Skip to main content

OER - Open Educational Resources

Research, explore, and learn how to use OER materials for instruction and learning.

OER Explained

Open Educational Resources logo

What is OER?

Open Educational Resources (OER) are educational materials freely and legally available through open licensing for instructors and students alike to use, adapt, share and reuse.

Open licensing permissions for OER are typically defined by the 5 Rs, outlining an individual's right to:

  • Retain: create, archive, and own copies of the content
  • Reuse: content can be reused in its unaltered form
  • Revise: content can be adapted, adjusted, modified, and altered
  • Remix: original or revised content can be combined with other content to create something new
  • Redistribute: copies of the content can be shared with others in its original, revised or remixed form.

OER are generally digital in format, but can include print works as well.
They include any type of teaching, learning, or research content, such as:

  • textbooks, lesson plans, study guides, assignments, exams, exercises, and videos. 

OER also extend to digital learning tools, such as:

  • software for web design and video creation or word processing programs.

Abby Elder / CC BY 4.0

This guide by Lynn Chung at Compton College is adapted from resources shared by Lansing Community CollegeUniversity of Pittsburgh, Thomas Nelson Community College, Austin Community College, and Lehman College. Content in this guide is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Why Use OER

floating open books with text "free the texbook"

Libby Levi / CC BY-SA

Using OER allows faculty to offer courses at zero textbook cost (ZTC)! Textbook pricing is often prohibitively expensive for students, and can significantly impact those relying on grants and student loans to attend college. These costs can deter students from enrolling in a course or prevent them from purchasing the required textbookscreating another obstacle to equitable learning. 

red alarm clock sitting in field of grass.

The diversity and breadth of OER available is substantial, covering materials ranging from textbooks and lesson plans to assignments and in-class activities. OER is created by instructors worldwide, providing high quality course materials on similar subjectsallowing faculty to use readymade content rather than spending time creating content from the ground up.

Under OER licensing, learning content can be used in its entirety, provide a template to inspire original course design, or be customized and adapted for specific lessons and goals. Time can then be diverted to other areas of instruction such as more feedback opportunities and one-on-one help to students.

Open book icon with text "discover, reuse & cite!"

Gaelen Pinnock / CC BY 4.0

OER often use Creative Commons licenses, which allow reuse and remix of content with attribution to the original creator. This reusability is one of the most useful features of OER, enabling faculty to freely adopt and customize a high quality resource to fit the needs of a specific class or educational purpose (like this guide!).

scrabble tiles spelling "equity"

When faced with content from traditional publishers or inclusive access programs, students remain at a disadvantage at all points in their education: students must pay to access materials upfrontwhether print or as discounted digital materialsas they begin their course. At the end of the semester, they then lose access to the content. Continuing access requires payment that not all can afford. 

With use of OER, faculty address these disadvantages and increase equitable educational opportunity through removal of cost and access barriers. OER allow learning materials to be inclusive and accessible to all students at any time and place, supporting student readiness with convenient access to course content at immediate point of need; moreover, they increase the impact of instruction beyond the classroom by allowing students to take these materials with them after the course endsenabling continuing and affordable access to learning for future use, supporting every student's ongoing educational journey. 

rows of orange books titled "Open education resources"

Caroline Madigan / CC BY-SA

One of the most valuable characteristics of OER is accessibility. Textbooks and other educational content provided by traditional publishers commonly limit usage under strict copyright restrictions, prohibiting modification and limiting distribution. However, OER grants both instructors and students the ability to reuse and remix course materials without restrictionsproviding more choices while removing barriers to access.

Adopting OER additionally expands the reach of instruction to include not only those in face-to-face classrooms, but students in distance education courses as well. And with so much of instruction being adapted for online delivery in the current pandemic era, increasing accessibility of course materials online is more urgent and relevant than ever. 

two human heads opened with gears floating between

Research, evaluation and use of OER encourages ongoing evolution of instructional best practices and refinement of pedagogy. The open licensing of OER invites and encourages collaboration and improvement of textbooks and other course materials from contributors worldwide. Making minor or major corrections and updates to a textbook consequently offers the unique opportunity to create an abridged version of a work, without requiring students to purchase an entirely new book each time. 

The flexibility of OER further grants clear pedagogical advantages, allowing faculty to make changes to a textbook to match specific classroom instruction needs and style. The easy access to high quality OER created from numerous academics around the world additionally diversifies instructional resources and reflect current pedagogical trends and applications.