What is OER?

OER 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.*

In some cases, that means you can download a resource and share it with colleagues and students. In other cases, you may be able to download a resource, edit it in some way, and then re-post it as a remixed work. How do you know your options? OER often have a Creative Commons license or other permission to let you know how the material may be used, reused, adapted, and shared. 


Why use OER?

Open educational resources give educators the ability to adapt instructional resources to the individual needs of their students, to ensure that resources are up-to-date, and to ensure that cost is not a barrier to accessing high-quality standards-aligned resources.

Educators can tag, rate, and review materials, and share what works for them.


What is the difference between free and open resources?

Open educational resources are and always will be free in digital form, but not all free resources are OER. Free resources may be temporarily free or may be restricted from use at some time in the future (including by the addition of fees to access those resources). Moreover, free resources, which may not be modified, adapted, or redistributed without express permissions from the copyright holder, are not OER.


Are all OER digital?

Like most educational resources these days, most OER are “born” digital. Like traditional resources, they can be made available to students in both digital and printed formats (including in the form of a traditional ‘textbook’). Of course, digital OER are easier to share, modify, and redistribute, but being digital is not what makes something a OER.


How do I know if an educational resource is an OER?

The key distinguishing characteristic of OER is its intellectual property license and the freedoms the license grants to others to share and adapt it. If a lesson plan or activity is not clearly tagged or marked as being in the public domain or having an open license, it is not OER. It’s that simple. While custom copyright licenses can be developed to facilitate the development and use of OER, often it can be easier to apply free-to-use standardized licenses developed specifically for that purpose, such as those established by Creative Commons or – for software – those approved by the Open Source Initiative.

Note that Creative Commons (CC) licenses that include an ND clause (i.e., no derivatives) are not considered OER. For more information about CC licenses see: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/


* Definition of OER based on William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Open Educational Resources