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Open Access and Open Educational Resources

What is the difference? 

Open Access (OA) describes scholarly literature that is digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions. 

Open Educational Resources (OER), on the other hand, are teaching, learning, and research materials in any medium -- articles, lesson plans, course materials, audio/video recordings, etc. -- that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license permitting no-cost access, use, adaptation, and redistribution by others. (Look for materials with the open Creative Commons licenses CC BYCCY-SA, CCBY-NCor CC BY-NC-SA.)

While OA and OER are created for different purposes, both OA and OER are vital for reducing or eliminating legal and financial barriers to education and the open exchange of ideas. Open Access articles can be part of the mix of resources used in OER.

Affordable Learning Georgia logo

Affordable Learning Georgia (ALG) is a USG initiative. Its site has a tutorial on Finding Free and Open Resources. The site includes links to a variety of sources of OER and Open Access materials including OER LibGuides.

Open Educational Resources

The 5Rs of Open Educational Resources

Open Educational Resources (OER) are teaching, learning and research materials in any medium that reside in the public domain or have been released under open licenses that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others.

OER can be freely downloaded, edited, and shared, and have the following characteristics known as the 5Rs:

  • Retain – The user has permission to make, own, and control copies of the content.
  • Reuse – The content can be used in a wide range of ways such as in a class, study group, on a website, or in a video.
  • Revise – The content can be adapted, adjusted, modified, or altered which includes translated into another language.
  • Remix – The user may combine the original or revised content with other material to create something new.
  • Redistribute – Copies of the original content, revisions, or remixes may be shared with others.

Look for resources in the public domain or with Creative Commons licenses that permit the creation of derivative works. Those licenses are CC BYCC BY-SACC BY-NC, or CC BY-NC-SA.

Related Guides

Open Access Logo

Open Access (OA) describes research literature that is free and available "on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of [research] articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself," according the Budapest Open Access Initiative

"The only constraint on reproduction and distribution and the only role for copyright in this domain should be to give authors control over the integrity of their work and the right to be properly acknowledged and cited.”

The OA model includes the following components:

  • Authors keep their copyright. 
  • There is no embargo period.
  • Research data is shared with the article.
  • A Creative Commons license is added to the research article enabling text and data mining.

Remember, while OA is "free" to access, there are still costs for the author to publish the work.


Film: Open Access Explained

Open Access Explained by Piled High and Deeper (PHD Comics) on Youtube

Attribution: The 5Rs are attributed to David Wiley, Education Fellow at Creative Commons and Chief Academic Officer at Lumen Learning. The graphic is was created by Michele N. Johnson, using a derivative of an open book icon by Vectors Point at Noun ProjectCC BY