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Blog post

Open educational resources offer promise for more equitable teaching and learning

Martin Weller, Professor of Educational Technology at The Open University

The past year and the pivot to online learning has highlighted and exacerbated inequities in education systems around the world. It is more apparent than ever that our schools must do better at meeting the needs of all learners, regardless of their circumstances.

One tool for meeting the unique needs of each student is open educational resources (OER). OER are educational materials that are free for educators and learners to use, customise and share. OER carry open licences – such as a Creative Commons licence – which enable educators to adjust the content to students’ learning levels and include content that is relevant to students’ cultures, backgrounds and environments. In this way, OER hold promise for helping educators engage students with content that is more comprehensible and relevant than that found in traditional, commercial curricular materials.

Recent studies have indicated that the use of OER in the classroom can have positive impacts on students’ learning. For example, one recent study found that K-12 educators in the US who use OER gave these materials higher marks on 9 out of 10 dimensions of ‘deeper learning’ – such as collaboration and extending knowledge to novel tasks – as compared to their counterparts using traditional curricula (Seaman & Seaman, 2020). Another study found that US secondary students who used open textbooks scored 0.65 points higher on end-of-year standardised science tests than students using traditional textbooks when controlling for the effects of 10 student and teacher covariates (Jared Robinson et al., 2014). A Taiwanese study on using OER videos with English as a Foreign Language students found that OER was beneficial to the students’ use of communicative strategies and preparation for multicultural encounters (Lin & Wang, 2018).

Research has also shown that OER benefits the educators who incorporate it into their curricula. A Mexican study on using OERs to teach English found that teachers spent less time searching and selecting materials that suit their needs and that the Moodle repository design was viable for accessing and searching the materials (Garcia & Idalia, 2020). While more extensive and larger-scale research is required, the evidence so far is encouraging and merits attention.

One area of research that deserves particular attention is the impact of OER on language learning. Currently, the majority of available OER are in English followed by a few other widely spoken languages. OER can be a powerful tool to support English learners. For example, a Colombian study found that pairing OER for learning English with the topics studied in class was helpful to the teachers and students, especially with the webpages being designed for independent study and practice (Cera et al., 2019). Although English dominates, OER development in other languages is increasing, and it offers a route for the development of resources in minority languages which are not always well served by commercial publishers. Some OER have been developed and translated in different languages (such as Welsh) and research has been conducted on OER in multiple languages (such as Portuguese). Regardless of whether OER are available in a given language, the customisable nature of OER offers educators the flexibility to tailor course material to meet the needs of students who may be learning in a language other than their native tongue. The text complexity level of the resources can be adjusted to reflect the language proficiency level of the students.

‘Regardless of whether open educational resources are available in a given language, the customisable nature of OER offers educators the flexibility to tailor course material to meet the needs of students who may be learning in a language other than their native tongue.’

The potential of OER goes beyond just school-based learning, as these resources can be used in a wide range of settings. For example, OER have been used in the UK to create a programme that increases asylum seekers and refugees’ access to justice (Charitonos et al., 2020). As more research goes into using OER for learning outside of schools, it’s likely that more groups will leverage OER to promote equity in various fields.

Open educational resources offer great promise for better serving all learners, including non-native language learners, but there is a need for more extensive research on the impact of OER use on students learning in non-native languages. In addition, there’s a need for more research conducted outside of North America and on OER applications that are not school based. All learners deserve high-quality materials that meet them where they are in their learning journey, and OER can help educators provide these types of customised, equitable materials. OER present an exciting opportunity for increased equity in education; it’s now up to us to more thoroughly examine the impacts that these resources can have in supporting the success of all students.                        


Cera, V.P., Gamarra, R.S., & Ospina, A.G. (2019). Use of OER as a strategy to learn English from learning styles. Engineering, Development and Innovation, 2(1).

Charitonos, K., Rodriguez, C.A., Witthaus, G., & Bossu, C. (2020). Advancing social justice for asylum seekers and refugees in the UK: An Open Education approach to strengthening capacity through Refugee Action’s Frontline Immigration Advice Project. Journal of Interactive Media in Education, 2020(1), 11.

Garcia, H., & Idalia, S. (2020). Repositorio digital de recursos educativos abiertos como apoyo para la enseñanza del idioma inglés en tercer grado de secundaria. Tecnológico de Monterrey.

Jared Robinson, T., Fischer, L., Wiley, D., & Hilton, D. (2014). The impact of open textbooks on secondary science learning outcomes. Educational Researcher, 43(7).

Lin, Y-J., & Wang, H-C. (2018). Using enhanced OER videos to facilitate English L2 learners’ multicultural competence. Computers & Education, 125, 74–85.

Seaman, J., & Seaman, J. (2020). What we teach: K-12 educators’ perceptions of curriculum quality. Bay View Analytics.