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Open Educational Resources (OER)

This guide provides information for learning about open educational resources (OER) and curates resources and information to support OER work at Western Technical College.

Is your textbook an OER? (3 questions to help you decide)

Is your textbook an OER? (3 questions to help you decide) is adapted from "Is your textbook an OER?" Wisconsin Technical College System,, licensed Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY).

What is an OER? What isn't?

What is an OER?

Open educational resources (OER) are openly-licensed, freely available educational materials that can be modified and redistributed by users. They can include any type of educational resource, from syllabi to full courses.

To be an open educational resource, it must be:

  • Openly-licensed: You can read about this more in the pages on copyright and openly licenses.
  • Freely Available: The resources must be freely available online with no fee to access. Physical OER may be sold at a low cost to facilitate printing.
  • Modifiable: The resource must be made available under an open license that allows for editing. Ideally, it should also be available in an editable format.[3]

The most comprehensive definition of OER available today is provided by the Hewlett Foundation:

“Open Educational Resources are teaching, learning and research materials in any medium – digital or otherwise – that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions.”[4]

With a definition so broad that it includes any educational material so long as it is free to access and open, it might be easier to ask, “What isn’t an OER?”

What isn't an OER?

If a resource is not free or openly licensed, it cannot be described as an OER. For example, most materials accessed through the library’s subscriptions cannot be altered, remixed, or redistributed. These materials require special permission to use and therefore cannot be considered “open.” 

Table 1 below explains the difference between OER and other resources often misattributed as OER.

Table 1: Components of an OER
Material Type Openly Licensed Freely Available Modifiable
Open educational resources Yes Yes Yes
Free online resources under all rights reserved copyright No Yes No
Articles or other resources available through Library subscriptions No Yes No
Open access articles and monographs Yes Yes Maybe


Note: Although some materials are free to access for a library’s users, that does not mean that they are free to access for everyone (including the library). Similarly, while some open access resources are made available under a copyright license that enables modification, this is not always the case.

Check Your Understanding

Consider the free materials you currently use in your classes. Do these materials meet the definition of OER? Why or why not?


Credit: This section is minimally adapted from "Introduction to Open Educational Resources," from The OER Starter Kit Copyright © 2019 by Abbey K. Elder, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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