What are Open Educational Resources?

Defining Open Educational Resources

Open educational resources (OER) are cost-free and openly licensed educational materials that can be used for teaching, learning, research, and other purposes. This definition comes from the Creative Commons organization.

In other words, O.E.R.:

  1. Are teaching materials that can be shared freely and publicly, and
  2. Provide explicit legal permission to adapt the materials for customization

What’s the difference between learning materials we describe as “OERs” and learning materials we describe as “zero-cost” or “free?”

The critical thing that sets O.E.R. apart from cost-free resources is that they have what is colloquially referred to as “open licenses.” This means the author/creator has chosen an intellectual property license to allow their work to be available for others to use, share, and even update, revise, and build upon.

This is achieved by authors selecting a Creative Commons license for their work. The licenses are available for anyone to use and they do not require the author to register or pay a fee in order to C.C. license a work. The licenses provide a transparent way for authors to give permission for users to:

  1. Retain permission to own, archive, and make copies of the content
  2. Reusepermission to reuse content in its unaltered form
  3. Revisepermission to adapt, adjust, modify, and alter content
  4. Remixpermission to combine original or revised content with other content to create something new
  5. Redistributepermission to share copies with others in its original, revised or remixed form

Are OERs online materials only?

No. OERs can be any type of educational content and can be singular or a collection of learning objects: videos, simulations, images, podcasts, blogs, textbooks, and any variety of textual material, like lecture notes. OERs are often delivered in digital formats online, but they can be in print as well.

Identifying learning materials that are O.E.R.

The way to determine if a learning material is OER is by looking for the intellectual property license. If you see it has a Creative Commons license that lets you edit and remix the material to suit your context, then you can call it O.E.R.! We’ll go into more detail about the mechanics of this in the next section, but for now, to understand why open educational resources came about, it’s important to review intellectual property and current copyright law.

What is copyright?

Copyright is a form of protection granted by U.S. law to the creators of “original works of authorship” including scholarly and creative works. Creators do not have to register their work or attach a copyright notice in order for copyright protection to apply to the work; the protection exists automatically from the time the work is created. Even napkin doodles are protected by copyright. Kind of counter-intuitive, right? Unpublished and published works are covered under copyright as well.

What “rights” are protected under U.S. Copyright Law?

Copyright holders have exclusive rights to:

  1. Reproduce their work
  2. Prepare derivative works
  3. Distribute copies of their work
  4. Perform their work publicly
  5. Display their work publicly

Since copyright is automatic, the five exclusive rights that authors are entitled to under copyright impacts how a work can be used and distributed. This can make it challenging to integrate intellectual materials into educational settings. Creative Commons licenses and provide an alternative.

A lot of the above content may be new to you; don’t worry! We’ll continue to review and discuss throughout our meetings and in additional assignments.

What does copyright not protect?

Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these things are expressed. Check out some scenarios to clarify your understanding of what can be copyright protected and what can’t.


Take this quiz to review the information presented above.

OER Discussion Prompt

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