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Resources for Online Courses: OER and Open Access Explained

This is for faculty only

Open Access and OER Explained

Open access (OA) is a set of principles and a range of practices through which research outputs are distributed online, free of cost or other access barriers. (Wikipedia,

Open access (OA) focuses on those articles that are peer-reviewed literature and research studies Typically we think of OA as research studies and journal articles but OA may also include books, conference papers, individual book chapters and theses.

Open access (OA) access means free to use but not to retain, reuse, revise, remix, redistribute.

The list is ever changing and every growing as more authors are willing to allow access to their books. 

"Open Access Explained" created by Piled Higher and Deeper (PHD) Comics under CC BY

"Open educational resources" describe any copyrightable work (traditionally excluding software, which is described by other terms like "open source") that is licensed in a manner that provides users with free and perpetual permission to engage in the 5R activities:

  1. Retain - the right to make, own, and control copies of the content (e.g., download, duplicate, store, and manage)
  2. Reuse - the right to use the content in a wide range of ways (e.g., in a class, in a study group, on a website, in a video)
  3. Revise - the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself (e.g., translate the content into another language)
  4. Remix - the right to combine the original or revised content with other material to create something new (e.g., incorporate the content into a mashup)
  5. Redistribute - the right to share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others (e.g., give a copy of the content to a friend)


"What are OER with ncLibraries?" created by ncLibraries under CC BY

Open Access

While it is tempting to believe that Open Access works are somehow more reliable than OER, it is not the case.

Open Access was designed to enable the sharing of research documents and academic journals online.  It has been extended to also include textbooks. 

If you are an educator looking for free alternatives to the expensive textbooks that your students may be using and you want to use them as they are,  OA may be for you.


OER was designed to provide students and educators free access to educational materials appropriate for use in curriculum. It has expanded into resources that are free to use both in education and outside of education. OER will always be free.  If it is NOT free, it is NOT OER.

If you are an educator looking for access to free materials for your students which may be more flexible for your classroom and, OER may be for you. 

Please follow the copyrights attached to any materials you may use, these are Open Access or  OER materials and are not public domain (free to use for any reason).