What are Open Textbooks?

An open textbook is a textbook licensed under an open copyright license, and made available online to be used freely by students, teachers, and members of the public.

Open textbooks:

  • are created by educators;
  • are reviewed by educators;
  • contribute to successful learning outcomes.

What makes open textbooks different from a traditional textbook?

Traditionally published textbooks are produced under closed copyright, meaning they cannot be shared, re-used, or re-purposed. They are usually costly (hundreds of dollars each) with new editions published frequently, rendering texts that are only a year or two old out of date. Digital editions or e-textbooks from commercial publishers, though slightly less expensive, are sold with digital rights management software that means the books only appear on a student’s e-reader for a short period of time (4-6 months), preventing them from keeping the book for future reference, or re-selling it to their fellow students.

In contrast to traditional textbooks, openly licensed textbooks give faculty the ability to use any portion of a textbook in their courses without requiring students to purchase an entire book, or to make the content of a given textbook more pedagogically appropriate for their specific educational context. The open licensing of open textbooks allows for collaborations on and improvements to textbooks from contributors around the world.

When an instructor uses an open textbook as an assigned reading, students have the option to access the digital edition for free through a website or via download to e-readers or tablets. Students can purchase a low-cost paper copy via print-on-demand services.

This page is adapted from “Open Textbook FAQ,” BCcampus Open Textbook Project, CC BY 4.0


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Child Growth and Development Canadian Ed Copyright © 2022 by Tanya Pye; Susan Scoffin; Janice Quade; and Jane Krieg is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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