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OER (Open Education Resources): OER Home

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OER and Open Content


Defining the "Open" in Open Content
and Open Educational Resources

The terms "open content" and "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)

Legal Requirements and Restrictions
Make Open Content and OER Less Open

While a free and perpetual grant of the 5R permissions by means of an "open license" qualifies a creative work to be described as open content or an open educational resource, many open licenses place requirements (e.g., mandating that derivative works adopt a certain license) and restrictions (e.g., prohibiting "commercial" use) on users as a condition of the grant of the 5R permissions. The inclusion of requirements and restrictions in open licenses make open content and OER less open than they would be without these requirements and restrictions.

There is disagreement in the community about which requirements and restrictions should never, sometimes, or always be included in open licenses. For example, Creative Commons, the most important provider of open licenses for content, offers licenses that prohibit commercial use. While some in the community believe there are important use cases where the noncommercial restriction is desirable, many in the community strongly criticize and eschew the noncommercial restriction.

As another example, Wikipedia, one of the most important collections of open content, requires all derivative works to adopt a specific license - CC BY SA. MIT OpenCourseWare, another of the most important collections of open content, requires all derivative works to adopt a specific license - CC BY NC SA. While each site clearly believes that the ShareAlike requirement promotes its particular use case, the requirement makes the sites' content incompatible in an esoteric way that intelligent, well-meaning people can easily miss.

Generally speaking, while the choice by open content publishers to use licenses that include requirements and restrictions can optimize their ability to accomplish their own local goals, the choice typically harms the global goals of the broader open content community.



Creative Commons License

Should you choose to exercise any of the 5R permissions granted under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license, attribute as follows:

For redistributing verbatim copies of this page: This material was created by David Wiley and published freely under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license at

For redistributing revised or remixed versions of this page: This material is based on original writing by David Wiley, which was published freely under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license at

Open 101: An Action Plan for Affordable Textbooks



Click here for a list of classes using OER  and information about OER Efforts at GRCC.



Lauren Woolsey --

Garry Brand --

Bill Faber --

OER Week Webinars