Finding open educational resources

Raven Lanier
Last Updated: January 9, 2024
A row of people sit at publicly available desktop computers

How this will help:

Identify the benefits to using open educational resources.
Locate available open resources that can be used in a course.

The basics

The cost of textbooks and other learning materials can be a major barrier for students who cannot afford required or supplemental resources. Luckily, as the online world grows more vast, access to open educational resources becomes increasingly available.

What are open educational resources?

An Open Educational Resource (OER) is an openly licensed text or other digital work. OERs include a wide range of materials such as textbooks, videos, and even full courses. OERs are openly licensed, meaning their authors allow others to utilize and repurpose the materials without needing to ask for permission. This is in contrast to non-openly licensed materials, which can only be used under a user’s right, like fair use, or with permission from the copyright holder. 

Why use them?

There are many benefits to using OERs. Many instructors use OER readings to replace traditional textbooks as a way to help mitigate costs for students. The hope is that more students will be able to acquire and engage with open readings regardless of financial status. Beyond price, OERs can reduce time of content development. By using an OER, you can focus important development time on materials specific to your course, rather than creating new content. In these ways, using OERs ensures all students have access to your course content on day one. Similarly, an instructor can use OER lesson plans, curricula, or activities to supplement their course content. OERs help keep courses up to date, diverse, and adaptable for today’s higher education needs. 

Is it really free?

Yes! OERs are specifically designed to increase access to content. There has been a major push for collaborative teaching and open resource practices, resulting in an abundance of free materials co-created and shared for educational purposes. However, it is very important to remember that just because something is online for “free,” is not automatically an OER. You should look for an open license (like a Creative Commons license) on the work. Typical license terms include an attribution requirement, a limit to non-commercial uses only, and restrictions on how the work can be changed. You are required to follow the terms of the license, so read it closely. 

Identifying OERs

How can I tell if something is an OER?

Simply check the resource’s license to ensure it is labeled for reuse. Most OERs use Creative Commons licenses. Creative Commons licenses are an easy way for creators to tell other people how they can use their content. The licenses come in a variety of types that allow the creator to pick the license that best suits their needs. Keep an eye out for phrases such as ‘public domain’, ‘Creative Commons’, and ‘open access’ or their representation by their logos.

How do I find OERs?

OERs can be found just about anywhere on the Internet. The Center for Academic Innovation has a very helpful guide on Finding Usable Materials that can help you find a variety of open content.

How do I label my own content as an OER?

We encourage faculty to consider making their content open for others to reuse. If you have content you would like to allow other people to reuse, include a Creative Commons license on your materials. You can specify what kind of license you want to apply to any resource you create. For example, if you do not want your resource to be used by others for commercial purposes, you can apply a CC BY-NC (noncommercial) license. 

Keep in mind that you can only legally apply a license to material when you hold the copyright. You cannot apply a license to someone else’s work without their explicit permission.

Practical tips

  • The U-M Library Copyright Office is available if you have questions or would like to learn more about how to find OERs. They can be contacted at [email protected]. You can also schedule an appointment with one of their specialists.
  • Quick search tips: some tips for finding popular media types
    • YouTube Videos:
      • Click “Filter” on your YouTube search and under “Features” select “Creative Commons”.
    • Google Images
      • Search for the material you want
      • Click “Tools”
      • Under “Usage Rights” select “labeled for reuse” in the drop down menu; your search will then show only openly licensed images


University of Michigan

AI – Finding usable materials

AI – Online and Hybrid Program Copyright Toolkit

Other Resources

OER Commons – Open Educational Resources Commons


Sparks, S. (2017, April 12). Open educational resources (OER): Overview and definition. Education Week. Retrieved March 2, 2020 from

Contributors: U-M Library & Academic Innovation