What is open education?

There are a wide range of definitions of open educational resources (OER) and open educational practices (OEP).

UNESCO defines Open Educational Resources (OER) as:

‘… any type of educational materials that are in the public domain or introduced with an open licence. The nature of these open materials means that anyone can legally and freely copy, use, adapt and re-share them. OER range from textbooks to curricula, syllabi, lecture notes, assignments, tests, projects, audio, video and animation.’

And open educational practices (OEP) can be described as:

‘…the set of activities and support around the creation, use and repurposing of Open Educational Resources’ Conole (2010); and

‘Open Educational Practices (OEP) are the use of open educational resources with the aim to improve the quality of educational processes and innovate educational environments.’ Ehlers and Conole (2010)

The following are the OEPS project working definitions of OER and OEP.

Open educational resources (OER)

Our understanding of Open Educational Resources is grounded in established notions of openly licensed content. We have a specific focus on freedoms afforded by openly licensing content (allowing “The 5 Rs”: retain, reuse, revise, remix, redistribute) and the degree to which design development and distribution accounts for equity and openness.

Open educational practices (OEP)

We think of Open Educational Practices as those educational practices that are concerned with and promote equity and openness. Our understanding of ‘open’ builds on the freedoms associated with “the 5 Rs” of OER, promoting a broader sense of open, emphasising social justice, and developing practices that open up opportunities for those distanced from education.

There have been a wide range of commitments made by different organisations and individuals to open educational resources, for example:

Each of these inform the work of the OEPS project.


In additional to OER and OEP there is a range of other open, online content including MOOCs, SPOCs, BOCs and Badges.

What is a MOOC?

A MOOC is a course of study made available over the Internet without charge and studied by a very large number of people. A number of Scottish universities deliver MOOCs through the FutureLearn platform; the University of Edinburgh uses both FutureLearn and Coursera. MOOCs are free to study but may charge for certification. They are not normally openly licensed (see OER definition above).

Read more about MOOCs including how the definition is contested.

What is a SPOC?

An offshoot of MOOCS, are SPOCs – ‘small private online course’; the online course may be licensed by the originator for use by a business or university for a fee.

What is a BOC?

A BOC is a Badged Open Course. BOCs are different from MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) because they are perpetual, enabling students to return to them at any time to refresh their knowledge, unlike MOOCs which generally have a set start and finish date. BOCs allow the student to earn a digital / open badge on successful completion of an online assessment.

What is an Open Badge?

An open badge is a form of online digital certification achieved by completing defined assessments linked to an online course. The badge contains metadata that stores the assessment criteria and the nature of the achievement.

To find about more about badges in the context of Open Educational Practice read the Open Badge definition or watch this video from the Scottish Social Services Commission.


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