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Leslie J. Savage Library

Open Educational Resources (OER): Overview

Learn how to find and use open education resource (OER) materials in teaching and learning.

Open Educational Resources (OER)

How to locate and use OER materials in teaching and learning

What are Open Educational Resources (OER)?

Open Education Resources

Open Educational Resources (OER) are "teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others."  

From The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

OER materials are released under an open license granting permission for everyone to:

  • Retain -- users have the right to make, 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 include digital learning materials such as:

  • open textbooks
  • full courses
  • modules
  • syllabi
  • lectures
  • homework assignments
  • quizzes
  • lab activities
  • games
  • simulations

Pros and Cons of Using OERs for Instruction

As with any educational resource, there are both advantages and disadvantages associated with using OERs in the classroom. 

Advantages of using OERs include: 

  • expanded access to learning. Students anywhere in the world can access OERs at any time, and they 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 text. Presenting information in multiple formats may help students more easily learn the material being taught. 

  • 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 material in many subject areas increases the timeliness and/or relevance of the material being presented. 

  • less expense for students. Teaching with OERs instead of traditional textbooks or course packs, etc. can substantially reduce the cost of course materials for students. 

  • showcase 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 an emphasis on lifelong learning. 

  • continually improved resources. Unlike textbooks and other static sources of information, OERs can be improved quickly through direct editing by users 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' use. 

Disadvantages of OERs include: 

  • 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. 

  • extra effort 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. 

  • lack of 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. 

  • 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. 

  • 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. 

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

  • 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. 

  • 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. 

Pros/Cons is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International license. 2020, UMGC. Adapted by Tiffanie Wick, Western Colorado University, 2024.


Western Colorado is a proud recipient of the Colorado OER Grant for the sixth year in a row! Your Leslie J. Savage Library will host an OER open house and workshops throughout the fall and spring of 2023-24. Watch for more information and opportunities to participate coming your way. 

For more information about what higher education institutions across Colorado are doing with OER, visit the CDHE OER site. 


Director of Library Services

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Tiffanie Wick

Library 209

More OER Information

Creative Commons LicenseLansing Community College (LCC) Library Research Guide on Open Educational Resources (OER) by Regina Gong is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Adapted by Tiffanie Wick, Western Colorado University, 2023.

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