Embracing Open Educational Resources ("OER"): The Benefits of an Open Learning Culture
The Current State of Educational Basal Content
It’s no secret that college textbooks are becoming increasingly expensive. While the discount textbook market has seen significant growth over the past decade, the average cost of a traditional college textbook has grown at a whopping three times the rate of inflation since 1978. That means that students are paying upwards of $1,200 for textbooks and supplies each year. Combined with burdensome increases in higher education tuition costs, 65% of students decide against purchasing any course materials at all.*
Perhaps it is no coincidence that recent years have seen a meaningful shift in the way that educational content is delivered. New distance education technology has given rise to increased availability of what are commonly referred to as OERs. These platforms serve as a collection of teaching, learning, and research materials, including open courseware and content, software tools, and customization tools, all of which reside in the public domain. Even better, these resources can be used, repurposed, and redistributed completely free of charge and with few limitations.
The Future of OER
Widely considered a catalyst for equalized access to academic content across the globe, OERs are often easily customizable, affordable, and therefore highly tailored to each instructor’s individual needs and teaching methods. Educators are slowly becoming more receptive to the idea of using OERs to enhance their courses, particularly at community and junior colleges, where textbooks and supplies account for approximately 40% of in-state tuition. Large education and technology companies, such as Cengage and Pearson, have also responded to this movement by adding their own value-added services and digital solutions aimed at helping universities better transition towards OERs for both traditional and online classroom environments.
As with any paradigmatic shift, however, the OER movement will require time and some further development before it is commonly adopted by professors and schools on a systematic basis. That said, considerable steps have been taken to improve the quality and breadth of OER content since the term was first coined in 2002. Namely, the introduction of large, open online course and content platforms like Open Textbook Library and OER Commons has paved the way for future developments in content delivery and customization technology. Some content providers have also set their focus on making content more adaptable and compatible across different platform devices, particularly mobile. On an institutional scale, a growing number of universities have begun to establish support systems and workshops for faculty members to encourage use of OER.
It is clear this movement has significant implications for the future of learning. Cengage predicts that the use of OER could triple over the next five years, driven by improvements in engagement and success with the OER experience by educators and students. At the very heart of the movement’s growing acceptance, however, lies the idea that knowledge should be shared freely and without limitation. Accordingly, we anticipate that OER has great potential for reducing the cost of expanding quality education on a universal scale.
* U.S. PIRG: “Fixing the Broken Textbook Market”