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Learning Portal - OER Toolkit : About OER

About Open Educational Resources

Have you heard about Open Educational Resources (OER) and want to know more? This module presents an overview of what they are, why they matter to post-secondary education, and how to get started on your OER journey.

Defining OER

What are Open Educational Resources (OER)?

Open Educational Resources, or OER, refer to any teaching and learning materials that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license, such as a Creative Commons License or GNU General Public License, that permit no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution with no or limited restrictions.

OER Can Be: Full courses, learning objects, tests or any other tools, materials, or techniques for use in teaching, learning, and research.

Course Material

Open Textbooks


Lessons Plans



OER Can Be and the associated images are a derivative of the BCOER Poster by BCcampus, licensed under CC BY 4.0.

Definition of OER is from UNESCO and The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

The 5 R Permissions of OER

The “5 Rs” is a framework that encourages educators to capitalize on the unique rights associated with open content. These rights include the ability to:

  • Retain. Make and own copies of the work (e.g., download, duplicate, store, and manage)

  • Reuse. Use the work in a wide range of ways (e.g., in a class, in a study group, on a website, in a video)

  • Revise. Adapt, modify and translate the work (e.g., translate the content into another language)

  • Remix. Combine it with another resource to make a new work (e.g., incorporate the content into a mashup)

  • Redistribute. Share the work with others (e.g., give a copy of the content to a friend)

These rights, or permissions, are made possible through open licensing. For example, Creative Commons open licences help creators of OER retain copyright while allowing others to reproduce, distribute, and make some uses of their work.



The 5 Rs of OER is a derivative of the 5 R Permissions of OER by Lumen Learning, licensed under CC BY 4.0

What's Not OER

Below are four key categories of resources that are often considered to fall outside the definition of what is truly OER. Of course, the best mix of materials to meet any given set of learning outcomes will vary, and may include a combination of OER and the materials listed below. The key is knowing which resources will best meet your objectives for instruction, and for learners.

Resources that Cannot be Adapted

Through open licensing, the mission of the OER movement is to encourage the full range of the “5 Rs” permissions of use (see prior tab). Some argue that unless an open licence allows for adaptations, then the resource is not truly OER.

The image below positions Creative Commons Licenses on a spectrum from more to less open. As depicted, resources that are licensed ND (No Derivatives), are in some cases considered not to be OER.

The six creative image. Description: Six Creative Commons Licenses on a spectrum from more to less open.  From top to bottom, the most open to not open: 1. CC BY, 2. CC BY SA, 3. CC BY NC, 4. CC BY NC SA, 5. BB BY ND (not open), 6. CC BY NC ND


The Six Creative Commons Licences image is a derivative of an image in Keynote Slides (November 2014) , by Cable Green, licensed under CC BY 4.0.


Web-Based Resources that are Fully Copyrighted

All the available resources on the web that you may have access to, but that are not in the public domain, or do not carry a Creative Commons licence or other open licence, are not OER.


Subscription-Based Library Collections

A library’s subscription-based resources (journals, videos, and other materials), while accessible to students and faculty, are also not OER. This is because their use in education may be limited by licence agreements.

Open vs. Free Resources


Student Cost


Open Educational Resources



Library Resources




Image and text a derivative of Finding and Adopting OER, by Heather Blicher, licensed under CC BY 4.0


Open Access Resources

Open access is an important concept, which is related to – but distinct from – that of OER. Open access typically refers to research publications of some kind released under an open licence that allows for their free access and use (definition from Basic Guide to Open Educational Resources, 2015).

Open access publications sometimes do not allow for adaptation and remixing. While open access articles are freely accessible, authors may retain their copyright and/or assign rights to publishers or users, so permission may be needed for copying and adaptation.

More information about Open Access:

OER Simplified 

Watch this short video (The Learning Portal Ontario, 2018) on how OER are creating a new system of education through equal access to knowledge by learners everywhere.

Quick Start Kit

Faculty Quick Start Kit

For faculty, OER often begin with a need to fill content gaps, or to identify enhanced or replacement resources for a course. The following list of steps laid out in the tabs above illustrates a typical OER development process to consider as a starting point.


The text in the Faculty Quick Start Kit is derivative of content in OER Handbook for Educators, by WikiEducator, licensed under CC BY 4.0

Step 1: Find

  • Start by looking for suitable resources that will contribute to your instructional objectives. Search dedicated OER repositories, including the eCampus Open Textbook Library.

  • Consider your own materials that may be available offline, including lecture notes, handouts and other resources prepared previously. Be sure to check your college's intellectual property policies to see if a resource you’ve developed can be used and shared as OER with an open license.

See the Curating Module in this toolkit for additional support in finding OER, or contact the Learning Commons for help.

Step 2: Compose

  • With your collection of resources at your disposal, start piecing them together to create a learning resource or set of resources to meet your instructional objectives and learning outcomes.

  • This is a creative design process of building an educational resource from scratch and/or using components you have found.

  • As you compose, use OER authoring tools to support your work, such as the Open Author Module Builder.

See the Creating Module in this toolkit for additional support in composing OER, or contact your college's Instructional Designers or Learning Technology Specialists for help.

Step 3: Use

  • Through open licensing, OER open up possibilities for new, more collaborative teaching and learning practices--because the materials can be used, adapted and shared within and across learning communities.

  • As you implement OER in your courses, take advantage of these possibilities. Pair up with a colleague on the implementation of OER, invite peer and student critique of the materials, or engage students as co-creators in OER-based assignments.

For additional information on OER practices such as these, see the Teaching Module in this toolkit.

Step 4: Share

  • Make your resources available for your peers and the open education community to find, and to begin the life cycle again.

  • Add descriptors so that others can find and use the resource, and select the appropriate license for any new/adapted resources.

  • Access online tools that can help you describe and share your resources. Try OER CommonsLiveBinders, or LibGuides

For additional information on sharing OER, see the Curating Module in this toolkit.

Why OER Matters

Why OER Matters to Teaching & Learning

Benefits for faculty:

  • Increases student retention by reducing costs

  • Assures academic freedom to modify or add content to your specifications

  • Extends your academic profile

  • Provides more relevant and engaging materials for your students

Benefits for students:

  • Low cost or free

  • Easy to find and access -- even before classes start

  • More customized and relevant


"Benefits for faculty and students" is a modified derivative of the poster “BCOER” by BCcampus, licensed under CC BY 4.0

Why OER Matters to Libraries

Benefits for Libraries:

  • Support the library's effort to provide more relevant and engaging materials for students

  • Enable the role of library staff as collaborators on instructional design through their expertise in finding quality materials and knowledge of open licensing affordances

  • Expand the curatorial role of the library through enhanced opportunities for describing and organizing content

  • Provide a mechanism to bridge the gap between historical library curation practices and the benefits of 21st century technologies


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