Instructional Trend Spotlight: OER
Many of you are busy teaching and/or working and don’t have a lot of time to research trends in education technology and online learning. To save you time, we’ll be periodically sending out snapshots of instructional trends to keep you in the know.

In honor of Open Education Week, today's spotlight trend is: OER

Instructional Trend Spotlight: Open Education Resources

by Heather Leslie

OER Definition and History

According to 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.” Open Educational Resources (OER) are created by educators and other experts, and include textbooks, videos, exercises, simulations, lesson plans, full courses, and more. The term OER was first introduced at the 2002 UNESCO Forum on Open Courseware (Chiu, 2016). Since then, many institutions and educators have been using and sharing OER to customize their course content and reduce student costs.


In order for a resource to be considered OER, it must be openly licensed or in the public domain. In other words, the creator has granted permission for anyone to “Retain, Reuse, Revise, Remix, and Redistribute” the resource without copyright constraints (“the 5 Rs”). Many additional educational resources are openly accessible on the Internet; however, they are not considered OER because they cannot be reused, revised, remixed, or redistributed without permission. The Creative Commons license is the most widely used licensing framework for OER (Miao, 2016).


Prevalence of OER

According to surveys conducted by Cengage Learning, the use of OER is predicted to triple or quadruple in 5 years (Straumsheim, 2016). According to a recent survey, more instructors in the US are starting to use OER over traditional textbooks (McKenzie, 2017). Although the OER movement is still young, seven universities in the US have large scale OER programs: MIT, Rice, Johns Hopkins, Tufts, Carnegie Mellon, and Utah State University (Hylen). Over 150 universities in China participate in the China Open Resources for Education initiative with over 450 online courses. Eleven top universities in France have formed the Paris Tech OCW project which offers 150 open courses. Nine top universities in Japan are involved in the Japanese OCW Alliance that offers over 250 courses in Japanese and 100 in English.


Merits of OER

From the student perspective, OER reduce the cost of education considerably, particularly for textbooks. The annual cost of books for students is estimated at $1,168 per year, according to the College Board (Kingkade, 2017). According to Mark McBride, the SUNY system alone has saved students about $6.1 million in the 2017-2018 academic year through OER (OLC Collaborate 2018 conference presentation). Lower costs for students means fewer barriers to succeed (Washington State University). Some faculty are also finding, perhaps surprisingly, that some students are more likely to read OERs over traditional textbooks (Reed, 2017). From an instructor standpoint, OER expands the scope of content that professors can cover, and allows them to tailor their courses to their specific learning outcomes.


Issues with OER

Although OER are free to use, they obviously require time and effort to create—which raises questions of sustainability. There are also concerns about the quality of OER, since only well-funded projects like OpenStax are rigorously peer-reviewed. It can also take a considerable amount of time to locate quality OER. Because of this time requirement, many faculty are relying on library staff and instructional designers to assist in locating OER for courses (Washington State University).


Support for OER

Proponents of OER, and of open knowledge sharing in general, tend to have democratic views about open scholarship and the role of a scholar as a public intellectual. They also frequently suggest that knowledge is a public good and that science and society benefit when knowledge freely circulates—not to mention the cost savings to students and the freedom accorded to faculty (Wiley, 2015; Lieberman, 2017; Klein, 2015). Lisa Young, Una Daly, and Jason Stone note: "Academic freedom or choice has also been identified as a motivator.” As access to education and educational resources becomes more open, OER is gaining popularity and wider adoption in the academic community.


"One of the most exciting things I've experienced in supporting faculty with OER adoption is freedom! Faculty are no longer designing courses based on a commercial textbook, by which the publisher dictates how the course is delivered. OER gives faculty the flexibility to bring in current and relevant course materials — enabling them to create and/or adapt the content to match learners' needs and their teaching style."—Sue Tashjian,  instructional designer at Northern Essex Community College and co-chair of the Massachusetts Community Colleges Go Open Statewide Initiative (Young, 2017).




Chiu, M.-H. (2016). Science Education Research and Practice in Asia: Challenges and

        Opportunities. Singapore: Springer.

Hewlett Foundation. (n.d.). Hewlett Foundation. Retrieved from OER Defined 


Hylen, J. Open Educational Resources: Opportunities and Challenges. Paris: OECD's Center for

          Educational Research and Innovation.


Kingkade, T. (2017, December 6). College textbook prices increasing faster than tuition and

           inflation. Retrieved from Huffington Post


Klein, G. (2015, August 27). Embedded digital resources are replacing traditional textbooks at UMUC. Retrieved from University of Maryland University Center:


Lieberman, M. (2017, December 13). Predicting 2017's legacy. Retrieved from Inside Higher Ed


McKenzie, L. (2017, December 19). OER Adoptions in the Rise. Retrieved from Inside Higher Ed


Miao, F. (2016). Open educational resources: policy, costs, transformation. Paris: UNESCO.

Pedersen, K. (n.d.). Open Educational Resources (OER) to be a game changer in higher

             education. Retrieved from Knowledge Management


Reed, M. (2017, November 19). If a textbook falls in the forest... Retrieved from Inside Higher Ed

Straumsheim, C. (2016, September 8). Study: Open Educational Resources and Market Growth. Retrieved from Inside Higher Ed open- educational- resources-and-market-growth

Washington State University. (n.d.). Open Educational Resources (OERs): Tools for affordable

            learning: Benefits andcChallenges of OERs. Retrieved from Washington State

            University Library:

Wiley, D. (2015, January 22). Adopting OER is better for everyone involved. Retrieved from Open Content

Young, L. D. (2017, August 28). OER: The Future of Education is Open. Retrieved from Educause