The Benefits of OER Textbooks

In college classrooms, the traditional print book is still the most widely used type of textbook. According to a 2016 report by Nielsen, 69 percent of total expenditure on course textbooks goes toward print materials, including new, used, and rented print materials.

That doesn’t mean that colleges, instructors, and students aren’t finding success with other options, though. The growth of access to the internet has made room for another type of textbook called an open educational resource (OER).

What are Open Educational Resources?

Open educational resources are teaching materials that are in the public domain or have been released under license so they can be freely used, altered, and shared. OER materials are usually in an electronic format that can be accessed on multiple devices. Some examples include peer review articles and video clips, but in this article, we’ll focus on textbooks.

Open educational resources are classified as having five traits (the 5Rs):

  • Retainable: Users can make, own, and distribute copies of the content.
  • Reusable: The content can be used in a wide range of ways.
  • Revisable: The content can be modified and adjusted to meet the user’s needs.
  • Remixable: Users can combine the content with other content for their needs.
  • Redistributable: Users can share copies of the content as well as revised or remixed copies.

These traits have clear impacts on how colleges and universities can deliver supplemental course content to their students. While OER textbooks are changing the ways some professors teach and the materials some teachers require for their courses, they’re also opening education to more people than ever before. Forbes stated, “The use of OERs addresses one of the key financial obstacles  to people completing education beyond high school: the thousands of dollars students must shell out for textbooks and other learning materials.”

Advantages of Open Educational Resources

OER textbooks offer students many advantages. From the impact on the environment to the impact on the individual, there are clear, positive outcomes of using open educational resources, as well as some disadvantages. Let’s explore some advantages in more detail.


A distinct advantage of open educational resources is a reduction in the daunting cost of textbooks. The price of books is one of the biggest costs for students attending college or university. According to Trends in Higher Education, in 2018 and 2019, undergraduates spent an average of more than $1,000 on books and supplies at both public and private colleges. Students might choose to rent textbooks or buy them new or used, but the cost can still add up quickly.

On the flip side, relying on open educational resources means students need to have access to functioning technology to access course material. This need can create costs of its own; however, many students already invest in technology whether they buy print textbooks or not, this cost may not seem as overwhelming as the cost of books to many.

Environmentally Friendly

Though the print industry has continued to become more efficient, reading a book in electronic form is likely to reduce your negative impact on the environment. The ability to hold multiple books and update them on one device is a huge benefit of electronic open educational resources. From chemicals to air pollution, print still has work to do to ensure the impact on the environment stays minimal.

Of course, the creation of laptops, smartphones, and tablets also cause waste, but reducing the amount of manufacturing needed when textbooks are updated can decrease the negative impact on the environment.

Easily Customizable

Although companies publish books quicker than ever before, the speed and ease at which a print textbook is updated and reprinted can’t compete with that of open educational resources. Any current or former student knows that multiple editions of a textbook are sold. OER textbooks can be updated or customized to classroom needs without requiring an entire reprint. Plus, since OER resources can be combined with others, teachers can make sure supplemental materials directly support individual class needs.

Accessibility and Convenience

Nielsen pointed out, while most students still preferred a desktop or laptop over a tablet in 2016, more than half of students asked said they now use a smartphone for coursework at least once a week. When supplemental course materials are available on those devices, students can access the information wherever they are without having to haul heavy books around with them.

That’s not what all students prefer, though. Nielsen noted that one of the reasons that traditional textbooks are still popular among college students is the ease of annotating and note-taking. Many still like the format of a traditional textbook when it comes to reading the material.

The Future of Textbooks

The future of textbooks is likely a blend of both print materials and open educational resources. While it’s unlikely that open educational resources will overtake traditional textbooks any time soon, it is likely that many colleges and professors will begin to incorporate OER resources into their curriculums. The cost-effectiveness, ease of customizing, environmental benefits, and convenience of not having to carry the materials to make them a great choice for institutions, professors, and students alike.

At Rivier University, the instructors in the online MBA program have adopted open educational resources, saving students $1,500 throughout the program. The easily customizable resources allow instructors to choose innovative and dynamic content for their students. If you’re interested in earning your MBA, consider Rivier’s online MBA in marketing. Transform your future at River University.