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Open Education Resources (OER): A Library Guide

What are Open Educational Resources?

Open Education Resources (OER) are "high-quality teaching, learning, and research materials that are free for people everywhere to use and repurpose" (Hewlett Foundation, 2018). OER are:

  • Openly licensed (or in the public domain)
  • Freely available
  • Modifiable

“An Introduction to Open Educational Resources” by Abbey Elder is licensed under a CC BY 4.0 International license.

What Aren't OER?

There are a lot of materials free, online that aren't OER - either because they don't have an open license, or they can't be edited. This includes ebooks and other library materials that are free for students to access (but paid for by the library) and still under traditional copyright restrictions. 


Material Type Openly Licensed Freely Available Modifiable
Free Web-Based Resources Under Traditional Copyright No Yes No
Subscription-Based Library Collections No Free for students and faculty to access, but paid for by the library or university No
Open Access Articles & Monographs Yes Yes Sometimes, but often authors choose not to allow modification or adaptation of their work

Adapted from Open Educational Resources (OER), by Iowa State University Library. Available:

Benefits of OER

Benefits for Instructors

  • Increases student retention and improves student performance by reducing costs
  • Promotes academic freedom to modify or add content to your course
  • Provides more and more engaging resources for your students

Benefits for Students

  • Materials are free to access and can be purchased in print at a low cost
  • Materials are free to access, before AND after your course (This is great for programs with licensure exams after graduation where students may need access to study materials)
  • OER are free self-study and review materials for brushing up on material
  • Resources are customizable and can be aligned with only what you need to know - no more skipping around chapters you don't read!

Created from Open Educational Resources (OER), by Iowa State University Library. Available:

What can you do with OER? The 5 Rs

The terms "open content" and "open educational resources" describe any copyrightable work (traditionally excluding software, which is described by other terms like "open source") that is either (1) in the public domain or (2) licensed in a manner that provides everyone with free and perpetual permission to engage in the 5R activities:

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

Defining the "Open" in Open Content and Open Educational Resources was written by David Wiley and published freely under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license at