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Open Up to Open Educational Resources

  • August 08, 2016|
  • 2 years ago

by Sam Morris

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Global Education Solutions Architect

Open Educational Resources (OER) present new advantages and disadvantages for educators looking for cheaper and more plentiful resources. The entry of big-brand publishers and necessary copyright and intellectual property considerations continue to change how educators might choose to implement OER as well. Let’s review what the future might hold.

Introducing OER

In a strict sense, OER is just what the term implies and is generally used to refer to digital or online resources. These resources are available to teachers to modify, append, copy, and share openly. There are no licensing restrictions or requirements and no costs, aside from printing hard copies if desired. School systems have been eyeing the potential of OER to relieve the rising costs of textbooks which, by their very nature, are quickly outdated.

The OpenCourseWare project from MIT is considered the oldest source of these materials, and it’s been widely copied and adopted by others. For example, the well-known OpenEd offers materials including assessments, assignments, videos, games, and lesson plans for K-12 instructors while acting as a hybrid with pure OER. While many resources are free, premium offerings are being offered through publishers like Pearson, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and others. OpenEd was recently acquired by ACT, Inc.

OER is continuing to grow in popularity. A survey conducted earlier this year by TES Global indicated that “73 percent of the nearly 1,000 U.S. teachers who responded in January and February 2016 say they use open educational resources more than textbooks.”


One interesting area of potential benefit through OER has been in addressing the learning needs of students with ADHD or other disabilities. ADDitude Magazine argues that “students with ADHD and other learning disabilities need their own study strategies, activities, and resources to ensure their educational success.” One way to provide these additional resources at little cost is through OER, where the large collections of materials mean that educators can find activities that work for each student. However, the opportunity to augment traditional class materials can be beneficial for all learners.

The availability of OER also speeds up dissemination and can create more timely and relevant material allowing teachers to incorporate current events into the curricula. This is not possible with traditionally published textbooks. Also, the information becomes more global as students across the world can share resources at once.


Being ensured of the accuracy and quality of these resources is one challenge, since they can freely be created and shared by anyone. Some curated collections are emerging to offer some direction in terms of the most useful and reliable resources, however. Additionally, language and cultural barriers can emerge, as resources are shared worldwide.

The creators of these OERs generally do not receive any payment for the resources they are supplying, which leaves little incentive for them to continuously update and revise the content. This means it will be up to educators to refresh resources as necessary for their classrooms. However, it is important to keep in mind intellectual property and copyright concerns as well, which can be confusing and difficult for teachers to track.

Blurring Lines

The biggest confusion, perhaps, is the muddying of the waters with respect to what is a true OER. For-profit players, seeing the potential, are getting into the mix to provide resources—but not necessarily entirely open resources.

McGraw-Hill Education has already partnered with Knovation, signaling that other publishers are interested in ways to take advantage of OER. Similarly, Amazon Education is working on an OER platform for schools called Inspire.

Not all for-profit players are moving toward OER, though. While Pearson CEO John Fallon predicted in a recent interview that OER would likely affect the K-12 market and his company’s work, he said that the analytics and adaptive learning offered from his commercial resources will allow Pearson’s product to remain distinct from OER.

Takeaway: Open educational resources are proving to offer some sound alternatives to higher-priced textbook options, both in terms of costs and access to up-to-date information. However, the playing field is shifting, with traditional for-profit publishers entering the field, meaning that future options are likely to run the gamut from truly “open” to ones based on various payment models. With many uses for OER, there is sure to be a suitable option for your needs.


1. “MIT OpenCourseWare” Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 2016.
2. “ACT, Inc. Acquires OER Search Platform OpenEd” EdSurge. May 2, 2016.
3. “TES Survey: Teachers Use OER More Than Textbooks” EdSurge. March 8, 2016.
4. “8 High-Quality OER Collections” THE Journal. May 19, 2016.
5. “Learn More in Less Time: ADHD-Friendly Tools for Students with Attention Deficit” ADDitude Magazine. N.d.
6. “Pearson CEO Fallon Talks Common Core, Rise of ‘Open’ Resources” EdWeek. May 16, 2016.
7. “McGraw-Hill Education Latest to Adopt Knovation Open Ed. Curated Content” Ed Week. March 25, 2016.