Supporting Deeper Learning Through OER and Open Educational Practice

By: Lisa Petrides, Amee Evans Godwin, and Cynthia Jimes


Although some in the field of open educational resources (OER) and open access movements may seek to upend portions of the publishing industry and traditional constraints around content ownership, ISKME’s main goal in the field of open education is the democratization of the access to education, and the pursuit and sharing of knowledge. By opening and decentralizing teaching and learning content and approaches, educators and students can seek and find information, lessons, exercises, simulations, primary sources, etc. that are more relevant to their needs and inclusive of their diverse backgrounds, histories and cultures. We see this ecosystem of open knowledge sharing as fundamental to teaching, to learning and to equity.

As such, this post outlines the importance of Open Educational Practice (OEP), which sits at the intersection of OER and deeper learning. It explores the inherent alignment in supporting teachers and educators in the facilitation of student mastery of deeper learning skills, and situates the contribution of OER as essential to its case.

Defining the Terms

Deeper learning, a term used to define the skills and knowledge that students need for successful entry into 21st century careers and civic life, is comprised of six competencies: mastery of core academic content, critical thinking and complex problem solving, effective communication, collaboration, learning to learn, and an academic mindset (William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, 2013). While OER are defined as freely available, openly licensed, and adaptable teaching and learning materials, open education is not limited to open educational resources, but leverages processes and technologies that facilitate collaborative, flexible learning and the open sharing of teaching practices that empower educators to benefit from the best ideas of their colleagues (Cape Town Open Education Declaration, 2007).

Using OER in order to innovate the learning process is at the core of Open Educational Practice. ISKME defines Open Educational Practice (OEP) as comprising a set of skills in collaboration, curation, curricular design, and leadership around the use of OER. OEP builds educator capacity for using OER to improve curriculum, instruction, and pedagogy, and to gain skills in digital resource curation and curriculum creation, and to actively collaborate around and advocate for innovative approaches to open education and OER. ISKME developed its Open Educational Practice Rubric to articulate key learning objectives for integrating OER and open educational practice into teaching and learning improvement and leadership.

OEP, together with OER, provide the vehicles for continuous improvement of instructional materials and methods. As digital and dynamic resources, the use of OER can connect communities of teachers, curriculum specialists, and librarians to collaborate, share, discuss, critique, use, reuse, and continuously improve educational content and practice.

Deeper Learning, OER, and OEP: Exploring a Crosswalk

Deeper learning skills, in many ways, reflect the way that content knowledge is taught and learned in the classroom (Conley, 2011). And while deeper learning skills are well articulated in the literature (e.g., Hewlett, 2013), there is a gap in consensus and in frameworks to guide what deeper learning pedagogy looks like in the classroom. Given the recognized alignment between deeper learning and project based learning (PBL), the Buck Institute for Education’s Project Based Teaching Rubric identifies concrete deeper learning pedagogies. Their rubric outlines “gold standard” competencies for PBL teaching practices in the K-12 classroom. The following table is an initial examination of deeper learning practices alongside OEP (and the use of OER), in order to begin to articulate their potential for alignment in terms of supporting teachers to facilitate student mastery of academic and non-cognitive skills.

Deeper Learning Aligned Practices    
Examples drawn from the Buck Institute for Education Project-Based Learning (PBL) Rubric

Open Educational Practice Supports for Deeper Learning-Aligned Practice
Key success skills are taught using a variety of tools and strategies, and through multiple forms of management.OEP supports multiple formats of teaching and learning content, embracing concepts from universal design for learning (UDL)
Student voice and choice regularly leveraged and ongoing, including identification of real-world issues and problems students want to address in projects.OEP allows for educators and students to identify and focus on real world problems relevant to their local contexts, through adapting materials, and to bring in real world data sets and project materials that can be localized. OER's flexibility allow students and teachers to mimic the practices that deeper learning seeks to inspire, e.g., students as creators with strong voice. 
Teachers emphasize and share the values of critique and revision, persistence, rigorous thinking and pride in doing high-quality work.OEP promotes teachers' deeper learning practices, whether personalized learning, flexible learning through adaptable content, collaborative peer to peer learning, etc.
Students are encouraged to work collaboratively in healthy, high-functioning teams, much like an authentic work environment.OEP promotes collaboration among teachers, allowing them to demonstrate the practices they aim to encourage in students. With deeper learning OER curricula, teachers can encourage students to do their own OEP, reinforcing collaboration by the nature of the behaviors that OER inspire.
Scaffolding is guided as much as possible by students' questions and needs; teacher does not "front-load" too much information at the start of the project, but waits until it is needed or requested by students.With OEP, the teacher acts more as a facilitator than a director of learning, by way of inviting critique, adaptations, continuous learning, and by inspiring self-directed learning. 
Students are supported in giving and receiving effective feedback to inform instructional decisions and students' actions. 

OEP encourages the ability to critique and continuously improve teaching and learning content and teaching practice. Teachers can demonstrate these skills and students can comment on and give feedback on instructional content, another invitation for their feedback voice. 


To summarize, supporting teachers to gain skills in deeper learning collaboratively is critical, and OEP enables collaboration. OEP encourages not only the sharing of best pedagogical approaches (such as supporting question generation and peer feedback), but also the sharing of curricular resources. OEP has the central purpose to foster educators’ abilities and motivations to take on deeper involvement in academic content, and to apply their own deeper learning skills, to think critically, design, collaborate and communicate with each other. Without the integration of OER and OEP into their teaching practice, teachers miss the key benefits of OEP: 1) the ability to find and leverage the work of others to fit the classroom and elevate student engagement; 2) access to legal and technological structures to use, adapt, author content that is most relevant to deeper learning priorities; and 3) the advancement of teacher professionalism in a manner that benefits others and the field of education generally.  

An OEP-based approach to deeper learning can play an important role in solving for the current gaps and challenge areas facing teachers and students. With OER at the core, resources that focus on components of deeper learning must be made openly accessible to all students, so that it is not confined to only well-resourced schools and districts. And importantly, OER curricula and community tools need to be harnessed around deeper learning teaching practices to enable a larger network from which teachers can seek support. Teachers new to deeper learning skills and practices need to see successful implementation through the use of student work samples, videos, and teacher accounts. They also need to have the ability to modify existing resources in response to the distinct needs of their own students. By providing successful examples and support, teachers can have a broader sense of both the value of productive struggle in facilitating deeper learning and the value of their unique implementation efforts. By adopting not just OER, but OEP, educators can more easily integrate the pedagogical and technological processes that 21st century teaching and learning demand.

In order to equitably scale deeper learning supported by the benefits of OER and address the needs of teachers to find, use, create and adapt curriculum, it is important to emphasize and model collaborative and problem solving behaviors for teachers that they in turn can model for students. Our work over the past decade in designing professional learning programs has shown that OEP has the potential to enable knowledge sharing and deeper learning generally, and to support teachers in their capacity to collaborate and effectively take on instructional improvement that incorporates deeper learning principles and skills for students.


October 16, 2017