1.2 Open Educational Resources (OER)

OER logo
Image: OER by Wikimedia Deutschland, licensed CC BY-SA 4.0 (Wikimedia)

Open Educational Resources (OER) are resources that are made available by their creator for others to use to support learning. OER are defined by UNESCO as: 

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. (UNESCO)

An even simpler definition is provided by BCcampus:

teaching, learning, and research resources that, through permissions granted by their creator, allow others to use, distribute, keep, or make changes to them. (BCcampus, CC BY)

So what does this mean in practice? Upon creation, all original works of authorship — including educational resources — are subject to copyright. In order to reuse or adapt a resource, permission from the copyright holder must be sought. To avoid this step, and to facilitate wider sharing and use, a creator can add an open licence to any resource to make it an open educational resource or OER.  

The use of an open licence, such as a Creative Commons licence, clarifies to educators, students and others how the resource may be reused. From simply correcting typos or grammatical errors to more involved activities such as translating into another language, updating the content for local contexts (disciplinary, institutional or geographic) or adding up-to-date research or examples, sharing a resource as OER allows others to adapt and use the materials as they wish.

In the case of a specific OER, the creator retains all rights that apply under the relevant copyright law, but the open licence communicates to users the specific terms under which they may adapt and reuse the resource. Thus, OER are more than simply free resources; they can be thought of as free resources with permissions. David Wiley describes these permissions as “the 5 Rs”.

The 5Rs of OER
  1. Retain – make, own, and control a copy of the resource (e.g. download and keep your own copy)
  2. Revise – edit, adapt, and modify your copy of the resource (e.g. translate into another language)
  3. Remix – combine your original or revised copy of the resource with other existing material to create something new (e.g. make a mashup or a collection)
  4. Reuse – use your original, revised, or remixed copy of the resource publicly (e.g. on a website, in a presentation, in a class)
  5. Redistribute – 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)

(Adaptation of Defining the “Open” in Open Content and OER, originally written by David Wiley, CC BY http://opencontent.org/definition/)

Examples of OER

OER can include anything from an openly-licensed course or open textbook to individual openly-licensed images, assignments, rubrics, lesson plans, guides, datasets, articles, blog posts, reflections, etc. OER can be produced in any media: text, image, video, audio, or any combination of these. And perhaps most importantly, OER can be created by anyone: teachers, learners, librarians, instructional designers, educational developers, photographers, artists, or anyone. 

What is/is not an OER?

One simple way to determine what is and is not an OER is to see whether or not the resource in question has an open licence.

  • Any educational resource that has an open licence is an OER
  • Any educational resource that is only available under copyright is not an OER

There is sometimes confusion, however, about the difference between free and open. For example, if you find a resource such as an image in an online search, can that be reused in your course, assignment, blog post, etc.? This helpful table from the OER Starter Kit (Elder & Katz, 2020, CC BY) summarises the different permissions available with openly licensed vs. freely available resources: 

Material Type Openly Licensed Freely Available Modifiable
Open educational resources (OER)
Yes Yes Yes
Free online resources (under all rights reserved copyright) No Yes No
Materials available through an institution library No Yes No
Open access articles and monographs Yes Yes Maybe (depends on terms of licence)

This resource that you are using now is an example of an OER (you can see the Creative Commons ‘CC BY’ licence in the footer on every page). This means you can reuse or modify this resource, in whole or in part, as long as attribution is included. We have also reused and remixed many OER in making the resource, and have provided the necessary attributions.

You can find out more about open licensing, remixing and attribution in the Using OER and Creating OER sections of this resource.

STYLE NOTE: Throughout this resource we use the OER naming convention used by UNESCO, the Hewlett Foundation, Creative Commons and others, i.e. ‘OER’ refers to open educational resources both singular and plural.


1.1 What is open education?
1.3 Open Educational Practices (OEP)