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Two useful working definitions of OER are cited on the Wikipedia entry on OER:

Open educational resources (OER) are "digitised materials offered freely and openly for educators, students and self-learners to use and reuse for teaching, learning and research." (Jan Hylén, Giving Knowledge for Free: The Emergence of Open Educational Resources, 2007)

OER are teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use or re-purposing by others. Open educational resources include full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials, or techniques used to support access to knowledge. (William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, A Review of the Open Educational Resources (OER) Movement: Achievements, Challenges, and New Opportunities, 2007) (emphasis added)

A snappier, if looser, definition is used on the OER Commons site:

"Open Educational Resources (OER) are teaching and learning materials that you may freely use and reuse, without charge."

The above quotes illustrate two very important aspects of OER that have enabled it to take off worldwide:

  • digital and online: this enables OER to be shared and aggregated automatically by computers, and to be used and downloaded by anyone on the WWW
  • open licensing: this allows materials to be shared and reused without charge

Both of these are necessary conditions for Open Educational Resources.

See also:

  • OER FAQ - this is an excellent introduction to the what, why and how of OER, written by the Higher Education Academy
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