How Online Colleges Save Students Money with Open Educational Resources (OER)

open educational resources

Understanding Open Educational Resources (OER)

Open educational resources (OER) encompass a broad range of items. OERs are digitized materials that can be used freely and openly. Examples of OERs include resources aimed at making knowledge accessible, such as:

  • textbooks
  • course materials
  • videos
  • tests
  • software

OER open education resources have changed the higher education structure. These resources have given both teachers and students more accessibility to learning materials. For instance, teachers can freely download the content, customize it for their classes, keep a copy for their students, and then share it with others, giving credit to the original source.

OER offers several benefits. Beyond accessibility, these resources help college students cut down on their expenses. These resources come at a fraction of the cost of traditional textbooks and course materials. In some cases, they’re even free!

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OERs help teachers enhance their learning methods. They can tailor content to suit their student’s needs and their own teaching styles.

Many colleges and universities have embraced OER, integrating them into their curriculum. Rather than purchasing new textbooks every semester, they turn to OERs, which saves money and allows for redirecting funds to areas such as upgrading technology or enhancing student resources.

The Role of OER in Online Colleges

The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 changed a lot of things. When face-to-face classes stopped and bookstores closed, we needed new learning methods. That’s when Open Educational Resources (OER) became important for all institutions.

However, even after the pandemic, online colleges OER continued to play a vital role in higher education. The rise in colleges adopting OER can be explained by various factors outlined in a recent study by Bay View Analytics, backed by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. According to the study, awareness and use of OER among faculty members have hit a record high, with almost one-third of instructors now mandating OER in their courses.

According to John J. DeGioia, Georgetown University’s President, OERs can

  • help institutions boost their reputation
  • attract talented individuals
  • improve teaching materials
  • cater to lifelong learners

Examples of OERs used by students taking online classes include:

Open Textbooks

These are freely accessible textbooks available online. They are licensed to allow for modification and redistribution. Open textbooks cover a wide range of resources students can access, many developed by educators and experts.

Streaming Videos

OER videos encompass educational content presented in video format. They provide students with engaging visual explanations. It includes lectures, tutorials, demonstrations, and animations.

Interactive Modules

These are self-contained learning units designed to facilitate active learning. It includes interactive exercises, simulations, and multimedia resources. Interactive modules allow students to engage with course material in a dynamic and hands-on manner.


OpenCourseWare (OCW) is a platform where you can access free, top-notch educational materials. These materials are often arranged like courses, with features like lesson plans and assessment tools, and cover a wide range of topics.

Benefits of Using OER for Online Students

Financial savings: Reducing textbook costs.

The most significant benefit of OER is its ability to increase student’s success rate by reducing educational costs.

A surprising number of students and their families don’t realize just how expensive textbooks can be. Even though each book might not seem like a big deal on its own, the total cost can really add up.

The cost of college textbooks has risen four times faster than the inflation rate over the past ten years. 66% of students have skipped buying required textbooks at some point due to lack of affordability. Here are other facts outlined by the Education Data Initiative on the cost of college textbooks:

  • The average undergraduate student spends $339-$600 annually on books and supplies.
  • 25% of students work extra hours, and 11% skip meals to afford books and course materials.

One big problem in education is textbooks with “access codes” that expire at the end of the term. These codes lock students into buying books at full price from university bookstores, and because of this, they can’t resell the books later.

But thanks to technological advancements, students have access to hundreds of free college textbooks online.

Digital textbooks provide students with free or low-cost access to educational materials online. They’re often sold 40-50% less than physical copies. This not only makes education more affordable but also ensures that all students have equal access to learning materials, regardless of their financial situation.

College is one of the best ways to set a career trajectory. However, with its rapid cost increase, many aspiring students question whether pursuing higher education is worth the financial investment. Student debt has more than doubled over the last two decades, and the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center has reported a 12.8% decrease in college enrollment over the last decade.

With OERs, students can overcome these financial barriers and confidently pursue an affordable online education.

Accessibility: Easy access to materials anytime, anywhere.

Over 74% of US college students are nontraditional learners. Some have jobs,  families, or other responsibilities that make traditional class schedules challenging. For these students, easy access to learning materials is crucial. OERs offer easy access to materials anytime, anywhere.

OERs are easily accessible with just a few clicks or taps on their devices. Students don’t have to lug around heavy textbooks or worry about forgetting them at home. Instead, they can access the materials they need wherever they are, whether commuting on the bus, taking a break at work, or relaxing at home.

This flexibility helps students feel in charge of their education and customize their learning to fit what works best for them.

OERs are also helpful for students with disabilities. They can be changed to fit different accessibility needs. Since OERs are usually online, they can be made bigger, changed, or used with special tools to help students with different abilities. For example, they offer audio versions for students who can’t see well and interactive activities for students with trouble learning.

Customizability: Instructors can tailor materials to fit course needs.

OERs also provide a customized learning experience. With OERs, instructors can adjust course materials to match the unique requirements of their students and curriculum. Traditional textbooks have a one-size format. And we all know that there’s no one-size-fits-all in education.

With OERs, educators can choose, modify, and customize information. This helps instructors create more relatable and engaging materials.

How to Find and Use OER at Your Online College

OERs are vast educational materials anyone can freely use, modify, and share. It’s easy to locate OERs in your college. You just need to ask your instructor or an academic advisor. However, if you want to outsource and maximize low-cost educational materials online, you might need to do some digging yourself.

Finding OERs involves more than just a simple Google search. There isn’t a single repository or online “one-stop shop” for open educational resources. They are dispersed throughout the internet, frequently kept on university websites or repositories.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you find and make the most of OERs:

Step 1: Know What You’re Looking For

It’s easier to narrow down your search if you know what type of OER content you’re looking for. What subject are you looking for? What’s your format preference? The best strategy for searching may vary depending on your needs and purpose.

Step 2: Use Dedicated Search Tools

Here are some of the best-specialized search engines for OER search:

  • CC Search
  • OER Commons
  • OER Africa
  • SkillsCommons
  • Open Textbook Library
  • OpenStax

You can also use Google’s advanced search feature. The self-paced Google Power Searching online courses offer quick and efficient ways to enhance your search skills with new tips and tricks. Other known search tools for finding OER include Mason OER Metafinder (MOM) and OASIS Search.

Remember to:

  • Consider browsing by subject or discipline if available.
  • Broaden your search to include related subject areas.
  • Utilize search filters to refine results for relevance.

Step 3: Evaluate the Quality and Relevance

Make sure they fulfill your needs by giving them a thorough evaluation. Verify the content’s quality, applicability, and conformity to your learning goals. Take into account elements like content depth, accuracy, and currency. It’s also critical to confirm that the information is appropriate for your academic level and that the source is reliable.

Searching for OERs is just the beginning. Frequently, students experience more difficulty in incorporating OER into their study routines. Here are some tips on how to successfully integrate OER into your study routine:

  1. Schedule dedicated time for OER usage.
  2. Organize and keep OER materials accessible.
  3. Use OERs to complement learning to reinforce concepts or explore further.
  4. Engage in discussions and groups related to OER content.
  5. OER materials are dynamic and constantly evolving. Keep an eye out for updates, revisions, or new additions to ensure you’re accessing the most relevant and up-to-date content.

Conclusion: The Future of OER in Online Education

Open educational resources are in demand for several reasons. The primary reason is to help students save money on textbooks. By embracing OERs, colleges and universities can attract more students to enroll, especially those from low-income backgrounds.

As a college student, you need to understand the importance of saving. Everything’s inflating, especially the cost of higher education. Open Educational Resources (OERs) can help cut down your education costs, giving you more financial wiggle room, particularly for important expenses like tuition.