2 Benefits of OER

Learning outcomes

By the end of this chapter, you will be able to:

  • Describe the benefits and opportunities of OER for teaching and learning
  • Understand the challenges and arguments against OER
  • Identify how libraries and you can support open education and the OER movement

We started thinking about the significance of OER and why they are important in Chapter 1. Now we’re going to explore the benefits of OER in more depth, considering a) their significance from a social justice perspective and b) the opportunities that arise from their flexibility.

OER, social justice and equity

OER provide a level of social justice to education. The current for-profit model of educational publishing offers no such relief. Dr Sarah Lambert (2018)  identifies three main ways in which OER provide social justice: redistributive justice, recognitive justice, or representational justice:

Redistributive justice is the most long-standing principle of social justice and involves allocation of material or human resources toward those who by circumstance have less. Recognitive justice involves recognition and respect for cultural and gender difference, and representational justice involves equitable representation and political voice.

Let’s explore each of these in more depth, with some examples.

Redistributive justice

Like in the US, the cost of textbooks has increased in Australia, leaving many students struggling to afford them (Nagle & Vitez, 2020; Lambert & Fadel, 2022). In the past, students could avoid buying textbooks when libraries kept multiple copies of required texts for loan. In this new age of ebooks and online learning, however, publishers have been able to subvert traditional library models. Limits on simultaneous ebook users, inability to download content for offline reading, and cumbersome DRM make avoiding textbook costs increasingly difficult (Lambert & Fadel, 2022).

OER reduce the cost barrier to people from lower socioeconomic circumstances who struggle to afford educational materials. A US study showed improved outcomes for students from poor and minority backgrounds when OER were adopted. Not only did the students’ grades improve, but so did course retention rates (Colvard, Watson & Park, 2018).

The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the pressures on all student populations, especially those from existing underprivileged student populations. From food insecurity to precarious work, COVID has exacerbated existing economic challenges. The use of OER has gone some way to lessening the burden faced by students (DeRosa, 2020).

 Do: Textbook cost activity

We know that textbooks costs can be astronomical, but it can be hard to fully grasp the impact moving to an OER can have.  So, let’s do the maths! Download this interactive PDF.

Now let’s consider the second form of social justice identified by Dr Lambert (2018): recognitive justice.

Recognitive justice

OER allow the recognition of groups and individuals often excluded from the academic sphere.

Textbooks by established experts often fail to incorporate knowledge and experiences from minority and underrepresented groups. However, OER with more open Creative Commons licences can be modified or expanded to foreground the work of under-represented people, including Indigenous peoples and LGBTQI+ individuals.

For example, textbooks in STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine), which have historically neglected women’s contributions in the fields, can benefit from examples that highlight women’s research and practice. Similarly, medical textbooks have long suffered from a lack of diversity, with very little representation of people of colour.

Likewise, recognition of Indigenous knowledges, practices, and languages in OER can also reduce the cultural and linguistic barriers often experienced by First Nations students (Funk & Guthadjaka, 2020).

English has become a global lingua franca, yet most of the world’s population does not speak it as a first language, if at all (Karakaya & Karakaya, 2020). Most OER are produced in English, and translation efforts are slow going. So, while there is potential for equality of access, the reality is that more needs to be done.

The third way OER provide social justice as identified by Dr Lambert is representational justice.

Representational justice

Related to recognitive justice, representational justice allows marginalised groups to tell their own stories. Lambert and Fadel (2022) clarify the distinction between the two thus:

we think of recognitive justice as ensuring you can see diversity … and [representational] justice as ensuring you can hear diverse points of view and knowledges

The current academic publishing model, like higher education as a whole, tends to privilege the voices that have historically dominated scholarly discourse. The perspectives offered by these established experts, however, may not reflect the lived experience of a diverse and multicultural student cohort.

In their creation and adaptation, OER can allow greater inclusion of underrepresented voices. Openly licensed OER can be modified to suit different contexts and include different kinds of knowledge, enriching the resource with diverse perspectives.

Democratising the textbook creation process through OER models removes commercial, and sometimes even political, influences (Nusbaum, 2020). Allowing marginalised communities power to create and edit texts facilitates social justice through greater representation.

Greater representation is not a guaranteed outcome, however. It can only occur by considering context and actively engaging with different communities.

Watch: Open Education Matters: Why is it important to share content? [3:31 mins]

The video below further explains the social and equity benefits of OER.

Note: Closed captions are available by clicking on the CC button in the video.

The flexibility of OER

The ease with which many OER can be edited and maintained gives educators a lot of flexibility. Let’s explore some of the benefits of OER flexibility.

Continual improvement of OER content

As open digital resources, OER can be easily edited and updated, without the educator having to find an alternative textbook or create a whole new resource. Freedom from fixed, unalterable resources allows educators greater freedom to revise or expand content to suit their curriculum.

For example, an OER could be:

  • updated when new discoveries are made, or when new policies are introduced;
  • revised or expanded in response to student feedback; or
  • converted to new digital formats as required.

Another way that OER can be revised and expanded is by localising the content.

Incorporating local perspectives

As we saw when we discussed social justice, existing textbooks may have an international focus and miss the local context. Canada and the US have a head start on the production and use of OER, but their geographic and social contexts do not always translate well to Australia or Aotearoa New Zealand.

OER can be revised to be made more relevant to local conditions. Resources that refer to overseas policy environments – for example: healthcare or financial systems – can be adapted to fit our own.

In line with representational justice, OER can allow local voices to be heard. A case study of the Indigenous and Intercultural Health unit at La Trobe University, for example, showed the need for educational resources to be relevant to the targeted community. Ordinary health science programs offered were not gaining traction in Indigenous communities until Indigenous culture, language, and experiences were incorporated into the curriculum via an open-source platform (Hannon, Huggard, Orchard, & Stone, 2014).

 Watch: Importance of OER [3:14 mins]

Watch this video to hear James Glapa-Grossklag, the Dean of Educational Technology from the College of the Canyons in Southern California talks about the importance of Open Educational Resources during a visit to RMIT.

Note: Closed captions are available by clicking on the CC button in the video.

Now let’s consider how the flexibility of OER enables partnerships with students.

Partnership with students

OER can also support active learning by allowing students to be involved in the creation and assessment of OER, not just by passively using them (Elder, 202 1). After all, OER with more open Creative Commons licences grant permission for all users, including students, to be involved in the 5R activities: retain, reuse, revise, remix and redistribute (see Chapter 1).

For example, students could develop case studies which, with their permission, could be reused as OER for other learners. The OER ebook Cultural Knowledges and Work Integrated Learning, is one such resource. Published on Pressbooks by Charles Darwin University under a CC BY-NC-ND licence, this book is an “iteratively compiled” collection of students’ case studies on cultural capability. Further examples have recently been highlighted by Travis Wall for Pressbooks: “Student-led OER to inspire and engage your class.”

Global OER contexts

On top of the benefits outlined already, OER offer some important benefits to global education. Unlike proprietary teaching materials and textbooks, OER can be:

  • freely translated into other languages;
  • adapted to suit local national contexts and histories; or
  • enhanced with culturally relevant examples.

Perhaps most importantly, OER can be used freely by institutions with limited financial resources, including those in developing countries, while opening up education to more students.

Watch the video below to find out more about how OER are building inclusive knowledge societies and helping achieve the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Agenda.

Watch: Open Educational Resources (OER) and innovation: Why OER?  [1:17 mins]

Note: Closed captions are available by clicking on the CC button in the video.

Do: Knowledge check quiz

We’ve considered the many benefits of OER, focusing on the strong social justice motivations and the advantages gained through their flexibility. However, as with every great movement, there are some barriers and arguments against the OER movement that are worth being aware of and considering.

Barriers to using OER, arguments against

There are some barriers to OER and their widespread adoption, which are important to be aware of.  They include concerns like:

  • The quality of available OER materials may be inconsistent
  • Materials may not meet accessibility requirements and must be modified to bring into compliance
  • There is no common standard for the review of OER accuracy and quality, and therefore you need to check accuracy of content
  • Customisation may be necessary to match departmental and/or college curriculum requirements
  • Technology issues – not all students will be able to access digital resources or have access to required software
  • OER may be delivered via platforms that are not open, so they are not discoverable or accessible, or cannot be reused easily by others
  • The language of dissemination – many OER are limited to English (Mishra et al., 2022).
  • Student readiness and willingness to participate (Pearce et al., 2022).

Studies into barriers to the use of OER by university teaching staff have found key barriers to be (Hassell & Lewis, 2017; Belikov & Bodily, 2016; Schuwer & Janssen, 2018; Schuwer, Kreijns, & Vermeulen, 2014 ):

  • Lack of awareness and lack of understanding, including confusing OER with any digital resources
  • Lack of time and motivation
  • Lack of discoverability
  • Lack of institution wide policy and directive from leadership

As posited by McGill (2013), many of these may be “perceived barriers” or “anticipated barriers” that are “not as real as imagined or that have been lessened by new developments, such as the introduction and wide scale adoption of Creative Commons Licences”.

Read: OER myth busting

As part of the Open Educational Resources Policy in Europe project, Creative Commons put together an excellent document on Open Educational Resources Mythbusting. See pages 14-35 for busting of common OER myths.

  Reflect: Barriers to OER

Consider your own organisation. What do you think some challenges and barriers to OER and their adoption could be? How do you think you could address them?

We’ve explored how OER are such a powerful social justice tool and considered the benefits of their flexibility for teaching and learning in general, but what does this all look like in practice? Watch the following videos to see how academics can and have been bringing OER into their classroom:

Watch: Open Education in Practice: Integrating OER Into Your Course [4:27 mins].

Watch this video to see how OER might be embedded into teaching.

Note: Closed captions are available by clicking on the CC button in the video.

Watch: Open Educational Resources: Adopting an Open Course [5:20 mins]

Watch this video to hear from academics about their experience of adopting OER.

Note: Closed captions are available by clicking on the CC button in the video.

We’ve seen how academics can and have started bringing OER into their classrooms and capitalising on the freedoms and benefits of OER to provide a dynamic and learner-oriented learning experience for their students. Now let’s look into our role in this game: how libraries and we as librarians can engage with and support OER. We’ll start by looking more generally at how librarians are perfectly placed to support the broader Open Education movement, before looking at support for OER specifically.

Watch: Libraries and the Open Education Movement [3:55 mins]

Watch this video on how libraries can and do contribute to the OE movement.

Note: Closed captions are available by clicking on the CC button in the video.

Read: How libraries and librarian can lead OER

Read through this LibGuide page developed by University of Toronto Library on how can Librarians and Libraries Lead OER [approx 5 min].

So we’ve started thinking about how librarians can support OER, now let’s hear from an Australian academic as they share their experience of OER and how librarians have contributed to their OER journey.

Watch: Finding quality Open Educational Resources [1:52 mins]

Note: Closed captions are available by clicking on the CC button in the video.

Reflect: Supporting OER as part of your role

What are some of the ways through which you think you do or could support your institution with applying OER?

Key takeaways

In this chapter we saw that OER have the potential to transform education. They reduce financial barriers and enable greater representation of marginalised peoples and diverse voices. They also allow a flexibility in the teaching process that is not possible using traditional textbooks. In Chapter 3 we’ll be considering OER initiatives around the world and at home in Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand.


Belikov, O., & Bodily, R. (2016). Incentives and barriers to OER adoption: A qualitative analysis of faculty perceptions. Open Praxis, vol. 8 issue 3, July–September 2016, 235–246

Colvard, N. B., Watson, C. E., & Park, H. (2018). The impact of open educational resources on various student success metrics. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 30(2), 262-276. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1184998

DeRosa, R. (2020). “Practitioner perspectives”: OER and a call for equity. New England Journal of Higher Education. https://nebhe.org/journal/practitioner-perspectives-oer-and-a-call-for-equity/

Elder, A. [Abbey Elder]. (2017, December 14). An introduction to open educational resources [Video]. YouTube. https://youtu.be/NtJmakm1-zc

Funk, J., & Guthadjaka, K. (2020). Indigenous authorship on open and digital platforms: Social justice processes and potential. Journal of Interactive Media in Education, 2020(1). http://doi.org/10.5334/jime.560

Hannon, J., Huggard, S., Orchard, A., & Stone, N. (2014). OER in practice: Organisational change by bootstrapping. RUSC: Universities and Knowledge Society Journal, 11(3). http://doi.org/10.7238/rusc.v11i3.2131

Hassal, C., & Lewis, D. (2017). Institutional and technological barriers to the use of open educational resources (OER) in physiology and medical education. Advances in Physiology Education, 41(1), 77-81.  https://doi.org/10.1152/advan.00171.2016

Karakaya, K., & Karakaya, O. (2020). Framing the role of English in OER from a social justice perspective: A critical lens on the (dis)empowerment of non-English speaking communities. Asian Journal of Distance Education, 15(2), 175-190. http://www.asianjde.com/ojs/index.php/AsianJDE/article/view/508

Lambert, S. R. (2018). Changing our (dis)course: A distinctive social justice aligned definition of open education. Journal of Learning for Development, 5(3), 225-244. https://jl4d.org/index.php/ejl4d/article/view/290

Lambert, S. R., & Fadel, H. (2022). Open textbooks and social justice: A national scoping study. National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education. https://www.ncsehe.edu.au/publications/open-textbooks-social-justice/

McGiil, L. (2010, April 13). Overcoming barriers and finding enablers. Open Education Resources. https://openeducationalresources.pbworks.com/w/page/25168957/Overcoming%20barriers%20and%20finding%20enablers

Mishra, M., Dash, M. K., Sudarsan, D., Santos, C. A. G., Mishra, S. K., Kar, D., Bhat, I., Panda, B., Sethy, M., & da Silva, R. M. (2022). Assessment of trend and current pattern of open educational resources: A bibliometric analysis. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 48(3), https://doi.org/10.1016/j.acalib.2022.102520

Nagle, C., & Vitez, K. (2020). Fixing the Broken Textbook Market. 2nd ed. U.S. PIRG Education Fund. https://studentpirgs.org/assets/uploads/2020/06/Fixing-the-Broken-Textbook-Market_June-2020_v2.pdf

Nusbaum, A. T. (2020). Who Gets to Wield Academic Mjolnir?: On Worthiness, Knowledge Curation, and Using the Power of the People to Diversify OER. Journal of Interactive Media in Education, 2020(1). http://doi.org/10.5334/jime.559

Pearce, L., Lin Hanick, S., Hofer, A., Townsend, L., and Willi Hooper, M. (2022). “Your Discomfort Is Valid: Big Feelings and Open Pedagogy,” Knowledge Cultures 10(2), 24–51. https://doi.org/10.22381/kc10220222

Schuwer, R., Kreijns, K., & Vermeulen, M. (2014). Wikiwijs: An unexpected journey and the lessons learned towards OER. Open Praxis, 6(2), 91–102. https://doi.org/10.5944/openpraxis.6.2.116

Schuwer, R., & Janssen, B. (2018). Adoption of sharing and reuse of open resources by educators in higher education institutions in the Netherlands: A qualitative research of practices, motives, and conditions. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 19(3), 1151–1171. https://doi.org/10.19173/irrodl.v19i3.3390 


This chapter has been adapted in part from:


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

CAUL Open Educational Resources Professional Development Program: Foundations Copyright © 2024 by Council of Australian University Librarians (CAUL) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book