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Open Educational Resources (OER): Open Access vs OER

"Open Educational Resources are teaching, learning and research materials in any medium – digital or otherwise – that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions" (William and FLora Hewlett Foundation).

OER image by Wikimedia Commons. CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

Open Access IconOpen Access is a publishing model for scholarly communication that allows free, immediate, online availability of research articles coupled with the right to use those articles. Open access tears down the paywall barrier, creating a more equitable, open research environment.

Open Access logo by PLoS CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

Similarities and Differences

Open Access and Open Educational Resources share the common goal of open licensing to promote the benefits of sharing. They differ in their focus. While anyone can benefit from open access to scholarly journal articles, Open Access is primarily concerned with improving scholarly communications, and its target audience is scholars and researchers. The goal of Open Educational Resources is to improve education through the benefits of resource sharing and its target audience is teachers, faculty, and students.

While they have a different focus, the overall goal is very similar. Both movements view opening up resources to free access and use fosters communication, creativity, and growth.

What does it mean to be open and why is this important?

Open is so much more than free. Free resources are an important part of Open Educational Resources and enable students greater access to learning. In this environment, open means that instructors and students have permission to freely download, edit, share, and keep the educational resources that they have revised. These permissions to reuse, revise, remix, redistribute and retain educational resources are commonly known as the 5Rs of Open Education. These 5R rights and sharing privileges are made possible by the Creative Commons Licenses. These CC licenses are attribution tools that allow free distribution of an otherwise copywritten work.


TedxNYED presents David Wiley 3/6/2010


The 5 R's  by David Wiley CC BY

Why OER?

Why OER?

Benefits for Students

Using OER can provide tremendous cost savings for students as well as impact student success and completion rates. 

The cost of textbooks can be a financial burden on students, which not only affects student success but could also delay graduation for students who are taking fewer classes per term because of that cost, further increasing financial costs for students over time. OER provide students with day one access to free course materials, and research reviewed by the Open Education Group shows that most students perform as well or better using OER course materials compared with students using traditional textbooks.

OER allow students to have learning materials right from the start of their courses. This is not a negligible point, as the results of the Florida Virtual Campus’ 2016 Student Textbook and Course Materials Survey show: 66.6 percent of surveyed students did not purchase a required textbook because of the cost, which these students felt resulted in them earning a poor grade (37.6 percent) or earning a failing grade (19.8 percent). 47.6 percent of students surveyed also indicated that they have taken fewer courses occasionally or frequently, 45.5 percent did not register for a course, 26.1 percent dropped a course, and 20.7 percent withdrew from a course because of the cost of required textbooks.


Video: Why OER? by Holyoke Community College OER Taskforce CC_BY

2016 Florida Virtual Campus Student Textbook & Course Materials Survey Chart 1: Impact of Textbook Costs on Students

Benefits for Faculty

Faculty enjoy more freedom in selecting course materials and can customize these materials to fit the specific needs of their students and goals of their classes. Since OER permit adaptation, educators are free to edit, reorder, delete from, or remix OER materials. OER provide clearly defined rights to users, so educators are not faced with interpreting Fair Use and TEACH Act guidelines. 


Video: Open Educational Resources at Santa Fe College by Sante Fe College Educational Media Studio.

Why Open Access?

Why Open Access?

“Open Access Explained!” Attributions: Animation by Jorge Cham Narration by Nick Shockey and Jonathan Eisen Transcription by Noel Dilworth Produced in partnership with the Right to Research Coalition, the Scholarly Publishing and Resources Coalition and the National Association of Graduate-Professional Students. CC BY 3.0.

Why Open Access matters

Most publishers own the rights to the articles in their journals–not the authors. Anyone who wants to read the articles pays a fee to access them. Institutions and libraries help provide access to paywalled research through costly negotiations. Even then, no part of the article can be reused by researchers, students, or taxpayers without permission from the publisher, often at the cost of an additional fee.

Open Access returns us to the values of science: to help advance and improve society. By providing immediate and unrestricted access to the latest research, we can accelerate discovery and create a more equitable system of knowledge that is open to all.

PLOS. Benefits of Open. CC BY

Benefits for Students

Using OER can provide tremendous cost savings for students as well as impact student success and completion. Students have an especially large stake in the debate about access to research.  

  • Open Access can ensure students get the best possible education and are not artificially limited by the selection of scholarly journals their campuses are able to provide. Limited access to research makes students settle for the information that is available rather than that which is most relevant. 

  • If your professors can’t read it, they can’t teach it: when professors can’t access the most recent research, they are deprived of the opportunity to bring that material into the classroom.  

Benefits for Faculty

  • Retain your rights
  • Provide a public good, making your research accessible to anyone
  • Expanded audience for your publications
  • Increased impact for your research
  • Access to current research
  • Access to research beyond your library and personal subscriptions 
  • Stimulating effects on creativity and research
  • Increased modes of availability and searchability
  • Increased author and institution visibility

Subject Contacts

Jean Shumway

Reference & Instruction Librarian
724-287-8711 ext. 8296


OER pge attribution

"Open Access and Open Education Resource: What's the Difference" adaptation by Jean Shumway licensed CC BY 4.0