Pros and cons of using OER

A summary of the advantages and disadvantages of open educational resources

Elisabeth Schmoutziguer

by Elisabeth Schmoutziguer
CEO Grasple

Educational resources (OER) come in different forms and different ways. In some cases one can argue to what extent the resources actually are open or that it possibly is an occurrence of "Open-washing"? Read more about the misuse of the term OER in our blog ‘Five characteristics to identify whether learning resources are open'. The definition we adhere to is ‘teaching and learning materials that are free to use and aimed at sharing and building upon each other’s work’.

Now you know what the definition of OER is, it’s time to zoom in on the advantages for your students – and you as an educator. Overall, open education advocates believe OER supports a future where students and educators gain free access to a wide variety of high-quality educational resources. These resources are all collaboratively developed, reviewed, revised, and shared across institutions.

When assessing whether OER suits your educational style or not, it's wise to inform yourself about its most common advantages and disadvantages. Let’s have a look. 

Benefits of using OER

1. Lower costs

One of the biggest advantages of using OER is that it immediately decreases the costs of creating, using, and maintaining educational resources. While the college textbook price increased by 812% since 1978[1] , OER has the potential to help lower the cost of learning materials.

2. More access

Lower costs immediately expand the access to learning for students worldwide. As with OER, students can freely access high-quality learning materials – wherever and whenever they want. This opens up education to a larger number of students.

3. Improved quality 

Using OER helps to improve the quality of modern-day teaching. Instead of using a standardized textbook, educators can add, remove, and edit content to suit their student’s needs. Also, when educators share their work, it’s a valuable incentive for fellow educators to do the same. This helps improve the quality of available materials as an ongoing cycle. 

4. Stimulate interactive learning

Offering OER through digital platforms allows for more interaction. Instead of using (only) a textbook, digital OER allows students to revise, remix, or reuse the learning materials. It’s a form of active learning – a method in which students actively participate in the learning process. Ultimately, this improves student success and completion rates.

Disadvantages of using OER

Like every other resource available, there are also disadvantages associated with using OER. The most-heard disadvantages are a lack of quality and extra effort required to adopt open educational resources into a curriculum.

1. A lack of validation 

Many OER repositories allow users to easily create an account and deposit learning materials. As a result of this ‘open’ structure, some of the resources available are not that relevant or maybe even faulty. However, research shows that students and faculty using OER often believe these resources are good or better than commercial textbooks[2]. This has everything to do with validating your resources. We always advise checking who created the materials before using them. 

2. Extra effort

Many educators feel adopting OERs in their classroom involves a lot of extra effort or additional work for their faculty members. They fear finding, adapting, and verifying the materials will take too much time. This is a valid objection, as implementing a new way of work will always require an investment, whether time or budget. However, once implemented, OER offers the possibility to easily find, adapt and disseminate because of its virtual nature. In the long term, using OER also means you never have to switch to other learning materials because the resources will always be freely available. The invested time and effort will therefore only be required once. 

3. Technological barriers

Because many OER come in a digital format, some students may experience trouble using or accessing them. Simply put, not all students have a solid internet connection, but educational institutes can play a role in facilitating this for their students. Other objections are that OER may require the use of software that students may not be able to afford. However, if this is the case, these resources aren’t truly open. We’ll get into this below.


Frequently asked questions about using OER

Is the quality of OER high enough? 

When it comes to open educational resources, all learning materials are created and validated by the community. Similar to Wikipedia, feedback on OER directly comes from other experts within the field. As a result, the quality and overall accuracy of open learning materials are just as high as copyrighted materials (if not better). 

“It’s like Wikipedia. In the early days, people didn’t believe Wikipedia could offer the same standard as Encyclopædia Britannica. But research shows that the community-regulated platform comes close to Britannica in the accuracy of its scientific articles[3] .”

How much time does it take to implement OER? 

That depends. One of the best things about open education is that you don’t have to do everything yourself. Turning to open education gives you access to innumerable educational resources; created and optimized by educational experts. While implementing new materials into your curriculum takes time, adapting or revising resources that have already been created also saves time and energy. Using OER also allows you to tailor resources to fit specific contexts within your courses, and it facilitates interdisciplinary teaching by integrating resources from multiple sources. This is why we believe the effort it requires to implement OER is ultimately worth it.

Does OER require the use of (expensive) technology? 

Many educational resources are available through educational technology (EdTech). However, the OER movement originated in higher education to ensure all students can access affordable learning materials. When students are required to use technology or software they can’t afford, the material isn’t truly open. Many organizations offering online learning resources label them as ‘open’. However, resources are only open if they comply with David Wiley’s 5Rs. Keep in mind that the original purpose of OER is that resources are freely available to all. So, does OER require the use of (expensive) technology? No, they do not. 

Is OER for you?

For many educators, the practice of adjusting or revising a curriculum based on online-available materials is widespread. As textbooks aren’t always an ideal resource when filling in blanks in a curriculum, many teachers turn to open educational resources (OER). But little do they know that implementing these ‘freely available’ resources has tremendous benefits on their level of education.

In short, using open educational resources (OER) greatly affects higher education for students worldwide. It helps them save costs, expands access to quality education for a larger group of students, and improves student success and overall completion rates.

For educators, using OER means they gain the opportunity to improve learning materials and boost co-creation. It also helps them retrieve academic freedom. 

OER has the potential to reduce the financial barriers to accessing education, among other effects such as improving the quality of education worldwide. At Grasple, we know open education is here to stay. While we must work together to roll it out completely, both students, individual educators, and faculties will benefit from using OER, even though it does require a time investment when implementing it. It’s worth it, as this collaboration has recently resulted in many valuable outcomes. A few of our favorites are listed below. 

Examples of useful openly licensed resources in STEM education

  • MIT Open Courseware: A web-based publication of all MIT course content. All online learning materials are openly available and free to explore, use, and revise. You’ll find the repository on https://ocw.mit.edu/

  • American Institute of Mathematics (AIM) Approved Textbooks

  • A collection of openly available textbooks that meet the AIM editorial board's evaluation criteria, accessible via https://aimath.org/textbooks/approved-textbooks/ 

  • My NASA Data

    Full lesson plans and science project ideas on contemporary science topics. My NASA Data also includes a Live Access Server which provides openly available data sets for classroom use. 

  • TU Delft’s Linear Algebra Exercises
    Through Grasple, TU Delft made 535 online exercises available under a Creative Commons license at www.grasple.com/math/linear-algebra/. The exercises are accessible by anyone and free to use whenever, wherever. 

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[1] The College Textbook Bubble, Retrieved via https://www.aei.org/carpe-diem/the-college-textbook-bubble-and-how-the-open-educational-resources-movement-is-going-up-against-the-textbook-cartel/

[2] Why OER? Retrieved via https://towson.libguides.com/oer/why-oer

[3] Daniel Terdiman, Study: Wikipedia as accurate as Britannica. Retrieved June 20, 2022: https://www.cnet.com/tech/tech-industry/study-wikipedia-as-accurate-as-britannica/