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On Learning objects and OER

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By Rory McGreal August 28, 2013 - 6:33pm

In the introduction to our edited book:

McGreal, R., Kinutha, W., & Marshall, S. (Eds.). (2013). Open Educational Resources: Innovation, Research and Practice. Vancouver: Commonswealth of Learning. Retrieved from

I wrote:

“So, OER, as freely available learning objects encapsulating learning resources, are pedagogically neutral and, as a concept, can lend themselves to any learning theory. OER proponents in different theoretical “camps” of learning, such as constructivist, connectivist or behaviourist, can design their OER either to support their theories uniquely or to be more generalisable in a wider variety of learning contexts.”

In a recent very positive review of the book in the British Journal of Educational Technologies (BJET), Peter Cannell wrote:

“Perhaps more controversially, He [Rory McGreal] considers that oer are also pedagogically neutral in as much as different theoretical /pedagogical perspectives can be embedded in learning objects while we construct them. This seems to be a rather restricted view of neutrality. Indeed, it could be argued that the range of examples covered in the book exemplify the ways in which oer are developed in the context of cultures, practices and a history in which different choices are made.”

As I have been hearing this non-neutrality argument from researchers, particularly those in the UK, for some time, going back to early research on Learning Objects, I feel that a further clarification is in order. In my statement above I am conveying the view of the OER as being the box that holds the content and not the content itself. I have confused the issue by referring to the lesson also as “OER”. It is the box that is pedagogically neutral not the lesson.  Of course you can embed into the box a resource whose use is restricted to one pedagogical technique or one can embed more generalisable resources. So, rather than a “restricted view of neutrality” it is an infinitely expansive view. And, the range of resources and choices in the book serve to exemplify this view of the OER as a neutral box that can house a wide range of resources. I believe that this is the basis for the misunderstanding.

Those who conceptualise the OER as being the content/lesson itself can argue that the OER is not neutral.  If the OER is perceived as being the technology housing the lesson, as I do, then it can be neutral. Perhaps we should view the “box” as the Learning Object (LO) and the content as the OER to avoid any confusion? A LO can encapsulate restrictively licensed content as well as OER. The licence refers to the actual content rather than the box in which it is encapsulated.


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