to gain authority and reputation in identifying, selecting and organizing the best and most appropriate free / open courses for anyone specific needs, will be the ones in high-demand and worth spending money into.
  • There will be a growing need to collect, organize and make-sense of this vast amount of “open” learning courses and educational materials, by creating “curated learning paths” for specific audiences and needs.
“Imagine education professionals around the country forming an online community where they are sharing, tagging, and work together to improve resources.

Think about classrooms that challenge our students to be creators and curators of their own learning.
This educational model is not in some far off land; it’s happening all over the country with districts who have made the commitment to #GoOpen.”
The Lego Bin by Office of Ed Tech

“…quite soon Open Educational Resources (OER) will make free content possible at scale, and digital technologies will make free distribution possible.”


  • Amazon Inspire
    Amazon Inspire is a free service for the search, discovery and distribution of digital educational resources. Amazon Inspire provides educators — regardless of funding or location — access to free digital teaching resources with rich features such as search, discovery and peer reviews.
  • MOOCs 
    Massive Open Online Courses are a popular example of OER.
  • Open Courses from Top Universities
    List of 1200+ free available online courses organized by categories.
  • OER
    Digital library and network of open education resources.
  • OER Commons — Author
    Tools to find, select and curate textbooks, lessons plans, guides.
  • Open Content
    Definition of Open Content and of Open Educational Resources
  • Openstax
    Open-sourced, peer-reviewed, 100% free access to high quality textbooks.
  • Curriki
    Educator-vetted, openly licensed, online educational materials.
  • MIT-X
    MITx is the massive open online course (MOOC) program at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. A constituent program of MIT’s Office of Digital Learning, MITx produces MOOCs from MIT departments and faculty that appear on the edX platform. MITx also supports residential experiments with scalable learning technologies and research on digital learning. MOOCs offered through edX by MITx are open-enrollment and free to take.
  • EDX
    edX is a massive open online course (MOOC) provider created by MIT and Harvard in 2012. It hosts online university-level courses in a wide range of disciplines to a worldwide student body, including some courses at no charge. It also conducts research into learning based on how people use its platform. EdX differs from other MOOC providers, such as Coursera and Udacity, in that it is a nonprofit organization and runs on open-source software.
  • Coursera
    Facilitates finding the best free online courses from top US universities.
  • Springboard
    Helps you discover and learn your favorite subjects by curating the ideal study-course leveraging OER resources.
  • Coursebuffet
    Find and compare hundreds of free online courses (MOOCs) from over 250 Universities.
  • eLearnHero
    Curates learning paths on communication-marketing related topics out of existing online free and paid courses.
  • Switchup
    Tripadvisor for switching careers and for finding the right learning path and the right skills to learn.
  • Degreed
    Showcases tons of real opportunities available online for anyone who wants to learn for free. 500+ of the best free or low-cost learning resources out there.
  • Khan Academy
    Khan Academy is a non-profit educational organization created in 2006 by educator Salman “Sal” Khan with the aim of providing a “free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere”. (Wikipedia)
  • Directory of Tools for Storing Open Educational Resources
    While the original source of this resource has been taken down, you can see from the cached version linked here how many tools and services have become available in this area.
  • Learncloud
    A crowdsourced library of free learning content where you can find, rate and share learning resources.
  • ETV
    eTV distributes programs recorded off-air from domestic and international television and Internet channels, that can be viewed and downloaded under the terms and conditions of the Screenrights Licensing Scheme.

Thank you for reading.

I am Robin Good, an independent author / publisher with a terminal addiction: help others effectively communicate, learn and market their ideas by exploring new ethical venues, innovative strategies and uncharted territories outside the mainstream.

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