I, too, would like to approach the question of sustainability of OERs from the perspective of the learner. I agree with Jennifer that it is likely that OE learners approach content quite differently than traditional learners. However, it seems likely to me that both groups of students are goal-driven (although their goals an motivations are likely quite diverse).
The issue of motivation (described very nicely by Benkler in Common Wisdom: Peer Production of Educational Materials) is at play for learners as much as it is for those who are creating the majority of the OER content.
At different times of the day, week, month,
year, and lifetime, we dedicate different amounts of our time, effort, and
creativity to different behaviors and interactions. At some points, we will be
goal oriented and seek to satisfy our material needs and desires. At others, we
will focus on maintaining our social or psychological well being through
interactions that cannot be captured by money, or, indeed, would be ruined by
the introduction of money-like having dinner with friends. Or sex.
He goes on to make the point that the whole question of motivation becomes somewhat trivial when the cost of participation (production) is low enough. Ultimately, it may be in the lack of our ability to adequately search, integrate and filter from such a growing body of OERs available from a simple Google search. I don’t think this is wholly a technical challenge – teachers. librarians, learning support specialists play a role here.
The support structures (both people and technical) may be where the sustainability issue runs aground. I think this does require a Commons approach rather than an institutional one – perhaps with institutional resources contributing to the Commons.
Educational resources will be created anyway – so the cost is assumed. Making them accessible (and perhaps improving them through adaptation over time) is really the issue – and it seems to me there are enough free tools – any one of which can serve as a sustainable, personal, shareable content repository. So what’s left? This relates to the human element – how are people supported in contributing/using these resources in a meaningful way? This is (perhaps) the most overlooked element in the whole discussion on OERs so far.
Here are some of the questions that I think come into play. For learners: How do I know what is good content? From whom do I seek guidance when trying to evaluate my goals? How will I know if I am on the right path to achieving my goals? How do I evaluate my learning? For Faculty: How will I know if the sharing of these resources serves my intended purpose/needs? What are my responsibilities in maintaining this content? How will I likely be successful in achieving my goals?
The videoclip below (authored by Michael Wesch and the students in his Digital Ethnography course at Kansas State U.) seems to be a fairly representative view of students in North American Universities today. OERs (or Open Education generally) may not solve the problems highlighted here, but maybe this is one good starting place for thinking about what OERs might need in order to be sustainable from a student’s perspective.