1 OER Defined

What is OER?

Open Educational Resources (OER) are teaching and learning materials that reside in the public domain or that have been released under a license that permits no-cost use, adaptation, and redistribution. For many, OER is identified solely as textbooks or full courses that are openly licensed. However, OER, by definition, also include single resources such as videos, primary source texts, interactives and other materials for use in teaching, learning, and research.

OER are typically licensed under open licenses, the most popular being Creative Commons (CC) licenses. Open licenses support creators who want to share their work freely, and allow other users more flexibility to adapt and share their original work.

Benefits of OER

Key benefits of OER include:

  • Allowing others to distribute the work freely, which in turn promotes wider circulation than if an individual or group retained the exclusive right to distribute;
  • Reducing or eliminating the need for others to ask for permission to use or share the work, which can be time consuming, especially if the work has many authors or if the author(s) cannot be reached;
  • Encouraging others to improve the work; and
  • Encouraging others to create new works based on the original work—e.g. translations, adaptations, or works with a different scope or focus.

Wiley’s 5Rs of Openness

Wiley's 5 Rs of OERs vector graphic5Rs by BCCampus  is licensed under CC BY 4.0

David Wiley’s 5R Permissions succinctly outline the essential characteristics of an 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)
  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)

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 http://opencontent.org/definition/.

Additional Resources

The following resources contain additional information and examples of OER:

What isn’t OER?

Below are three categories of resources that fall outside the definition of the intention of OER, because their licenses and use permissions do not allow for adaptations to resources. Of course, the best mix of materials to meet any given set of learning outcomes will vary, and may include a combination of OER and these materials:

  • Subscription-Based Library Collections – A library’s subscription-based resources (journals, videos, and other materials), while accessible to students and educators, are not OER. This is because their use in education may be limited by license agreements. Examples include Ebsco and Proquest eBook and journal collections, and Films on Demand multimedia resources.
  • Purchased Digital Course Materials That Do Not Carry an Open License – Materials purchased by your institution from commercial publishers that are free to use by your educators and learners, but that are not openly licensed, like Cengage Learning MindLinks.
  • Free Online Resources that Do Not Carry an Open License – All the available resources on the web that you may have access to at no cost, but that are not in the public domain, or do not carry a Creative Commons license or other open license, are not OER.


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OER @ Niagara College: A Quickstart Guide for Faculty Copyright © by Jackie Chambers Page and Siscoe Boschman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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