What Open Educational Resources (OERs) bring to higher education

What Open Educational Resources (OERs) Bring to Higher Education

What are Open Educational Resources?

Open Educational Resources, or OERs, are resources designed around curriculum delivery. OERs are either available in the public domain, or are assigned a copyright designation that provides and promotes access in the spirit of the 5 R’s. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) passed a resolution at its 40th annual general conference promoting OER creation, use, and adaptation. 

The 5 R's of OERs


  • Access and possess a copy of the resource  


  • Edit, adapt, and modify your copy of the resource as desired  


  • Combine a copy of the resource with other existing material to create something fresh and new


  • Use your original, revised, or remixed copy of the resource publicly (e.g., on a website, in a presentation, in a class)


  • Share copies of your original, revised, or remixed copy of the resource with others (e.g., post a copy online or give one to a friend)


How Do OERs Benefit Students?

Cost Savings

The first thing that usually comes to mind when the benefits of OERs are discussed is cost savings, and rightly so. BC Campus’ OER initiative has saved students a combined total of over $21,000,000 since its implementation in 2012, while eCampus Ontario’s Open Library has reported savings of over $11,000,000 for its students. 

Student Retention

Beyond cost savings, OERs have many benefits for higher education. Institutions are always looking to improve student retention rates and there’s evidence that OER implementation improves retention numbers. Prince George’s Community College in Largo, Maryland, found that OER adoption increased success rates by 12% in Foundations of College English, 11% in Advanced Foundations of College English, and 7% in Pre-Calculus. 

Textbook-Curriculum Alignment

The ability to revise allows faculty to customize OERs to better fit with their course curricula. Too often, traditional course textbooks from major publishers influence course curriculum content and delivery. Revising and remixing OERs allows the text to be shaped by the course, instead of the other way around. The end result is clear alignment between the curriculum and the text, which creates a more seamless learning experience for students. 

Long-term Access

A recent trend in traditional textbook publishing is to offer e-textbooks as digital loans. While this often results in cost savings for students when compared to physical book purchases, temporary access to a textbook’s content denies students the continual access they may desire as they transition from their educational pathways to the workforce. A great OER can continue to act as a reference for learners in their roles as a professional in their fields. 


Oftentimes, reliance on traditional publication models means that faculty rely on textbooks that are not designed specifically for the curriculum being delivered. In this model, textbooks shape course curriculum and delivery. The creation of OERs specifically for a course flips that relationship, with the curriculum shaping the textbook. Open Educational Resources give faculty the freedom to create, modify, and remix texts to meet the specifications of their curriculum, ultimately benefiting learners by providing a more seamless learning experience. 


Bowles, D., & Smith, M. [OpenEd Conference]. (2020, November 9). The beginner’s guide to a college-wide OER implementation [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3uZJq3HXW0w&feature=youtu.be 

HACC Library. (2020, November 17). Open educational resources (OER): Introduction. Harrisburg Area Community College. https://libguides.hacc.edu/OER 

OpenEd. (n.d.). BCcampus. https://open.bccampus.ca/ 

Open Library. (n.d.). Welcome to the Open Library. ecampus Ontario. https://openlibrary.ecampusontario.ca/ 

UNESCO. (n.d.). Open educational resources (OER). https://en.unesco.org/themes/building-knowledge-societies/oer/recommendation 

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