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About Open Educational Resources: sub-module 1 of 8

Have you heard about Open Educational Resources (OER) and want to know more? This module presents an overview of what they are, why they matter to post-secondary education, and how to get started on your OER journey.


Defining OER

What are Open Educational Resources (OER)?

Open Educational Resources, or OER, refer to any teaching and learning materials that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open licence, such as a Creative Commons Licence - opens in a new window, or GNU General Public Licence, - opens in a new window, that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution with no or limited restrictions

OER Can Be: Full courses, learning objects, tests or any other tools, materials, or techniques for use in teaching, learning, and research.

Course Material

Open Textbooks


Lesson Plans




OER Can Be and the associated images are a derivative of the BCOER Poster - opens in a new window, by BCcampus, - opens in a new window licensed under CC BY 4.0 - opens in a new window

Definition of OER is from UNESCO - opens in a new window, and The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation - opens in a new window.

The 5 R Permissions of OER

The “5 Rs” is a framework that encourages educators to capitalize on the unique rights associated with open content. These rights include the ability to:

  • RetainMake and own copies of the work (e.g., download, duplicate, store, and manage)
  • Reuse Use the work in a wide range of ways (e.g., in a class, in a study group, on a website, in a video)
  • Revise Adapt, modify and translate the work (e.g., translate the content into another language)
  • Remix Combine it with another resource to make a new work (e.g., incorporate the content into a mashup)
  • Redistribute Share the work with others (e.g., give a copy of the content to a friend)

These rights, or permissions, are made possible through open licensing. For example, Creative Commons open licences help creators of OER retain copyright while allowing others to reproduce, distribute, and make some uses of their work.




The 5 Rs of OER is a derivative of the 5 R Permissions of OER - opens in a new window,by Lumen Learning, - opens in a new window licensed under CC BY 4.0 - opens in a new window

What's Not OER

Below are four key categories of resources that are often considered to fall outside the definition of what is truly OER. 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 the materials listed below. The key is knowing which resources will best meet your objectives for instruction, and for learners.

Through open licensing, the mission of the OER movement is to encourage the full range of the “5 Rs” permissions of use (see prior tab). Some argue that unless an open licence allows for adaptations, then the resource is not truly OER.

The image below positions Creative Commons Licenses - Opens in a new window on a spectrum from more to less open. As depicted, resources that are licensed ND (No Derivatives), are in some cases considered not to be OER.

The six creative image. Description: Six Creative Commons Licenses on a spectrum from more to less open.  From top to bottom, the most open to not open: 1. CC BY, 2. CC BY SA, 3. CC BY NC, 4. CC BY NC SA, 5. BB BY ND (not open), 6. CC BY NC ND


The Six Creative Commons Licences image is a derivative of an image in Keynote Slides (November 2014) - Opens in a new window, by Cable Green, licensed under CC BY 4.0 - opens in a new window.

All the available resources on the web that you may have access to, but that are not in the public domain, or do not carry a Creative Commons licence or other open licence, are not OER.

A library’s subscription-based resources (journals, videos, and other materials), while accessible to students and faculty, are also not OER. This is because their use in education may be limited by licence agreements.

Open vs. Free Resources

Resources Student Cost Permissions/Licencing
Open Educational Resources Free Open
Library Resources Free Restrictive


Image and text a derivative of Finding and Adopting OER - Opens in a new window, by Heather Blicher, licensed under CC BY 4.0 - opens in a new window

Open access is an important concept, which is related to – but distinct from – that of OER. Open access typically refers to research publications of some kind released under an open licence that allows for their free access and use (definition from Basic Guide to Open Educational Resources, 2015 - opens in a new window).

Open access publications sometimes do not allow for adaptation and remixing. While open access articles are freely accessible, authors may retain their copyright and/or assign rights to publishers or users, so permission may be needed for copying and adaptation.

More information about Open Access:

Why OER Matters

Benefits for faculty:

  • Increases student retention by reducing costs
  • Assures academic freedom to modify or add content to your specifications
  • Extends your academic profile
  • Provides more relevant and engaging materials for your students

Benefits for students:

  • Low cost or free
  • Easy to find and access -- even before classes start
  • More customised and relevant



"Benefits for faculty and students" is a modified derivative of the poster “BCOER” - Opens in a new window by BCcampus, - opens in a new window licensed under CC BY 4.0 - opens in a new window

Learn More About the Benefits for Teaching and Learning:

A Review of the Effectiveness & Perceptions of OER video transcript.

Benefits for Libraries:

  • Supports the library's effort to provide more relevant and engaging materials for students
  • Enables the role of library staff as collaborators on instructional design through their knowledge of open licensing and expertise in finding quality materials
  • Expands the curatorial role of the library through enhanced opportunities for describing and organizing content
  • Provides a mechanism to bridge the gap between historical library curation practices and the benefits of 21st century technologies

Learn More About the Benefits for Libraries:


Quick Start Kits

Faculty Quick Start Kit

For faculty, OER often begins with a need to fill content gaps, or to identify enhanced or replacement resources for a course. The following list of steps illustrates a typical OER development process to consider as a starting point.


The text in the Faculty Quick Start Kit is derivative of content in OER Handbook for Educators - Opens in a new window, by WikiEducator, licensed under CC BY 4.0 - opens in a new window

Library Quick Start Kit

Below is a quick start kit of initial activities and competencies that libraries may consider as they begin their OER journey--with the recognition that many libraries will not have the resources to support OER in each capacity.

OER Simplified

Watch this short video on how OER is creating a new system of education through equal access to knowledge by learners everywhere.

The OERs Video Transcript - RTF

Video from intheacademia is licensed under CC BY 3.0 -opens in a new window