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Open Access: a guide for researchers

Open Educational Resources (OER)

A guide for Academics interested in Open Access and identifying how to make their research available via Open Access






SEE ALSO: Open Access guide


  • Open teaching content and activities: Dr Morag Munro, Office of the Dean of Teaching and Learning,
  • Open Textbooks: Helen Farrell, Academic Engagement Librarian,


Creative Commons License

This Maynooth University OER libguide by is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


Open Educational Resources LogoOpen Educational Resources (OER) are teaching and learning and materials and resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions (UNESCO, 2019).

This guide has been developed in collaboration between the MU IUA Enhancing Digital Teaching and Learning Initiative and MU Library to provide an introduction to the benefits and challenges associated with finding, using and sharing OERs in Teaching, Learning and Assessment.

Image Credits: Jonathasmello, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

OER: a brief overview

OER are freely accessible, openly licensed digital assets that are can be used for teaching and learning, and include:

  • Open Textbooks; 
  • Primary sources: for example images, audio recordings and video recordings, databases; 
  • Open teaching content and activities: for example full courses and modules; learning activities and resources; videos; lesson plans; assessment briefs.

A resource can be described as an OER if it meets the following criteria: 


Image representing the 5Rs of OERs. Retain – the right to make, own, and control copies of the content  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)   Revise – the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself (e.g., translate the content into another language)  Remix – the right to combine the original or revised content with other open content to create something new (e.g., incorporate the content into a mashup)  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) 

Image by BCOER Librarians from BCcampus (CC 4.0)

Using OER can provide a number of benefits to staff and students: 

  • Freely available at no cost to the institution, or to students 
  • Opportunity to provide a wide variety of learning resources and activities to students 
  • Straightforward framework for licensing and attribution 
  • In some cases they can be adapted and tailored to your needs and context.  

"According to a newly released study by Achieving the Dream, implementation of Open Education Resources (OER) found “significant benefits to instruction and student learning experiences” in addition to the cost savings passed on to the students. Over 60% of students reported that their overall quality of their learning experience was higher in comparison to a typical, non-OER course."  (Source:

Advantages of using OERs include:

  • expanded access to learning. Students anywhere in the world can access OERs at any time, and they can access the material repeatedly.
  • scalability. OERs are easy to distribute widely with little or no cost.
  • augmentation of class materials. OERs can supplement textbooks and lectures where deficiencies in information are evident.
  • enhancement of regular course content. For example, multimedia material such as videos can accompany text. Presenting information in multiple formats may help students to more easily learn the material being taught.
  • quick circulation. Information may be disseminated rapidly (especially when compared to information published in textbooks or journals, which may take months or even years to become available). Quick availability of material may increase the timeliness and/or relevance of the material being presented.
  • less expense for students. The use of OERs instead of traditional textbooks or course packs, etc. can substantially reduce the cost of course materials for students. Choosing OERs makes accessing essential reading fairer for al. 
  • less expense for the University. In times of budget-cuts, libraries and departments are trying decrease cost but increase availability. OERs are a way of expanding access to material without the cost. 
  • showcasing of innovation and talent. A wide audience may learn of faculty research interests and expertise.  Potential students and donors may be impressed, and student and faculty recruitment efforts may be enhanced.
  • ties for alumni. OERs provide an excellent way for alumni to stay connected to the institution and continue with a program of lifelong learning.
  • continually improved resources. Unlike textbooks and other static sources of information, OERs can be improved quickly through direct editing by users or through solicitation and incorporation of user feedback. Instructors can take an existing OER, adapt it for a class, and make the modified OER available for others to use.

[Source: University of Maryland Global Campus: Library. 2020 CC-NC-SA 4.0 International licence.]

Potential challenges of OERs can include:

  • quality issues. Since many OER repositories allow any user to create an account and post material, some resources may not be relevant and/or accurate.
  • lack of human interaction between teachers and students. OER material is created to stand alone, and since self-learning users may access the material outside of a classroom environment, they will miss out on the discussion and instructor feedback that characterize for-credit classes and that make such classes useful and valuable.
  • language and/or cultural barriers. Although efforts are being made to make OERs available in multiple languages, many are only available in English, limiting their usefulness to non-English speakers. Additionally, not all resources are culturally appropriate for all audiences.
  • technological issues. Some students may have trouble using some OERs if they have a slow or erratic internet connection. Other OERs may require software that students don’t have and that they may not be able to afford.
  • intellectual property/copyright concerns. Since OERs are meant to be shared openly, the “fair use” exemption from the U.S. Copyright Act ceases to apply; all content put online must be checked to ensure that it doesn’t violate copyright law.
  • sustainability issues. Since OER creators generally do not receive any type of payment for their OER, there may be little incentive for them to update their OER or to ensure that it will continue to be available online.

Source: University of Maryland Global Campus: Library. 2020 CC-NC-SA 4.0 International license.

Why share materials as OER? 

  • Opportunity to showcase your work to an international audience 
  • Opportunity for peer review of your work 
  • Enhances your/your department’s/MU's educational reputation  
  • Social justice: equity of access to quality material for students who may be experiencing poverty, or those resident in the developing world.
  • Achieving the Dream report (2018) on OER: New study finds OER courses and degrees improve student retention and completion, faculty engagement, and result in cost savings for students: link here
  • Guidelines for open educational resources (OER) in higher education (2011) Commonwealth of Education (UNESCO): link here.

Are Open Access and OER the same thing?

Not quite, but it's a good question! In the Open Science diagram on the left (2020), you can see OER forms part of Open Science. 

Open Educational Resources (OER) form a subset of Open Access (OA) content. OER are always OA, but not all OA is an OER. 

So, to put it in other words, we can say that OER will always be Open Access by their very nature, but not all OA materials are considered OER as not all allow re-use, remixing, etc. For example, an Open Access project may share data with others, but  it might not be licensed for use in terms  of re-using it by a third party, or re-mixing it.


Image credits: ‘Open Science scheme’ (2020). Maastrict: Merlin Institute.