OER: Day One---The Definition and Value of OER

Posted on behalf of the AIR/OER Team

OER: The definition and value of OER

Welcome to day 1 of From Inquiry to Practice: A Guided Exploration of OER in Adult Education. Last Monday we posted a short self-assessment in the OER: Introduction discussion thread.  Did you test your OER knowledge?  Find out the answers to a couple of the questions in today’s presentation and discussion!  Throughout the week, we will address the answers to the other topics from the self-assessment. 

Today we will focus on the definition and value of OER.  Please watch this short presentation and respond to the below questions.  The video plays from the Screencast-o-matic server.  If you are unable to access the video, you can also find the presentation in Google Docs.

  • Based on the presentation, what are your questions about what is or is not an OER?
  • What areas of your instruction/planning do feel would best benefit from the use of OER?  Why?

If you are already using OER in your classroom, share one of your high quality resources and describe how you used it, what challenges or successes you experienced, and how your learners evaluated the resource, if applicable.



Hello, Amanda, Dahlia, and Delphinia,

I have gone to the OER Commons site, and when I look at some of their listings, I see tags that warn  "read the fine print", and other tags that seem to limit "remix and reuse".  So, if there are limitations, how can they be OERs by this definition?  Do all four R's need to apply by the definition you are using?  I'm a bit confused because I thought anything on the OER Commons site was OK.

Thanks!  Susan

This is a great question.  There is confusion around the definitions of OER and what exactly qualifies a resource to be called open. OER Commons defines OERs as resources that can freely used without charge; this is slightly different than the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Education Technology, definition found on page 56 of the 2010 National Education Technology Plan.  Within this definition are the 4 Rs, which simplify the definition of “open” to include those educational resources for which the license allows for free use, distribution, remixing, and revising.  However, OER Commons  identifies the various types of licenses OER creators use to allow others to share, reuse, and revise their work; the rights attached to a specific resource are indicated on the site.

Follow these directions to learn more about how OER Commons alerts users of licensing:

  1. Go to www.oercommons.org
  2. Select any topic from the home page
  3. You will be redirected to a list of OERs
  4. On the left side of the screen, you will see an option labeled "Conditions of Use" - click on this tab
  5. Using your mouse, hover over each option and a clarifying statement will appear, letting you know exactly what each mean

Not all educational resources on OER Commons meet the definition of “open” so it is important to look at the level of licensing.  For an object to be a true OER, it must be fully open (all 4Rs).  

Take a look at the these OER examples to see the difference:

Reading Strategies (Open)

Notetaker (free, but not open)

Thank you for posting this question, Susan.  I appreciate this opportunity to discuss many important points related to the definition and value of OER.  

It’s important to note that OER is part of a global movement towards open education that seeks to make education available at no cost and increase unfettered sharing and access to learning materials and tools for everyone.   OER are created in this spirit, so I like to equate OER with freedom. OER expert David Wiley’s 4R framework (reuse, redistribute, remix, revise) helps us to easily remember the rights associated with open materials that give us the most freedom to adapt the resources in any number of creative ways we deem appropriate to support learning. 

Later this week we’ll talk about some of the unique ways OER can be used in instruction.  Limits on the rights associated with OER, restrict how they can be leveraged for instruction.  For this reason, we like to remind everyone to always read the fine print when thinking of ways to use OER.  Although David Wiley’s 4R’s framework has been around for seven years, those four words aren’t always used to describe the rights of a particular resource.  For instance, the owner of a resource may specify in the fine print that you can create derivative materials from the resource and share the resource without permission.  In this case, the fine print states the resource can be revised and redistributed although the owner of the resource hasn’t used those exact words.

Another reason it is important to read the fine print is because, as Amanda mentioned, OER Commons contains a mix of educational resources that may have all or only some of the rights associated with OER.  You want to be clear about what you can and cannot do with the OER. 

I’ll add that any educational resource that helps students to meet their learning and performance goals is OK - even if it doesn’t provide all the rights that can be associated with OER.  If you find something on the OER Commons site that works for you, then it is absolutely OK.

Very best,
Delphinia Brown

P.S. Recently David Wiley added a 5th R to his framework for retain or the “right to make, own, and control copies of the content”.  This right is usually assumed, but isn't discussed as explicitly as the others. He talks about the 5th R in his blog :  The Access compromise and the 5th R and Clarifying the 5th R  

Thanks, Delphinia, for your comments.  I think that the fifth R of "retain" is also quite important.  It allows us to make and retain our own copy of the content, as you say.   In addition to Wiley's comments on the subject, I would add that too often a website "disappears" or is greatly re-arranged by the website publishers/hosts  Through the years (since ~1995) I've seen that happen often, even with stable websites that are produced by governmental agencies and educational entities.  It can be quite frustrating, as I'm sure others have found it to be, as well.  So, the right to retain allows us to have access to those resources we have found to be effective in teaching and learning.


Hi Susan:

That's a great point, we want to retain content for future use. I find the 5th "R" to be perhaps the most challenging to wrap my head around.  Someone in another thread has identified the sense of ownership we feel over our creation.  If I create an OER for  my use and someone else can take it and modify it, the right to retain means that person now “owns” their version of it.

I am in complete agreement in theory, but in practice I think it is a real shift in thinking about ownership and rights. As David Wiley states below, it is already inherent in the 4 R’s, but it shifts my thinking about OER.

“The right to Retain – i.e., make, own, and control – copies of openly licensed content has always been a right granted by open content licenses. Generally speaking, it is impossible to revise, remix, or redistribute an openly licensed work unless you possess a copy of the work.” [from Wiley’s blog, http://opencontent.org/blog/archives/3251]

It is much like a work of art—you may paint something lovely and sell or give it away. Then, it is owned by someone else. This way of thinking helps me to digest the shift in ownership of a created material.

What do other folks think about the idea of “Retain”?

Best, Dahlia