Open vs Free

OER are teaching and learning materials that are free and may be used, reused, mixed, and otherwise customized to meet specific needs. Free materials available for students, teachers, schools or districts which are not openly licensed do not have the same level of permitted uses such as adaptation, retention, or wide scale distribution. If the resources have an open license, teachers can change the OER to create a new resource and share that resources with others. Students can also create OER to share with their peers.

Key Questions

  • What is your district policy on who owns teacher and student created content?
  • Do you know how to apply an open license?
Type Cost Licensing Flexibility Example
Open Educational Resources Free
or minimal cost (non-electronic print costs)
Open Licensing (Creative Commons or other) Yes
License that permits the free use and re-purposing of the content by others. (some restrictions may apply)
OER Commons
Free Digital Learning Resources Free Copyright Copyright: Owner has the right to control the copying and dissemination of an original work. Smithsonian Education 
State Digital Learning Repository Free (some states require state credentials for access) Open licensing or Copyright Many state repositories include both open and copyrighted materials. Flexibility depends upon the type of resource. Alabama Learning Exchange


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