Thoughts on the benefits of OER for postsecondary instructors

Welcome to Open Ed Evangelist, a blog about open educational resources (OER) in higher education. For this post, I'm going to outline some of the main benefits of using OER for postsecondary instructors. Full disclosure: most of my experience with OER comes from my work as an academic librarian at large research universities - rather than from direct experience using OER as an instructor - so my thoughts on these issues will be colored by my professional background and the higher education environments I'm most familiar with.

So, the benefits for instructors:

OER save students money

The cost of college textbooks has risen at more than 300% the rate of U.S. inflation since 1977, with a 90% increase over the past decade alone. Due at least in part to these rising costs, students increasingly report not purchasing textbooks due to high costs, a trend which is widely recognized to negatively impact student learning outcomes. By adopting OER (including open textbooks) to replace commercial course materials, instructors can play a direct role in reducing the cost of higher education for their students, ensuring that all students have the materials they need to succeed regardless of their financial situation or socio-economic background.

OER are often more accurate and current than commercial course materials. 

Because OER are openly licensed and can be revised, and because there is a growing community of instructors working with and contributing to these materials, popular OER resources can benefit from a kind of crowd-sourcing effect, whereby they are continuously reviewed and updated by a large contingent of experts. This is in contrast to the situation with many commercial textbooks, which, according to many of the instructors I've worked with, are often riddled with errors and inaccuracies that are carried forward through subsequent editions, and which leave instructors with no convenient or transparent process for making or requesting corrections.

OER give instructors the freedom to customize their course materials. 

Another benefit of open licensing is that OER give instructors the freedom to customize their course materials. This benefit can manifest itself on a number of different levels, from making corrections and updating information where needed, to omitting content that is not relevant to learning objectives and only increases students' cognitive load, to customizing content and to include local examples and case studies that are more likely to resonate with students from specific regions and backgrounds. In short, OER give instructors the power to bring their expertise to bear in designing materials that are optimally suited to their course and their students.

OER can be shared with teachers and learners around the world. 

Because OER are openly licensed and include advance permission for anyone to reuse, revise, remix, and redistribute them, they are ideally suited to leveraging the power of the internet to enhance the global knowledge commons. Materials created by an instructor in one context can be discovered and adapted by any number of teachers and learners around the world, dramatically increasing the benefit of the original materials by enabling them to be reused and expanded on to suit any number of different educational applications. And the original creator of the materials also benefits directly from sharing and reuse through attribution, not only through the gratification of seeing her work reused to the advantage of others, but also through the personal recognition she receives as the creator of the underlying work. This short video provides some compelling examples of the potential benefits of sharing:


OER create opportunities for pedagogical innovation. 

Last but not least, the reuse potential of OER can be leveraged to enable pedagogical innovation. One compelling example of this potential involves moving beyond the "disposable assignment," where students are tasked with working on papers or projects that are only shared with the instructor or TA for marking purposes. Against this, OER create the potential for learner-centered assignments that reach a worldwide audience and contribute to the global knowledge commons. Some examples of this include blog- and wiki-based assignments that encourage students to envision themselves as engaging in a broader dialogue about the issues at hand, as well as assignments the provide students with the opportunity to contribute directly to development of new educational resources, such as projects where students collaboratively author content and ancillary materials for new open textbooks.
This list of benefits is far from exhaustive, and my discussion of them here is cursory at best. Indeed, each of the benefits above could easily be the subject of its own blog post, as the nature and extent of each benefit is the subject of much ongoing discussion and research. There are also a variety of challenges that instructors can face in adopting, adapting, or authoring OER, and I hope to touch on some of these challenges in more detail in a future post. For now, though, I hope that this post will pique the interest of instructors who are new to OER and inspire them to think critically about both the advantages of using OER and the drawbacks of relying solely on commercial course materials.


Popken, B. (2015, August 6). College Textbook Prices Have Risen 1,041 Percent Since 1977. Retrieved October 8, 2017, from

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, The Economics Daily (2016). College tuition and fees increase 63 percent since January 2006. Retrieved October 8, 2017, from

Florida Virtual Campus (2016). Student Textbook and Course Materials Survey: Results and Findings. Retrieved from

Ethan Senack, The Student PIRGs (2014). Fixing the Broken Textbook Market: How Students Respond to High Textbook Costs and Demand Alternatives. Retrieved from

David Wiley (2014). The access compromise and the 5th R. Retrieved from

David Wiley (2013). What is Open Pedagogy? Retrieved from