Open Educational Resources (OER)

April 21, 2022

What is OER?

One of the most popular definitions of open educational resources (OER), shared by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, states that OER “are teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others. Open educational resources include full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials, or techniques used to support access to knowledge.” Unlike proprietary educational resources, such as textbooks traditionally adopted by state and local educational agencies, OER can be regularly updated and reused in a variety of settings to ensure that instructional materials continue to be relevant for students.

OER’s Key Benefits for preK-12 Education

A national survey conducted by the Babson Survey Research Group (2017) found that 16% of school districts are using openly licensed curricular materials. As this work grows, and more educators integrate proprietary, free, and openly-licensed digital content, OER stakeholders have tracked the progress of this movement and documented how states and districts are leveraging OER to benefit students and teachers. Some of the most beneficial impacts include: empowered teachers, expanded access to high-quality materials, reinvested funds, and a more collaborative culture.

Empowered teachers: OER initiatives have an opportunity to enhance teacher collaboration and student learning, especially when coordinated at the school or district level. This is most impactful when the OER implementation process recognizes teachers as creative professionals with subject matter, design, and pedagogical expertise. When approached this way, the process enables those in the classroom to determine which resources most support the unique needs of their students. While teachers benefit from this flexibility to mold learning experiences that traditional learning materials may not support, students also benefit from more personalized learning opportunities. OER implementation has also helped increase teachers’ proficiency with their standards and curricula.

Expanded access to high-quality materials: OER provide districts with powerful flexibility to develop engaging curricula tailored to local contexts and student interests. Additionally, teachers are able to select and curate learning materials that are culturally diverse and representative of their students. And because open licenses permit free distribution, high-quality learning materials can reach wider student populations.

Reinvested funds towards personalized student learning and professional development: By relying less on proprietary learning materials, districts can reallocate a significant portion of their budget. The dollars saved can be used to accelerate the transition to digital learning through supports for a robust technology infrastructure, new leadership roles and professional development for educators who create or curate OER, and expanded personalized learning opportunities for students.

A more collaborative culture: States and districts interested in OER can learn from an established network of educators involved in the work. A successful transition to OER is challenging for a single district to accomplish without this access to external wisdom of practice. The PK-12 OER community offered additional support to states and districts by sharing instructional resources, lessons learned, and best practices. Community members — including teachers, state and district leaders, researchers, and nonprofits — were and continue to be enthusiastic about reaching out to those new to OER implementation.