Measuring the hidden costs of OER

Open educational resources hold the promise of providing districts with ‘free’ curriculum, but in reality, they can cost districts in four different ways

Open educational resources (OER) have been promoted as a solution to the rising costs and scalability needs in education. The idea that free content can solve curriculum needs and decrease costs is very appealing. In looking to OER as a potential solution, it is helpful to consider—beyond the “free” price tag—the actual cost of implementing a comprehensive OER program. Districts need to look at the implementation, management, and ongoing costs associated with OER.

Is OER the right fit?
There are key questions instructional leaders need to ask to see if OER is the right fit for their district. Often there is a vision for the content, whether it’s a lesson plan, unit, or entire curriculum. OER is created by nonprofits, organizations, and even individuals who have many purposes in mind as they contribute to education. After considering the purpose and motivation of the designers, educators should ask some additional questions:

  • What costs did the creator take on? Who paid those costs?
  • Is the OER high-quality and research-based?
  • What educational expertise does the designer have?
  • Is the OER designed using best-practice strategies? Is the content engaging?
  • If the OERs include advertisements, are these acceptable and in accordance with district policy?
  • Will the material be reliably updated and maintained?
  • Will the website be there in a year? Do the creators have enough funding to continue?

If OER seems like the right fit, the next big question to consider is this: What are the total costs of implementing and maintaining OER over time? These costs fall into four categories.

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