11 What are Open Educational Resources?

Open Educational Resources are texts that are licensed openly and can be shared, modified and redistributed.

Please take a few minutes to watch the video below:

Attribution: An Introduction to Open Educational Resources” by Abbey Elder is licensed under a CC BY 4.0 International license.


The open education movement was originally inspired by the open source community, with a focus on broadening access to information through the use of free, open content. As Bliss & Smith (2017) explain in their breakdown of the history of open education:

“much of our attention focused on OER’s usefulness at providing knowledge in its original form to those who otherwise might not have access. The implicit goal was to equalize access to disadvantaged and advantaged peoples of the world – in MIT’s language, to create ‘a shared intellectual Common.’”[1]

Following the rise of open education in the early 2000s, growing interest in MOOCs, open courseware, and particularly open textbooks catapulted the movement to new heights; however, there are still many instructors who have never heard of open educational resources (OER) today.[2]

What is an OER?

Open Educational Resources (OER) are openly-licensed, freely available educational materials that can be modified and redistributed by users. They can include any type of educational resource, from syllabi to full courses.

  • Openly-licensed: You can read about this more in the Copyright & Licensing chapter.
  • Freely Available: The resources must be freely available online with no fee to access. Physical OER may be sold at a low cost to facilitate printing.
  • Modifiable: The resource must be made available under an open license that allows for editing. Ideally, it should also be available in an editable format.[3]

The most comprehensive definition of OER available today is provided by the Hewlett Foundation:

“Open Educational Resources are teaching, learning and research materials in any medium – digital or otherwise – that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions.”[4]

With a definition so broad that it includes any educational material so long as it is free to access and open, it might be easier to ask, “What isn’t an OER?”

What is not an OER?

If a resource is not free or openly licensed, it cannot be described as an OER. For example, most materials accessed through your library’s subscriptions cannot be altered, remixed, or redistributed. These materials require special permission to use and therefore cannot be considered “open.”

Table 1 below explains the difference between OER and other resources often misattributed as OER.

Table 1: Components of an OER
Material Type Openly Licensed Freely Available Modifiable
Open educational resources Yes Yes Yes
Free online resources under all rights reserved copyright No Yes No
Materials available through the University Library No Yes No
Open access articles and monographs Yes Yes Maybe

Note: Although some materials are free to access for a library’s users, that does not mean that they are free to access for everyone (including the library). Similarly, while some open access resources are made available under a copyright license that enables modification, this is not always the case.

Basically, we are working to create freely available and reusable course materials. In this way, we are helping to make learning more affordable.

How does OER help make learning affordable?

By definition, an OER is free. That’s one of the key characteristics. Instead of paying $200 for a chemistry textbook, an OER textbook is free for students and faculty to download. If students want to print an OER textbook, there is usually a printing fee (around $40). Students at OSU pay on average about $700-$1200 per year for textbooks. Using OER we can help reduce this number significantly.


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