1.2 Open Educational Resources

In the previous section, you learned about open education. In this section, we are going to start to narrow our focus from open education to open educational resources (commonly referred to as OER) and, specifically, open textbooks.

Open Educational Resources (OER)

There are a number of different definitions for open educational resources, but they all contain similar elements.


UNESCO first defined the term open educational resources (OER) in 2002 define OER’s as “teaching, learning or research materials that are in the public domain or released with an intellectual property license that allows for free use, adaptation, and distribution.”

Hewlett Foundation

Another common definition of OER comes from the the Hewlett Foundation, which defines OER as “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.”


A third definition comes from Educause. In their June 2010 7 things you should know about Open Educational Resources (PDF) white paper, they define OER as “any resources available at little or no cost that can be used for teaching, learning, or research. The term can include textbooks, course readings, and other learning content; simulations, games, and other learning applications; syllabi, quizzes, and assessment tools; and virtually any other material that can be used for educational purposes. OER typically refers to electronic resources, including those in multimedia formats, and such materials are generally released under a Creative Commons or similar license that supports open or nearly open use of the content. OER can originate from colleges and universities, libraries, archival organizations, government agencies, commercial organizations such as publishers, or faculty or other individuals who develop educational resources they are willing to share.”

The 4R Framework

Each of the above definitions of OER are built around the 4R framework. The 4R framework, developed by David Wiley, is a useful tool to help understand whether a teaching resource is, in fact, an open educational resource. The 4R framework defines the rights of a user over content, i.e., what a user can do with the content in order for it to be considered an OER.

  1. Reuse – the right to reuse the content in its unaltered / verbatim form
  2. Revise – the right to adapt, adjust, modify or alter the content
  3. Remix – the right to combine the original or revised content with other content to create something new
  4. Redistribute – the right to make and share copies of the original content, a revision of the content or remixes of the content with others

Recently, Wiley expanded the 4R's to include a fifth one: Retain, which gives users the right to make, own and control copies of the content.

How Open Educational Resources Work

The following video was created by Nadia Paola Mireles Torres and won third prize in a recent U.S. Department of Education video contest. It does a good job of explaining OER including how they can be shared, reused and remixed in different educational contexts.


comments powered by Disqus