With course materials averaging around $1,200 per year, many colleges over the past decade have adopted open educational resources (OER) to cut costs for students. Since then, a number of studies across many institution types have found that OER—freely available educational materials that can be downloaded, edited and shared—save money and show that students learn just as much using OER as with commercial textbooks. (One review offers evidence that students using OER as their primary course material sometimes perform better.)
This body of research is impressive, given the general dearth of research on and accounting for what students actually learn in college. Unfortunately, however, there is still a huge unknown about OER: We have not found if these materials foster similar learning outcomes for all students, especially traditionally underserved populations including low-income students, adult learners and students of color.