Here is a list of common questions and their corresponding answers that are often posed by people who are unfamiliar with Open Educational Resources (OER). They are intended to provide quick and easy access to information that addresses common queries. For more in-depth information, consult A Basic Guide to OER.


What are Open Educational Resources?

Open Educational Resources (OER) are freely accessible educational materials that can be used, shared, and modified by educators and learners. These resources include textbooks, multimedia content, assessments, and more, typically distributed under an open licence that allows for their use and reuse without cost.

Are OER the same quality as traditional resources?

The quality of OER varies, but many OER are created and curated by educators, experts, and institutions with a focus on high standards. It's essential to review and assess the content, just as with traditional materials. OER can offer diverse perspectives and be continually updated, contributing to their relevance and adaptability.

Can I modify and customise OER for my specific educational needs?

In most instances, a user has enormous latitude to adapt, mix, or remix OER to suit contextual needs where the licence allows this. This flexibility allows educators to tailor resources to meet the unique needs of their students and teaching styles. If, however, the licence restricts adaptation (as, for example, the Creative Commons licence with a ‘No Derivatives’ restriction does), others may not alter the resource in any way. It has to be used ‘as is’.

How can I find and access OER?

OER can be found on dedicated platforms, repositories, and websites that host educational content. Some popular platforms include Teacher Education in Sub-Saharan Africa (TESSA), OpenUCT, OER Commons, and MIT OpenCourseWare. Additionally, many educational institutions and organisations provide OER for various subjects and levels. These include the Commonwealth of Learning’s OAsis and OER Africa.

How can I share my OER with others? 

There are various options for sharing your OER:

  1. Use an institutional repository: Many organizations, and especially universities, are setting up their own collections and making them available online as OER or OCW. If the writer or developer works for such an institution, the expectation will be that OER developed under the auspices of that institution should reside within their repository. Seek guidance from the repository administrator.
  2. Select an open repository: Generally, open repositories require the person submitting the resource to register and log in before uploading the resource. They will also require information about the resource to allow it to be catalogued and tagged. This is necessary in order to allow search facilities to find it. The submitted resource will be vetted by a review team to ensure quality before being added to the repository’s database. Various repositories welcome contributions from multiple locations. These include:
    1. OER Commons (;
    2. Openly Available Sources Integrated Search (OASIS) (
    3. The State University of New York (SUNY) OER Repository (
  3. Build the OER online: A few sites encourage development of OER within their online environments. They can then automate processes such as acquiring a Creative Commons licence and adding the resource to the database. One such example is OER Commons ( Users open an account, develop the materials online, and then publish them once they are satisfied.
  4. Exploit social networks. The world of social networking has also opened new possibilities for publishing OER online. A site such as Flickr ( allows its users to publish photographic materials with Creative Commons licenses, while YouTube ( allows the same for digital video materials. Networks like Twitter and Facebook can be used to spread awareness of the materials posted on the Internet by sharing the links.

What are the benefits of using OER?

The benefits of OER include cost savings for students, increased access to learning materials, and the ability for educators to customise content. OER also promote collaboration, knowledge sharing, and innovation in education. By eliminating cost barriers, OER contribute to more inclusive and equitable educational opportunities globally.

Is OER the same as e-learning?

OER is not synonymous with online learning or e-learning, although many people make the mistake of using the terms interchangeably.

Openly licensed content can be produced in any medium: paper-based text, video, audio or computer-based multimedia. A lot of e-learning courses may harness OER, but this does not mean that OER are necessarily e-learning. Indeed, many open resources being produced – while shareable in a digital format – are also printable. Given the bandwidth and connectivity challenges common in some developing countries, it would be expected that a high percentage of resources of relevance to higher education in such countries are shared as printable resources, rather than being designed for use in e-learning.

Is OER the same as open learning/open education? 

Although use of OER can support open learning/open education, the two are not the same. Making ‘open education’ or ‘open learning’ a priority has significantly bigger implications than only committing to releasing resources as open or using OER in educational programmes. It requires systematic analysis of assessment and accreditation systems, student support, curriculum frameworks, mechanisms to recognize prior learning, and so on, in order to determine the extent to which they enhance or impede openness.

Open learning is an approach to education that seeks to remove all unnecessary barriers to learning, while aiming to provide students with a reasonable chance of success in an education and training system centred on their specific needs and located in multiple arenas of learning. It incorporates several key principles:

  • The learning process should centre on the learners, build on their experience and encourage independent and critical thinking;
  • Learning provision should be flexible so that learners can increasingly choose, where, when, what and how they learn, as well as the pace at which they will learn;
  • Prior learning, prior experience and demonstrated competencies should be recognized so that learners are not unnecessarily barred from educational opportunities by lack of appropriate qualifications;
  • Learners should be able to accumulate credits from different learning contexts;
  • Providers should create the conditions for a fair chance of learner success. (Saide, n.d.)

As this list illustrates, while effective use of OER might give practical expression to some of these principles, the two terms are distinct in both scope and meaning.

How open is an open licence?

There is a broad spectrum of legal frameworks to govern how OER are licensed for use. Some of the legal frameworks simply allow copying, but others make provision for users to adapt the resources that they use. The best known of these is the Creative Commons licensing framework (see It provide legal mechanisms to ensure that authors of materials can retain acknowledgement for their work while allowing it to be shared, can seek to restrict commercial activity if they wish, and can aim to prevent people from adapting it if appropriate. Thus, an author who applies a Creative Commons licence to their work specifically seeks to retain copyright over that work, but agrees – through the licence – to give away some of those rights.

See Creative Commons licences for more information.

What is the difference between OER and open access publishing? 

Open access publishing is an important concept, which is clearly related to – but distinct from – that of OER.

Open access publishing typically refers to research publications of some kind released under an open licence. OER refers to teaching and learning materials released under such a licence. Clearly, especially in higher education, there is an overlap, as research publications typically form an important part of the overall set of materials that students need to access to complete their studies successfully, particularly at postgraduate level.

Nevertheless, the distinction seems worth applying because it allows more nuanced discussion and planning about which kinds of open licences would be most appropriate for different types of resources.

Shouldn’t I worry about ‘giving away’ my intellectual property? 

A key concern for educators and senior managers of educational institutions about the concept of OER relates to ‘giving away’ intellectual property, with potential loss of commercial gain that might come from it. This is often combined with a related anxiety that others will take unfair advantage of their intellectual property, benefitting by selling it, plagiarizing it (i.e. passing it off as their own work), or otherwise exploiting it. These concerns are completely understandable.

It is becoming increasingly evident that, on the teaching and learning side, educational institutions that succeed are likely to do so predominantly by understanding that their real potential educational value lies not in content itself (which is increasingly available in large volumes online), but in their ability to guide students effectively through educational resources via well-designed teaching and learning pathways, offer effective support to students (whether that be in practical sessions, tutorials, individual counselling sessions, or online), and provide intelligent assessment and critical feedback to students on their performance (ultimately leading to some form of accreditation). Although it may seem counter-intuitive, therefore, as business models are changed by the presence of ICT, the more other institutions make use of their materials, the more this will serve to build institutional reputation and thereby attract new students.

Does use of OER preclude use of commercial content? 

OER and commercial content can be used together in courses and programmes, although course developers need to be careful not to create licensing conflicts by integrating materials with different licensing conditions when designing teaching and learning materials. It thus seems a worthwhile practice, however, during design and development of educational courses and programmes, to consider all possibilities when developing and procuring content. Of course, as a consequence of digitization of content and the growth of openly available content online, educational publishing business models will shift and the mix of open content and commercial content will continue to change.