Since the term Open Educational Resources (OER) was first coined in 2002, institutions and governments intent on creating more equitable and affordable access to education have become increasingly aware of the unreasonable financial burden placed on learners through course material costs. OER are, by definition, materials that are accompanied with open licenses, most prevalently Creative Commons licenses, which remove legal barriers to access, distribution, and reuse. As a result, they’ve been hailed as a solution to the incomprehensible rise in higher education textbook costs that outpace other consumer goods and lead some learners to withdraw from courses, take fewer courses, or to opt out of purchasing texts which may lead to poor performance and failure (Florida Virtual Campus, 2016).  

The traction of OER initiatives in North America is evidenced by nearly 4,000 institutions reporting OER involvement. The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) reports that between 2012-2018 students, institutions, and governments saved a billion dollars in costs due to the movement (Allen, 2018), and the OER content provider, OpenStax, reports that 2.2 million students saved an estimated $177 million in 2018 alone (Ruth, 2018). In addition to these tangible monetary gains, there has been an increased awareness among faculty (64% in 2018) of OER, and by extension, a broader acknowledgement of the dire financial stresses that students face (Seaman and Seaman, 2018). As faculty consider OER alternatives they confront ownership and distribution controls held by academic publishing entities, measure content relevance to the learning goals intended, consider how these judgements and choices impact learners ability to access and contribute to the learning environment, and begin to see how their course material choices may impact more equitable access to higher education (DeRosa and Jaghiani, 2017). 

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation define OER as: 

"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." 

OER may take many forms including textbooks, assignments, assessments, simulations, syllabi, or complete courses. 

For learners, open educational resources:

  • Reduce the average annual cost of textbooks ($1,200-1,300.)
  • Reduce CU Boulder graduates average student loan debt ($27,405.)
  • Increase student success (Florida Virtual Campus) by removing student motivations to take fewer courses, illegally obtain content, or complete courses without texts and content.
  • Provide access to learning materials on the first day of learning.
  • Provide more equitable education for all.

For educators and scholars, open educational resources: 

  • Encourage collaboration, growth, and sharing.
  • Provide freedom in selecting course materials.
  • Allow customization and localization of course materials to fit specific needs.
  • Give clear rights to adaptation, edit, reorder, delete, or remix content.
  • Provide freedom to align content with course structure and to remove constraints of predetermined presentation of a topic.
  • Encourage working with students in the development and creation of the OER.

In summary, open educational resources address the high cost of educational materials and inspire a renewed approach to collaborative, social, and open educational practices.

Learn more about OER on the University Libraries OER Guide or by contacting the University Libraries Leads

Further Reading & Resources:

Allen, N. (2018, October 12). $1 Billion in Savings through Open Educational Resources. SPARC.

DeRosa, R., & Jhangiani, R. (2017). Open pedagogy. In E.  Mays (Ed.), A guide to making open textbooks with students. Retrieved from

Florida Virtual Campus. (2018). 2018 Student Textbook and Course Materials Survey (p. 4). Office of Distance Learning & Student Services.

Ruth, D. (2018). 48 percent of colleges, 2.2 million students using free OpenStax textbooks this year—OpenStax. OpenStax.

Seaman, J., & Seaman, J. (2018). Freeing the Textbook: Educational Resources in U.S. Higher Education. Babson Survey Research Group.