Hewlett Grantmaking Launches
Open Educational Resources

Despite their regular appearance in the news, grantmaking foundations remain something of a mystery to most people, surveys show. Recently the Hewlett Foundation newsletter took a look at some of the many forms foundation work can take. Here’s one. To see the others, click here.

Sometimes a good idea lacks nothing but someone willing to act.

Such was the case with Open Educational Resources. The movement to make high-quality educational materials available for free to everyone via the Internet unofficially began in 2000, when MIT made the bold decision to make all of its undergraduate course material freely available online. University officials approached the Hewlett Foundation to help fund the work, and a movement was born.

Sensing the opportunity that the MIT action represented, the Foundation has to date invested more than $120 million in grants to dozens of organizations around the world, launching a global movement to expand access to educational materials. Key to this work was Foundation support for Creative Commons, a nonprofit corporation that helps people and institutions modulate copyright protections so others can use and revise educational materials for free.

Since those early grants, the Hewlett Foundation has funded a broad range of Open Educational Resources, from HippoCampus, which provides high-quality, multimedia educational content for high school and college students, to OER Africa, which provides practical information about agriculture and health, as well as educational content, to Wikipedia, one of the most widely used websites in the world.

Beyond the direct impact of making educational materials broadly available to those who previously had limited access to them, the Hewlett Foundation’s grantmaking in Open Educational Resources demonstrates how a foundation may, on occasion, work to develop an entirely new field.

Today, after a decade of championing Open Educational Resources, the Foundation is evolving its strategy. Now that the movement has blossomed far beyond the organizations that Hewlett funds, the Foundation is shifting to a supporting role by making grants to encourage the development of a self-sustaining infrastructure. It’s also making grants to bolster efforts for individual Open Educational Resources projects to become self sustaining, as well as advancing the understanding of how Open Educational Resources can improve teaching and learning with a goal of more success in learning for more people at a lower cost.


November/December 2010 Newsletter