Open educational resources (OER) are resources available for teaching and learning, at little or no cost. Virtually any material, textbooks, learning games, test banks or other learning content, can be offered as an OER resource. Creative Commons is one source of OER licensed collections but there are many others; each resource is issued a license that explains in detail how that material can be used. Some OER materials must only be used in the original format while other resources can be changed or modified. The OpenCourseWare project started in 2002 at MIT offers access to full course materials online for anyone to use. MIT’s model has been replicated by other universities around the world. OER is not equivalent to taking a course and should not be confused with a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC).
A fascinating byproduct of the OER movement is that open resources can be modified and improved by a broad community of experts resulting in materials that offer new alternatives for effective teaching and learning. These “living” resources also promote collaboration as modifications are made. A downside to OER is the questionable quality and caliber of some of the materials. Not all OER collections provide a mechanism for feedback and sharing of evaluations or options beyond just a digital version of a textbook. Out-of-date resources can also present a problem; the value of a resource is dependent upon being up-to-date.
A report issued by Cengage Learning (2016) related that OER in higher education has the potential to triple in use as a primary courseware over the next five years. Open educational resources are being considered at many institutions as a way to address the rising costs of education. It may not be the complete answer but many educators agree that teaching and learning is improved when resources are more accessible.