OER Research Hub Report

Posted by: Kate Forrester

Coinciding with the Open Education 2014 conference, the OER Research Hub published its second annual report: available to read in full here.

With over 6000 responses from educators, formal learners, informal learners and librarians, the survey provides a range of feedback on eleven hypotheses, exploring how the use of OER impacts both educational outcomes and teaching strategies. The two main hypotheses under investigation question whether OER improve student performance, and if openly licensed material is used differently to other online materials.

OER Research Hub Report

Much like the Babson Survey, this report contains a mixture of encouraging and more thought-provoking news. Once again, the findings reiterate that the discoverability of resources is one of the biggest challenges to using OER, underlining a lack of general knowledge when it comes to well-established and trusted repositories.

The highest statistics from the OERRH study revolve around the financial advantages of using OER. Overall, 88.4% of learners said the opportunity to study at no cost influenced their decision to use OER, 79.6% of formal students believe they save money by using OER and 73.8% of educators agree that using OER saves students money. Considered against the Babson survey, however, these findings raise questions. Babson indicated that only 2.7% of faculty take student costs into consideration when they’re selecting course materials. If such a high percentage of educators are aware of the savings that OER can bring to the financial burden of a college education, why are only 2.7% of faculty taking this into account during the decision making process?

 Librarians OER

Interestingly, librarians remain undecided on the savings for students. Just over 50% of librarians said they didn’t know whether using OER saved students money. The report suggests that this is down to a lack of institutional transparency regarding the savings made from OER adoption. If this is the case, then a greater level of transparency at the institutional level could potentially have far-reaching repercussions, leading to greater awareness and adoption of open course materials.

Looking at how the monetary savings of OER use affect student retention, the report suggests that greater affordability may have some impact, but “at risk” students often experience complex issues that OER alone are unable to address. However, the findings on student retention in this report are based on faculty opinion rather than empirical evidence. Educators were asked for their thoughts on the “likelihood” of OER use impacting student retention, and notably a majority (51.1%) were undecided on this point.


When it comes to how open educational resources are being used, there is no real indication that they are replacing traditional textbooks. 79.5% of educators said they use OER to get new ideas and inspiration, while 74.9% of informal learners reported using OER “to have a learning experience.” As in the Babson survey, videos were cited as the most common type of OER used, with only 12.4% of educators reporting that they create and publish their own resources on a Creative Commons license.

Educators Creative Commons

Some of the most illuminating findings from this report relate to how OER use improves non-grade related aspects of student performance. A majority of educators reported an increase in student engagement, independence, self-reliance and overall interest in the subject being taught as a direct result of using OER.

The report also highlights another significant use of open content, as students said they often use OER to sample materials as a precursor to paid study. In fact, 31% of learners said that they use open materials to trial university-level content before paying for a course.

From a teaching perspective, one of the most interesting findings from the report relates to how OER use and exposure leads educators to reflect on their own practice. The report claims strong evidence that instructors working with OER tend to incorporate a broader range of content into their courses, consider different approaches to teaching and reflect on their role as an educator.

OER educators reflect

The OERRH report concludes with a reminder that a great deal of literature about OER is “driven by belief or advocacy” and often presents the intended benefits of OER without a sufficient basis of evidence. As this report demonstrates, now is the time for a change in emphasis among the OER community. This is the time for more “nuanced” research, focusing the wider spectrum of OER and its different benefits and audiences, as we begin to move beyond the message of free, adaptable resources.