There is a very strong overlap between "Open Educational Resources" and "Learning Objects" - so, what is the difference? Why should anyone care about OER, when LO failed? LO had a strong focus on metadata, on machine-mediated interoperability. OER is focused more on the content and the license. There are no technical standards to define an OER, merely the fact that someone created an educational resource (however that is defined) and decided to release it under an open license (typically, CreativeCommons). Because interoperability is not the primary goal, the content creators are primarily solving their immediate needs for content, and secondarily offering the content for reuse. Learning Objects began and ended with metadata, and as a result never really got much traction.
In my personal experience, I share my content freely under a simple CreativeCommons Attribution license, not out of some sense of altruism, but because it doesn't cost me anything to do so - either in time or resources. I create and publish content primarily for my own use, applying the CC By: license, and if someone else can benefit, then so be it. But sharing is not the primary goal of the activities of creating and publishing content. As a result, I've had photographs on magazine covers, published in books, used in board games, and in more websites and reports than I can track. All of that reuse was secondary to my initial purpose for creating and publishing the content - even if it has become more important than the original use. An argument could be made that I have lost potential revenue by releasing content for free use (even in a commercial context such as a book or magazine) but if I had locked the content down, that reuse would not have happened anyway. At the very least, sharing costs me nothing (either financially or in time) because the production of this content would have occurred even if the content was not shared. Further, I have had direct requests for separate commercial licensing of materials outside the bounds of CC By: (specifically for projects that couldn't provide proper attribution) and have granted these licenses as needed - the CreativeCommons license is non-exclusive, providing much flexibility.
From an institutional perspective, I encourage open sharing of academic content wherever I can, for two reasons. First, it's the right thing to do in order to disseminate the academic content as widely as possible. Second, from an economic point of view, in many cases the development of content has already been paid for by members of the general public - either through taxes which provide governmental financial support for the institution, or by contributions from other governmental sources. As a result, the content is indirectly paid for by the taxpayers, meaning they have a right to benefit from the process.
With this in mind, I think it is important to find processes of producing content whereby it is easier and more efficient to create "open" content than locked or proprietary content. The OpenContentDIY project with Jim is an example of this - using a hosted weblog/CMS application to produce content in a way that makes it easier to do it in the "Open" than not.
OERs and digital content in general is important because of the low cost of distribution - not free, but about as close as possible. There is also a strong environmental incentive - no forests are pulped to generate .PDF documents, and no oil is pumped to transport TCP/IP packets through the fiber optic backbone of the Internet. Also, by selecting an open content format such as HTML, XHTML, XML, or even just a well documented and available file format such as PDF, JPG, PNG or RTF, content is available for use on a wide variety of platforms, and portions of the content is available for reuse in other applications.
One trend that I find very impressive and promising is the growing acceptance of professors to have their students to "go public" (as John Willinsky advocates). I have talked with a professor at a high enrollment course at my university, who plans on having over 1000 undergraduate students collaborate to create open online resources to describe and discuss various topics. This is a strategy that would be impossible without digital content distribution, and would be difficult without open content licenses such as CreativeCommons. At the least, future cohorts of students will have a body of work to use as a starting point for their own projects. Ideally, future cohorts of students will be able to refine and extend the existing body of content, working to evolve the materials over time.
I am unconvinced in the need for repositories and referatories. As long as an OER has been produced using a suitable file format, and has a machine-readable license deed applied to it, tools such as the CreativeCommons Search utility should suffice. Individuals and organizations would be free to publish their content in any location visible to the open Web, and allow the existing infrastructure of Google, Yahoo, and the like to spider and index their resources for all to find and use. There is no need for creating walled gardens or silos of open educational content in the form of repositories or referatories.
I was surprised to see in the assay of OER projects, that they all seem to originate in "have" countries. The first world countries and institutions, releasing content as OER. That is likely to be expected, since these institutions will be more active in content production in general.
Question: Are third world countries seen purely as "consumers" of OER shared by benevolent first world nations?
I would hope to see significant OER production projects originating in third world nations, to foster culturally relevant materials and counter the "cultural imperialism" concerns.
One problem with a rise in available OER materials is the lack of "certification" in the content. There is no content review board, or process to verify accuracy and validity of the content. Conventional content distribution through printed books placed a burden on the publishers and editors, whose names appeared on the book. An OER could be created and published by an individual, without any accreditation or attribution.
Question: How best to determine accuracy and validity? Perhaps this is an opportunity for the repositories and referatories? Services like Merlot provide some of this functionality already, and there are opportunities for other localized services to review and "approve" available OER materials for use in various contexts.