In its simplest form, the concept of Open Educational Resources (OER) describes any educational resources (including curriculum maps, course materials, textbooks, streaming videos, multimedia applications, podcasts, and any other materials that have been designed for use in teaching and learning) that are openly available for use by educators and students, without an accompanying need to pay royalties or licence fees.
The term OER is largely synonymous with another term: Open CourseWare (OCW), although the latter may be used to refer to a specific, more structured subset of OER. Open CourseWare is a free and open digital publication of high quality university-level educational materials. These materials are organized as courses, and often include course planning materials and evaluation tools as well as thematic content.
OER is not synonymous with online learning or e-learning, although many people make the mistake of using the terms interchangeably. Further, although use of OER can support open learning/open education, the two are not the same.
A broad spectrum of legal frameworks is emerging to govern how OER are licensed for use. Some of the legal frameworks simply allow copying, but others make provision for users to adapt the resources that they use. The best known of these is the Creative Commons licencing framework. It provides legal mechanisms to ensure that authors of materials can retain acknowledgement for their work while allowing it to be shared, can seek to restrict commercial activity if they wish, and can aim to prevent people from adapting it if appropriate.
For more information, see UNESCO's Basic Guide to Open Educational Resources.
To find OER Policies by country, see the OER Policy Registry.