Why do OER matter for less used languages?

Katerina Zourou, Ph.D., LangOER project manager

Throughout the project lifetime (January 2014-December 2016) the LangOER team will produce evidence-based studies on the value of OER for less used languages for several target groups (learners, and teachers, educational experts and researchers, policy makers at national and international levels). Looking for evidence in OER is a complex issue, with the OER Research Hub probably being the only initiative striving to provide evidence on OER.

This short overview is based on a small sample of existing studies on the value of OER from a multilingual/multicultural perspective and provides a grounding for forthcoming studies. It exemplifies barriers that can only be overcome by broader participation with Open Educational Practice (OEP) and stronger engagement at policy level.

  • Shortage of freely accessible resources in less used languages (and social connectivity as a response)

There is a need for less used languages to openly license existing resources as a means to engage with users wishing to improve their knowledge about given languages/cultures. Keeping resources as copyrighted material not only impedes re-use and repurposing of materials in new learning contexts but also prevents users from taking ownership of them and engaging with their development and improvement. A study by Ulrich Tiedau (2013) on Dutch language OER developed in the UK emphasizes the importance of community-driven OEP as a trigger for OER expansion.

  •  Reluctance to use OER in languages other than the native language

A recent study (Clements & Pawlowski, 2012) confirms that hindrances to the use and re-use of OER are among others linguistic in nature. 35% would rather use material produced in their own country and 21% say a main barrier is resources in English only (p.9).

  •  OER as means to face cultural/linguistic hegemony

Due to the limited number of speakers of less used languages by comparison with the number of speakers of “bigger” languages, the capacity to produce, maintain and update resources is not the same. Adoption of OER/OEP is much more pressing for less used languages and on a global scale their lack threatens linguistic and cultural diversity. Two studies support this idea, both situated in the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) field. Although OER and MOOC are not comparable, we can draw similarities with the perceived threat of cultural/linguistic hegemony by more represented languages. A short paper by Altbach (2014) asks ‘who controls knowledge” in MOOCs and highlights the fact that the number of students from foreign countries registering on a course is much higher than the number of native speakers. The author questions the pedagogical and other values that a course brings, and their suitability for any registered user in the world. In addition, a blog post (though not grounded on evidence) by Katherine Forestier entitled “China’s new MOOCs could be a double-edged sword“ ) shares insights on this issue from a policy perspective. The author claims that the arrival of MOOCs has been greeted nervously by many university leaders in China, with some concerned about ‘foreign ideas’ being imported via MOOCs, and that this move has resulted in Chinese MOOCs in response to English-language ones.

The main page of the consortium of French-language MOOCS (or FLOTs, for Formations en Ligne Ouvertes à Tous)states that “the development of French-language MOOCs alongside English-language MOOCs is even more important for teaching in regions that are historically French-speaking, particularly in Africa”.

Another example is OCW Universia, formed by all the Spanish, Portuguese and Latina American Universities which have opted to join the OCW project. The OCW Universia website states that partners belong “under the cultural and geographical affinity of the Spanish American space. It thus has a stronger representation on the world Consortium”.

Growth of OER in less used languages comes not only by enhancing the production of OER in these languages, but also through an effort to cross-fertilize approaches, methods and practices. What is needed is to create bridges between stakeholders and communities of more and less knowledgeable peers and to strengthen cooperation between stakeholders of leading languages and those of less used ones, so that more voices are expressed, resources are more contextualized and rooted to cultural/linguistic contexts. Engagement with end users is also useful, with some crowdsourcing examples already in place (Paskevicius, 2012). After all, multilingualism/multiculturalism is a trademark of openness, exploration and wide horizons.


Altbach, P. 2014 MOOCs as Neocolonialism: Who Controls Knowledge? International Higher Education, number 75, Spring 2014, p. 5-7.

Clements, K., & Pawlowski, J. M. (2012). User-oriented quality for OER: understanding teachers’ view on re-use, quality, and trust. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning , 28(1), p. 4-14.

Forestier, K. 2013. China’s new MOOCs could be a double-edged sword. University World News. Published November 1, 2013, last access June 30, 2014 http://www.universityworldnews.com/article.php?story=20131101154620288

Paskevicius, M. 2012. Adding language subtitles on Khan Academy VideosPublished March 2, 2012, last access June 30, 2014 http://blogs.uct.ac.za/blog/oer-uct/2012/03/02/adding-language-subtitles-on-khan-academy-videos

Tiedau, U. 2013. Open Educational Practices in a Lesser-Taught Language Community. Journal of E-Learning and Knowledge Society,(January 2013), 47–57. Retrieved from http://je-lks.org/ojs/index.php/Je-LKS_EN/article/view/801

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