How can educational institutions benefit by harnessing OER?


Openly licensed educational materials have tremendous potential to contribute to improving the quality and effectiveness of education. The challenges of growing access, combined with the ongoing rollout of ICT infrastructure into educational institutions, indicates that it is becoming increasingly important for them to support, in a planned and deliberate manner, the development and improvement of curricula, ongoing programme and course design, planning of contact sessions with students, development of quality teaching and learning materials, and design of effective assessment – activities all aimed at improving the teaching and learning environment while managing the cost of this through increased use of resource-based learning.

Given this, the transformative educational potential of OER revolves around four linked possibilities:

  1. Increased availability of high quality and contextualized learning materials can contribute to more productive educators. Because OER removes restrictions around copying resources, it can drastically reduce the cost of developing educational materials and courses by building on common intellectual capital, rather than duplicating similar efforts. Moreover, in many systems, the cost of commercial textbooks and other educational materials constitute a significant proportion of the overall cost of education, while processes of procuring permission to use copyrighted material can also be very time-consuming and expensive.

  2. Improves access to educational materials leads to better educational outcomes for students. Displacing the traditional (high) cost of commercial materials with OER results in significant cost savings to students. Immediate and permanent access to required course materials in turn improves students’ course persistence, course performance, and program completion. This benefits of this approach are exemplified in the case of educational institutions that develop entire degree programs with zero textbook costs (“Z degrees”).

  3. The principle of allowing adaptation of materials enables students to be active participants in educational processes, where they learn best by doing and creating, not by passively reading and absorbing. Content licences that encourage activity and creation by students through reuse and adaptation of that content can make a significant contribution to creating more innovative and effective learning environments. This approach, especially when combined with scalable and blended delivery models, has the potential to attract new students.

  4. OER has potential to build capacity by providing institutions and educators access, at low or no cost, to the means of production to develop a range of staff competencies in producing educational materials and carrying out the necessary instructional design to integrate such materials into high quality programmes of learning.

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Butcher, N. (2015). A basic guide to open educational resources (OER). Commonwealth of Learning, Vancouver and UNESCO. Retrieved from