Introduction to OER

A quick guide to OERs 

To start with, we invite you to have a quick introduction to what is defined as OERs by watching a video and analysing an image below.

Explore the image below introducing a quick guide to OERs (fig. 1), produced by the Georgia State University Library, you can quickly get an idea of what OERs are, why they are important, what other content can be accessed, and what activities can be used to create OER.

Fig. 1. A quick guide to open educational resources (by Georgia State University Library)

The complexity of the OER definition

It is important to note that there are various explanations for what open educational resources (OERs) stand for. UNESCO defines OERs as “learning, teaching and research materials in any format and medium that reside in the public domain or are under the copyright that has been released under an open license, that permits no-cost access, re-use, re-purpose, adaptation and redistribution by other” (UNESCO, 2012).

Examples of OER include full courses, course modules, syllabi, lectures, homework assignments, quizzes, lab and classroom activities, pedagogical materials, games, simulations, and many more resources contained in digital media collections worldwide.

More definitions of OER are available here.

Morgado and Teixeira (n.d,) suggest 4 characteristics that are seen as the core of OER:

  • Open access –content is provided free of charge for educational institutions, content services, and users such as teachers, students and lifelong learners.
  • Open format – content is produced in an open format with functionalities that allow for easy re-use.
  • Open license – liberal licenses to enable the re-use, combination, and re-purposing of content.
  • Open software – produced with open-source software.

So, if you are a teacher who creates teaching and learning resources and wants to give access to other teachers, students, or practitioners to use for free, please make sure to share your work with an open and freely accessible website license (check lesson 3 to learn more about how to do it).

Read. Please read the paper How to Become an Open Educator” (Dauksiene et al, 2020) which provides insights on whether involving teachers in OER creation and providing them with a tool of a collaborative platform would increase their openness and readiness to share and become an open educator.
Share and discuss. After reading the article, go to the discussion forum and share your experience in creating or using OER in YOUR teaching practice. What motivates you to use them or what stops you from using them?

What can be defined as OERs?

As you may have already understood, when talking about OER, we do not refer only to textual or visual resources. Morgado and Teixeira (n.d.) provide examples of OERs based on content, tools, and resources (table 1).

Complete courses (e.g., OERu) Course materials (e.g., KhanAcademy) Study guides (e.g. Coursera) Journals (e.g., IRRODL) Syllabus (e.g., OERCommons) Books (e.g., Openstax) Videos (e.g., Youtube) Images (e.g., Pexels) Quizzes (e.g., Quizizz) Games (e.g., OERCommons) Assignments (e.g., CORA) etc.Software and service for the creation, delivery, and use of open learning content, search, and organizing content (e.g., WordPress). Content management and learning systems (CM and LMS) (e.g., Canva) Content development tools (e.g., Inkscape) Online learning communities (e.g., EPALE)Creative Common (CC) licenses
Table 1. Examples of OERs based on the content, tools and resources (based on Morgado & Teixeira, n.d.)

It is important to note that if a resource is not freely available or openly licensed, it cannot be described as an OER. Elder (2019) proposes components of OER that help to see the difference between OER and other resources that are often misattributed as OERs (table 2).

Material typeOpenly licensedFreely availableModifiable
Open educational resources
Free online resources under all rights reserved copyrightXX
Materials available through the University LibraryXX
Open Access articles and monographs/ X
Table 2. Components of OER

As it is seen from the table above, for example, learning resources that can be accessed via a University Library subscription, quite often cannot be modified, remixed, or redistributed, unless permission is received from the author. Therefore, these resources and materials should not be considered “open”.

What are the 5 Rs of OERs?

So now you know what OERs are and how they may enrich your teaching and learning process. As mentioned above, OERs have unique rights associated with the content that is often referred to as 5Rs. The 5Rs stand for:

  • Retain
  • Revise
  • Remix
  • Reuse
  • Redistribute

These 5Rs serve as a simple way of remembering activities that a license must allow you to undertake with an educational resource for it to be publicly considered as an open educational resource.

Below you can find Figure 2 where each of the 5Rs is explained in more detail.

N.B. This material is an adaptation of Defining the “Open” in Open Content and Open Educational Resources, which was originally written by David Wiley and published freely under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license at

Fig. 2. The 5Rs of OERs

Although OERs have the potential to enhance the teaching and learning process and facilitate online collaboration, several challenges and obstacles may arise when attempting to use or develop OER. To aid in your decision-making regarding the use, re-use creation, or students’ assignments to create OERs, we have compiled a comprehensive list of their advantages and disadvantages in the table below. We hope this list will prompt critical thinking and enhance your awareness of OERs (the list is provided in a separate document “Advantages and disadvantages of using OERs for teaching and learning”).

Table 1. Advantages and disadvantages of using OERs for teaching and learning (adapted from UMGC, 2020, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International license.)

√ expanded access to learning. Students anywhere in the world can access OERs at any time and can access the material repeatedly.

√ scalability. OERs are easy to distribute widely with little or no cost.

√  modify course resources to better align with learning outcomes. Unlike all rights-reserved content, OERs can be modified—excerpted, reorganized, remixed, or revised—to better support the learning objectives of each section of a course.

√  augmentation of class materials. OERs can supplement textbooks and lectures where deficiencies in information are evident.

√  enhancement of regular course content. For example, multimedia material such as videos can accompany the text. Presenting information in multiple formats may help students learn the material being taught more easily.

√  increase student interaction with course resources. Students can interact directly with OERs in a way that commercial textbooks don’t allow. For example, students can be directed to modify, expand, and/or remix course OERs based on their research and findings. Such interaction increases critical thinking and writing skills that passive reading and memorization don’t address.

√  quick circulation. Information may be disseminated rapidly (especially when compared to information published in textbooks or journals, which may take months or even years to become available). Quick availability of the material in many subject areas increases the timeliness and/or relevance of the material being presented.

√ less expense for students. The use of OERs instead of traditional textbooks or course packs, etc. can substantially reduce the cost of teaching and learning materials for students.

√  showcasing innovation and talent. A wide audience may learn of faculty research interests and expertise.  Potential students and donors may be impressed, and student and faculty recruitment efforts may be enhanced.

√  ties for alumni. OERs provide an excellent way for alumni to stay connected to the institution and continue with a program of lifelong learning.

√  continually improved resources. Unlike textbooks and other static sources of information, OERs can be improved quickly through users’ direct editing or solicitation and incorporation of user feedback. Instructors can take an existing OER, adapt it for a class, and make the modified OER available for others to use.
X  quality issues. Since many OER repositories allow any user to create an account and post material, some resources may not be relevant and/or accurate. 

X  extra effort is required to adopt OERs. Adopting OERs in the classroom involves additional work on the part of faculty, instructional designers, editors, digital rights specialists, and others to find the OERs, adapt/modify them, check them for accessibility, verify any copyright issues, publish the resources in the institution’s LMS, and so forth. These are issues that many colleges and universities have little experience with. 

X  lacks human interaction between teachers and students. OER material is created to stand alone, and since self-learning users may access the material outside of a classroom environment, they will miss out on the discussion and instructor feedback that characterize for-credit classes and that makes such classes useful and valuable. 

X  language and/or cultural barriers. Although efforts are being made to make OERs available in multiple languages, many are only available in English, limiting their usefulness to non-English speakers. Additionally, not all resources are culturally appropriate for all audiences. 

X  technological issues. Some students may have trouble using some OERs if they have a slow or erratic internet connection. Other OERs may require software that students don’t have and that they may not be able to afford. 

X  static formats. Some OERs are published in digital formats that make it hard to download, access, and modify the content. 

X  intellectual property/copyright concerns. Since OERs are meant to be shared openly, the “fair use” exemption from the U.S. Copyright Act ceases to apply; all content put online must be checked to ensure that it doesn’t violate copyright law. 

X  sustainability issues. Since OER creators generally do not receive any type of payment for their OER, there may be little incentive for them to update their OER or to ensure that it will continue to be available online.

Question for self-reflection

 Think of teaching and learning materials that You use in your courses – do they meet the definition of OER?

High-impact practices for integrating OER into University Courses.

License: video by UB Curriculum, Assessment, Teaching Transformation is licensed under a CC BY 4.0 International license