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What are Open Educational Resources?

"Open Educational Resources (OER) are teaching, learning, and research resources that are free of cost and access barriers, and which also carry legal permission for open use."

In other words, an OER can be any instructional material (lab books, videos, exercises, software, and more) that is both free to access and available under an open license. This open license allows users to edit, adapt, and build upon an OER to meet a specific need.

Why use OER?

The increasing cost of textbooks is a significant concern for college students. A 2022 survey of 1,913 ISU undergraduates found that due to high course material costs:

  • 91% of students delayed purchasing required course materials
  • 70% of students tried to pass without purchasing required materials
  • 65% of students downloaded illegal copies of materials online
  • 34% of students had to purchase textbooks instead of groceries
  • 23% of students dropped a course, affecting their progress toward graduation

Other benefits of OER

The benefits of OER go beyond simple affordability. OER also give instructors the ability to adapt their instructional materials to meet the needs of their individual course and ensure that resources are up-to-date. OER are already being used around the world in K-12, higher education, workforce training, and professional development contexts. Research has shown that the use of OER... 

  • leads to similar learning outcomes for students when compared to traditional commercial textbooks1
  • contributes to retention and increased credit hour enrollment among college students2
  • significantly lowers drop/fail rates, supporting student retention and persistence3
  • is well-regarded by undergraduate students who have been assigned OER in their courses4
  • promotes faculty engagement with course materials and the implementation of innovative pedagogical practices5

How do OER work?

All OER are free to access, but not all free resources are OER. What makes OER different is their copyright licenses (typically Creative Commons), which grants permission for educators to adapt and reuse the resources for their teaching.

Can OER be high-quality if they are free? 

Many OER are developed through rigorous peer review and production processes that mirror traditional materials. However, it is important to note that being open or closed does not inherently affect the quality of a resource. Being open does enable educators to use the resource more effectively, which can lead to better outcomes. For example, OER can be updated, tailored, and improved locally to fit the needs of students, even if a resource is not ideal upon its original publication.

Can I get OER in print?

Most OER start as digital files, but like traditional resources, OER can be made available to students in both digital and print formats. Sometimes the OER publisher (e.g. OpenStax) will offer a print book that can be ordered from their website or purchased through the ISU Book Store. Because students are only paying for the print and distribution costs, the price of the printed OER will still be substantially lower than that of a commercial print textbook. If a print copy isn't available, or if you are using your own compilation of OER, our team can work with you to create a custom printed course pack.

What is the difference between OER and Immediate Access texts? 

The Open & Affordable Education Committee supports OER as well as other affordable course content options, such as Immediate Access resources. Immediate Access is a program between the ISU Book Store, faculty, and publishers. This program allows instructors to use their usual publisher-provided textbooks to their students at a discounted rate by opting in all students to pay for their books through their U-Bill. However, unlike OER, Immediate Access texts are not free.

Want to explore other affordable course material options for your course? Explore Other Affordable Content

Learn More

  • The OER Starter KitThis starter kit has been created to provide instructors with an introduction to the use and creation of open educational resources (OER). The text is broken into five sections: Getting Started, Copyright, Finding OER, Teaching with OER, and Creating OER. 


  1. Nusbaum, A.T., Cuttler, C., and Swindell, S. (2020). Open Educational Resources as a Tool for Educational Equity: Evidence From an Introductory Psychology Class. Frontiers in Education, 4(152). DOI: 10.3389/feduc.2019.00152
  2. Neu-Stephens, H. (2020). Open Education Resources and Enrollment Intensity in One Southern California Community College. Dissertation.
  3. Colvard, N.B., Watson, C.E., & Park, H. (2018). The impact of open educational resources on various student success metrics. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 30(2): 262–276.
  4. Issa, A.I., Ibrahim, M.A., Onojah, A.O., & Onojah, A.A. (2020). Undergraduates’ attitude towards the utilization of open educational resources for learning. International Journal of Technology in Education and Science (IJTES), 4(3), 227-234
  5. Kimmel, S., Bol, L., Ryan, D., & Esqueda, M. (01 Aug 2022). The Experiences of Community College Faculty Using Open Educational Resources versus Publisher Textbooks, Community College Journal of Research and Practice, DOI: 0.1080/10668926.2022.2107118


This page is licensed under a CC BY 4.0 International License. It was adapted by Abbey Elder from FAQ: Open Educational Resources [pdf] by Nicole Allen and Kirkwood Community College's OER FAQ.