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Open Educational Resources (OER): HOME - What are OER?

OER Definitions

What are OER?

Various definitions have been given for Open Educational Resources (OER).

One of the most widely accepted is:

Open Educational Resources (OER) are teaching, learning and research materials in any medium that reside in the public domain and have been released under an open license that permits access, use, repurposing, reuse and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions (Atkins, Brown & Hammond, 2007).

On the Creative Commons Wiki there is a summary of some OER definitions and a table that shows common and different points in the different definitions.

table showing common and different points in different OER definitions


Not all OER definitions include the following aspects:

  • Open copyright license required
  • Non-discriminatory (rights given to everyone, everywhere)
  • Does not limit “educational resources” to specific use or form (does not include NonCommercial limits)

But, ALL of them include  “Right of access, adaptation and republication".

What are Open Educational Resources (and Creative Commons)?


OER definitions are quite extensive, as they include all kinds of educationally useful materials, and therefore include many types of resources, in different media and formats.

  • courses/programs 
  • course materials
  • modules
  • student guides
  • teaching notes
  • textbooks
  • research articles
  • videos
  • assessment tools and instruments
  • simulations
  • role plays
  • databases
  • software
  • apps

Wikipedia defines OpenCourseWare (OCW) as "course lessons created at universities and published gratis via the Internet". In OCW the reference is to course and programs rather than on single resources.

Open Access usually refers to scholarly peer-reviewed digital journal literature (research articles), but it is sometimes also used to refer to digital books and thesis. In alternative, it refers to access to education which is free and open to all.

History of OER

A timeline about OERs

OER timeline












Project Gutenberg  was started in 1971 by Michael Hart "to make information, books and other materials available to the general public in forms a vast majority of the computers, programs and people can easily read, use, quote, and search" (“The History and Philosophy of Project Gutenberg by Michael Hart,” 1992).


The Open Content term was conied by David Wiley. One role of open content in the history of OER is its popularization of the idea that the principles of the open source / free software movements can be productively applied to content.


MIT launches the OpenCourseWare Initiative (OCW)


The term ‘Open Educational Resources’ (OER) was first adopted at UNESCO’s 2002 Forum on the Impact of Open Courseware for Higher Education in Developing Countries funded by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. 


Cape Town Open Education Declaration arose from a meetin whose aim was to foster efforts to promote open resources, technology and teaching practices in education.


The Oer Declaration was adopted during the World OER Congress in Paris in June 2012. It can be downloaded on the Unesco web site.




Open Education is Changing the Rules

Contact Beth Bernhardt

Beth Bernhardt
ph: 336-256-1210

Jackson Library

PO Box 26170

Greensboro, NC 27402

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The resources used in this guide are released under Creative Commons Licenses.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Need more information about Creative Commons? Here is a basic Guide.