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OER and Textbook Alternatives: OER Research

This guide lists open educational resources and information about alternatives to the traditional textbook.

OER Research

OER Research can be divided into 9 categories according to the Hewlett Foundation’s 2013 report:  Ruminations on Research on Open Educational Resources. The nine areas are policy research, access and use, learning effectiveness and efficiency, innovation, uses outside education, sustainability, development and improvement, implementation, and infrastructure. For the purposes of this site, we are primarily concerned with learning effectiveness and efficiency (such as student grades and cost), innovation, sustainability, and best practices for the implementation of OER.

Textbook Cost Impact
The high cost of textbooks has been shown to have an adverse affect on student outcomes in multiple studies.  Students have reported not purchasing textbooks for their classes due to cost or dropping a class when they discover they cannot afford a textbook.  Students also report taking different classes based on textbook cost which directly effects time to complete their degree.

The M.O.S.T. program was created by the University Systems of Maryland William E. Kirwan Center for Academic Innovation to create more opportunities for students to receive an affordable education.

Maryland Open Source Textbook (M.O.S.T.) Initiative

Efficacy vs. Quality

One of the questions many “new to OER” have is about the quality of OER compared with that of fully copyrighted materials. The notion of “textbook quality” is a subjective one and is usually evaluated through a peer review that has an associated evaluation rubric. Although peer reviews can be very useful for narrowing down choices of materials, they are a static measurement and don’t report on how student learning was affected by the instructional material or whether a student could afford to purchase the instructional material or obtain access to it.

When comparing OER with traditional publisher resources, it is more valuable to ask about the effect on student learning. By examining student performance in classes using OER compared with students enrolled in similar classes that use traditionally published materials, the effectiveness of the instructional material can be assessed. The Open Education Group’s Review Project studied both student retention and outcomes (grades on exams and final course grade) by analyzing peer-reviewed research involving over 100,000 students and the results showed that 95% of students are doing as well or better when using OER. It has been hypothesized that improvement of student grades in courses using OER can in some part be attributed to the ability to access course materials.

Video: “What does the research say about OER?” by The Council of Chief State School Officers is licensed under CC BY 4.0

Conducting Your Own Action Research
If you are interested in conducting research yourself to measure the impact of adopting open educational resources at your own institution, see this toolkit developed by the Open Education Group.  It contains sample survey instruments for students and faculty that you modify and use for your own circumstances.

HCC conducts research on our college's use of OER, if you would like this information please reach out to the Library. 


The Open Education Group and the OER Research Hub are established OER research organizations and both have studies of efficacy for community college students and faculty.

Open Washington, a project of the Washington State Board of Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC) published award-winning research on faculty usage of OER in their 34 colleges recommending models for OER implementation and support based on in-depth interviews with faculty using OER about their motivation, benefits, and challenges.

Video: “A Review of the Effectiveness & Perceptions of Open Educational Resources as Compared to Textbooks” by Research Shorts is licensed under CC BY 4.0.

CCCOER Research Webinars
OER Impact Research at Community Colleges

OER Research on Librarians and Open Textbook Adoption

Review of OER Research Conducted with Faculty and Students

Adapted from CCCOER.

Creative Commons - BY license

Creative Commons - BY license