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What Is OER?

What Are Open Educational Resources?

Open Educational Resources (O E R) logo

Open educational resources (OER) are free and openly licensed educational materials that can be used for teaching, learning, research, and other purposes. The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation provides the following definition:

"OER are teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others. Open educational resources include full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials, or techniques used to support access to knowledge.”

The 5 Rs of OER

OER are licensed with the following permissions:

Reuse: Use the content in its unaltered form in a wide range of ways

Revise: Adapt, adjust, modify, improve, or alter the content

Remix: Combine the original or revised content with other OER to create something new

Redistribute: Share copies of the original content or revisions and remixes with others

Retain: Make, own, and keep copies

Creative Commons

Creative commons logo

OER can be reused because they are either (a) in the public domain or (b) licensed in a manner which allows for free use and repurposing by others. Creative Commons (CC) licenses are the predominant standards for open licensing and make OER possible! To learn more about them, see About CC Licenses.

Public Domain

Public domain and open licensing grant free access to the materials, but the scope and nature are different. Open licensing recognizes clear ownership of intellectual property and the work is still protected under copyright law, whereas works in the public domain are not protected by copyright law. Therefore, users are required to follow the license requirements when using openly licensed materials.

Copyright Ownership Rights Attribution
Public Domain Copyright ownership is waived or has expired Author/creator has given up rights Attribution is not required
Open Licensing Copyright ownership is retained Author/creator grants specific rights for users Attribution is required
All Rights Reserved Copyright ownership is retained Author/creator holds exclusive rights  

To learn more about works in the public domain, see Copyright Terms and the Public Domain from Cornell University Library.


Adapted from Northwestern Michigan College Library's Open Educational Resources and Open Licensing (CCY BY 4.0 license).
OER Logo Open Educational Resources image, created by Tjane Hartenstein (CC BY-SA 4.0 license).
Creative Commons image, created by John Randell (public domain).
Range of Licensing image, created by Tina Mullins (public domain).