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Open Educational Resources (OER) are openly licensed educational materials. With the challenges of increasing access, there is an opportunity for us to use OER in the development and improvement of curricula, ongoing course design, development of quality teaching and learning materials, and design of effective assessment. OER can also help us manage the cost of high quality teaching and learning through the increased use of resource-based learning.


The concept of Open Educational Resources (OER) describes any educational resources that are openly available (i.e. ‘openly licensed’) for use by educators and learners, without an accompanying need to pay royalties or licence fees. Openly licensed content can be produced in any medium: printed text, video, audio or digital multimedia.

The term OER is largely synonymous with another term: Open CourseWare (OCW). However, OCW refers to a specific, more structured subset of OER. OCW is defined by the OCW Consortium as “a free and open digital publication of high quality university-level educational materials. These materials are organised as courses, and often include course planning materials and evaluation tools as well as thematic content”.


The OER Life Cycle

Once you decide to teach something, the first thing you will need to do is to search for some of the required resources that can provide a start to the materials development process. The next step would be to compile the materials in a creative manner. You will probably need to adapt existing resources to suit your particular circumstances – or even to create new resources where nothing suitable exists. There is a cyclical approach to finding, using, adapting (where possible) and publishing OER:

  • Find OER – there are a number of international repositories of OER resources, where you can find openly licensed materials.
  • Compose (piece together) OER – map the found materials onto the course, match existing materials with the objectives/outcomes, topics and planned assessment.
  • Adapt OER – Some OER (depending on the licence type) can be reworked or remixed to your local context.
  • Produce, deploy and refine – produce and deploy the OER for your context. Your resource may need to be refined once it has been used for the first time.
  • Share OER – share your resource with the OER community for others to use.

Learn more about using and adapting OER in section 3 of this Guide: Materials Development.


Open Licences

An important consideration for using OER is the licence conditions that apply, both to the materials that you want to develop and to the existing materials that you want to use.

The emergence of open licences has been driven strongly by a desire to protect a copyright holder’s rights in environments where content (particularly when digitised) can so easily be copied and shared without asking permission.

A broad spectrum of legal frameworks is emerging to govern how OER are licensed for use. The best known of these is the Creative Commons licensing framework. It provides legal mechanisms to ensure that authors can retain acknowledgement for their work while allowing it to be shared, can seek to restrict commercial activity if they wish, and can aim to prevent people from adapting it if appropriate.


OER Policy

Institutions that decide to use or publish OER need to review institutional policies and where necessary introduce policy changes that will facilitate collaboration and the development and sharing of OER. OER policy-related issues may affect the areas of intellectual property, materials development, human resources, and technology, as well as a range of stakeholders: learners, staff, institutions, government and/or quality assurance bodies and others.