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Low-Cost, No-Cost, and Open Educational Resources (OER)

Research Involving OER and Student Performance

These are the results statements taken from a number of recent studies about OER and student performance. While it is encouraged for everyone to take the time to conduct their own research, this is a good starting point if you want to know about research on OER. 

Our research with 198 participants found support for student motivation and open instructional materials as positive influences on student learning outcomes.
Students in the OER sections were retained and persisted at a statistically significant higher rate, lending credibility to the findings of former studies regarding retention and persistence rates in courses taught with OER materials.
Bol, Esqueda, M. C., Ryan, D., & Kimmel, S. C. (2022). A Comparison of Academic Outcomes in Courses Taught With Open Educational Resources and Publisher Content. Educational Researcher, 51(1), 17–26.
The use of free resources has not appeared to negatively affect learning outcomes.
Results indicated that although costs were substantially lower, student learning outcomes and perceptions of quality were similar or better with an open-source textbook.
Results indicated that OER adoption yielded cost savings while generally having similar or better outcomes in terms of grades.
Clinton. (2019). Cost, Outcomes, Use, and Perceptions of Open Educational Resources in Psychology: A Narrative Review of the Literature. Psychology Learning and Teaching, 18(1), 4–20.
Based on multilevel modeling findings, traditionally-aged students had higher grades with OER whereas OER did not reliably relate to the grades of nontraditionally-aged students. However, nontraditionally-aged students in face-to-face courses with OER had greater enrollment intensity (number of credits in a term). OER was not associated with withdrawal rate.
Clinton-Lisell. (2022). How Does OER Efficacy Vary Based on Student Age and Course Modality? A Multi-institutional Analysis. The American Journal of Distance Education, ahead-of-print(ahead-of-print), 1–17.
OER improve end-of-course grades and decrease DFW (D, F, and Withdrawal letter grades) rates for all students.
Colvard, N. B., Watson, C. E., & Park, H. (2018). The Impact of Open Educational Resources on Various Student Success Metrics. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 30(2), 262–276.
Results revealed students found OER and no-cost online materials more useful to their success in the course and more engaging than a traditional textbook. Qualitative analysis further revealed that while students appreciated there was no cost for the online materials, they preferred them to a traditional textbook because of the customized content. Results suggest students find instructor-curated, no-cost online readings more useful and preferable to a traditional textbook without compromising student academic performance.
Results indicated that there were no significant differences in content mastery between those students in introductory psychology courses who were assigned a traditional commercial textbook and those who were assigned an OER textbook. These results support that OER can be equally effective as traditional, commercial textbooks and have implications for course material selections that help ensure access for all students.
Engler, & Shedlosky-Shoemaker, R. (2019). Facilitating Student Success: The Role of Open Educational Resources in Introductory Psychology Courses. Psychology Learning and Teaching, 18(1), 36–47.
There was no difference in student outcomes between textbooks.
Fialkowski, Marie K., PhD, RDN, LD, Calabrese, Allison, BA, Tilinghast, Beth, MEd, Titchenal, C. Alan, PhD, CNS, Meinke, William, MEd, Banna, Jinan C., PhD, RDN, & Draper, Jennifer, MA, RDN, LD. (2019). Open Educational Resource Textbook Impact on Students in an Introductory Nutrition Course. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 52(4), 359–368.
There were statistically significant differences between groups, with most favoring students utilizing OER.
Fischer, Hilton, J., Robinson, T. J., & Wiley, D. A. (2015). A multi-institutional study of the impact of open textbook adoption on the learning outcomes of post-secondary students. Journal of Computing in Higher Education, 27(3), 159–172.
Results across multiple studies indicate that students generally achieve the same learning outcomes when OER are utilized and simultaneously save significant amounts of money.
Hilton. (2016). Open educational resources and college textbook choices: a review of research on efficacy and perceptions. Educational Technology Research and Development, 64(4), 573–590.
The study found that, subject to the limitations discussed, students who use OER perform significantly better on the course throughput rate than their peers who use traditional textbooks, in both face-to-face and online courses that use OER.
Hilton III, Fischer, L., Wiley, D., & Williams, L. (2016). Maintaining Momentum Toward Graduation: OER and the Course Throughput Rate. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 17(6), 18–27.
Results across these studies suggest students achieve the same or better learning outcomes when using OER while saving significant amounts of money. The results also indicate that the majority of faculty and students who have used OER had a positive experience and would do so again.
Hilton. (2020). Open educational resources, student efficacy, and user perceptions: a synthesis of research published between 2015 and 2018. Educational Technology Research and Development, 68(3), 853–876.
While similar studies have been conducted, this study also asked students to briefly describe how they used the money saved by not having to purchase a textbook. Many students indicated they used the money to reinvest in their education by paying tuition, purchasing materials for other courses, or taking additional courses; day-to-day expenses and savings were the next most common responses.
Ikahihifo, Spring, K. J., Rosecrans, J., & Watson, J. (2017). Assessing the Savings from Open Educational Resources on Student Academic Goals. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 18(7).
Students enrolled in OER courses performed better than those enrolled in the same courses using a commercial textbook.
Magro, J., & Tabaei, S. V. (2019). Results from a Psychology OER pilot program: faculty and student perceptions, cost savings, and academic outcomes. Open Praxis, 12(1), 83–99. DOI:
Results: A Mann-Whitney U test revealed a statistically significant difference in mean course grades (P =.03, r = 0.18) for the OER group. There were no differences in course satisfaction between the textbook and OER groups (P =.41, r = 0.18). Conclusion: The results showed that courses designed with OER content can improve student performance in nursing informatics while maintaining course satisfaction.
Riley, & Carmack, J. K. (2020). Adopting Open Educational Resources in a Nursing Informatics Course: An Evaluation of Student Performance and Course Satisfaction. Nurse Educator, 45(6), 336–338.
We use a multilevel modeling (MLM) approach in order to control for student, instructor, and course effects, and found no difference between courses using OER and traditional textbooks for continuing students. For new students, there is evidence that OER increases average grade.
Winitzky-Stephens, & Pickavance, J. (2017). Open Educational Resources and Student Course Outcomes: A Multilevel Analysis. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 18(4), 35–49.