About Open Education Resources (OER)

What is OER

Open Educational Resources (OER) are teaching and learning materials that are in the public domain or released with a license that allows for their free use, adaptation, and distribution.

Examples of OER include: course syllabi, learning modules, class lectures, quizzes, lab activities, simulations, and even full courses in digital media collections available via the Internet to users around the world.



Increasing adoption of OER by learning institutions is changing the landscape of education everywhere and hence provides a strategic opportunity to dramatically improve both the access and the quality of education worldwide.

"The real promise of OER is not just the free high-quality learning materials and textbooks" says Lisa Petrides, Ph.D., founder of the Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education (ISKME). "It’s the process itself, how the materials are created, used, adapted and improved that creates a whole new set of possibilities."

Here are some more quotes taken from an ISKME video titled "Game Changer" that capture the essence of OER:

  • "Ideas, activities and resources...connecting where they are to where they need to be"
  • "I can grab a course, change it, make it my own because I know what my students need"
  • "You are not just one teacher in a four wall classroom, you are one person in a network of ideas and creativity"
  • "New access to not just more stuff but more importantly new access to people, tools and ways to create education"


Short History

It all started about twelve years ago with the decision of MIT to make the materials of classes taught at MIT freely available to the public at no charge. This gave rise to OpenCourseWare Consortium, a community of over 250 universities and associated organizations worldwide committed to providing and promoting open Courseware.

With the support of the Hewlett Foundation, UNESCO created a global OER Community wiki in 2005 to share information and work collaboratively on issues surrounding the production and use of Open Educational Resources.

Today, many of the most effective and forward-thinking instructors are already using practices and materials associated with the OER movement. They share lesson plans, course outlines, teaching methods, materials, articles, essays, texts, exams, illustrations, and exercises and are even streaming videos of their in-class lectures.

In the process, these instructors have begun to open the doors to higher education wider than ever.


OER Types

OER comes in all shapes and granularity with varying degree of depth, size and quality. Broadly they can be categorized as:

  • Unstructured OER that focuses on a single topic or idea
  • OER with more structure, such as materials grouped by subject area
  • Fully structured OER, such as complete courses.


Where to find OER

A snap shot of some notable sources of OER is as follows:

  • Rice University’s Connexions, an online “content commons” which currently contains thousands of small chunks of knowledge. Hundreds of more complete sets of learning materials, ranging from textbooks to complete courses, have been built using these materials.
  • Digitized Library Collections are another fast-growing form of OER. These collections feature reference and source materials that would typically be found in a library, including books, consumer and trade catalogs, magazines, professional journals and other periodicals, posters, photographs and manuscripts. Instructors can integrate these materials into their courses. Students and instructors alike can also use them for research.
  • Khan Academy represents a unique type of OER collection, educational tutoring videos. Khan Academy founder, Salman Khan began videotaping math tutoring sessions to help younger relatives with their homework. That effort has grown into a library of more than 1,600 individual videos covering the majority of K-12th grade math.
  • Wikipedia: the undisputed champion of user-driven collaborative encyclopedias with 78 million visitors monthly and more than 91,000 active contributors working on more than 16,000,000 articles in more than 270 languages.
  • The Internet Archive (www.archive.org) presently offers the most complete set of free online archives available.
  • The Community College Open Textbook Collaborative, a leading force in the field, now links to more than 545 open textbooks, with peer reviews of nearly 100 of these books, and has also obtained accessibility assessments on many of the books.
  • Thousands of high-quality, fully-structured, subject-specific courses are currently available as OER. They encompass a wide range of academic levels and disciplines, including advanced placement, community college and undergraduate college level courses in subjects such as biology, statistics and computer programming.

    For instance, Monterey Institute for Technology and Education (MITE) provides more than 35 Advanced Placement, pre-collegiate and collegiate level courses in its growing, media-rich National Repository of Online Courses (NROC) and also offers Hippocampus, a free learning resource designed to augment traditional textbooks.

    Thousands of undergraduate and graduate level courses from MIT led Open CourseWare Consortium are available online on their websites.


Empowering and Supporting OER: Software and Tools

There is a growing set of online tools that enable users to find, use, create and distribute OER.

These tools can be divided into three categories:

  1. Intellectual Property Management
  2. Distribution and Dissemination Services
  3. Open Learning Management Systems

There is a reasonable progress in the availability and quality of tools for the first two categories. For instance, the Creative Commons website offers a menu of IP licenses that can be electronically appended to intellectual properties free of charge.

OERcommons.org has created a single stop location on the Internet where users can search for OER, share evaluations and recommendations about what they find and monitor the availability and use of OER within their specific grade level or subject discipline.

The software products in the third category typically include tools for organizing, publishing and displaying learning materials online for students and instructors. "There are several commercial course management systems currently available. None of these systems has proven to be an ideal match for the requirements of the OER community, which benefits from the maximum degree of flexibility and customizability at the lowest possible cost.", according to Hal Plotkin in his work titled "An Open Educational Resources Policy Development Guidebook for Community College Governance Officials". Some noteworthy open-source collaboration and courseware management platforms that allow institutions to modify the software to meet their own needs include Sakai and Moodle.


Call For Action

In summary, OER is a real game changer for education, breaking down longstanding barriers to the access of knowledge around the world. It needs your participation and support for its long term success and sustainability. For more information on OER, you can start with OER Commons Site and other resources for OER listed below.


ISKME licensed video on OER

The following video titled "Game Changer" is an excellent introduction to "open education" and how it is rewriting the rules of the game in education today.



  • Creative Commons, creativecommons.org: Creative Commons enables the sharing and use of creativity and knowledge through free legal tools.
  • Open Learning Initiative (OLI), oli.cmu.edu: The Open Learning Initiative offers online courses to anyone who wants to learn or teach.
  • Commonwealth of Learning (COL), col.org: an intergovernmental organization created by Commonwealth Heads of Government to encourage the development and sharing of open learning/distance education knowledge, resources and technologies.
  • CAST, cast.org: CAST is a research and development organization that works to expand learning opportunities for all individuals through Universal Design for Learning (UDL).
  • Hal Plotkin, wiki.creativecommons.org/images/6/67/FreetoLearnGuide.pdf:  "An Open Educational Resources Policy Development Guidebook for Community College Governance Officials."  This living document is open-licensed for iterative improvement.