By Donique Reid and Abner Oakes

This is a pivotal time for supporters of the Open Educational Resources (OER) movement as the U.S. Department of Education (ED) has signaled its commitment to having free and accessible materials for every educator and student in the country. ED’s #GoOpen campaign is a powerful call to states, districts, and educators to support OER for equity, access, and deeper learning. The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation (Hewlett Foundation) explains OER as follows:

The idea behind Open Educational Resources (OER) is simple but powerful—educational materials made freely and legally available on the Internet for anyone to reuse, revise, remix and redistribute. These digital materials have the potential to give people everywhere equal access to our collective knowledge and provide many more people around the world with access to quality education by making lectures, books and curricula widely available on the Internet for little or no cost. By enabling virtually anyone to tap into, translate and tailor educational materials previously reserved only for students at elite universities, OER has the potential to jump start careers and economic development in communities that lag behind.

The Alliance for Excellent Education (the Alliance) is highly supportive of OER, for in the hands of well-prepared educators, these resources have the potential to prepare students for college, a career, and life. The Alliance sees OER as a way to advance deeper learning for traditionally underserved students, and the Hewlett Foundation explains that OER increases “economic opportunity and civic participation by expanding what students learn, deepening the experience through which they learn it, and improving the benchmarks for measuring their knowledge.”

To support this growing conversation, the Hewlett Foundation held its annual meeting on OER just last week. Grantees, U.S.-based educators, and international groups came together to brainstorm potential approaches for expanding the meaningful use of OER across the country and around the world. Education leaders from Louisiana, one of many states to join the OER movement, described their approach implementing the use of OER in grades 3–12. John White, Louisiana state superintendent, so eloquently articulated during the Hewlett Foundation meeting, “the only way to get to equity [and perhaps deeper learning] is through sharing.” Rather than think about curricular pieces in isolation, such as the lesson and then the assessment, Superintendent White encouraged thinking about a curricular infrastructure that allows for interplay and innovation. In fact, Louisiana sets broad parameters and guidelines on individual curricular pieces and then invites educators to shape the content and contribute to the development of the overall curriculum.

Educators who design curriculum with the use of OER support three of the deeper learning competencies:

  1. They support student mastery of core academic content, as long as the resources are well aligned to that core content.
  2. They support students thinking critically not only about the content but also about the source of it and the quality of the information they are accessing.
  3. They support student self-direction and agency, given the potential ease with which students can access materials and their decisionmaking about the use of those materials.

Of course, the full spectrum of competencies are enabled when OER is designed with equity and deeper learning outcomes as goals.

As Superintendent White stated, and the Alliance agrees, the use of these open resources in his state connects to equity, giving high-quality and no-cost academic resources to a statewide student body that is about 53 percent students of color and 68 percent students from low-income families. In fact, any effort to scale OER must be part of a greater effort to level the playing field. For example, districts should work with educators to develop resources with diverse learners and classrooms in mind. Additionally, policymakers should work to improve internet access for under-resourced schools and their students, since most OER live on the World Wide Web.

The value of equitable resources and access to educational opportunities is a critical takeaway from last week’s meeting. Schools and districts are innovating around new and open materials to support the specific needs of students. Attendees agreed that as they move forward with this work, they cannot settle for just free and open materials but must continue to challenge the system to make use of these resources in meaningful ways for students in low-performing schools. Research shows that students in schools with greater opportunities for deeper learning, which Open Educational Resources enable, show improved academic performance and higher graduation rates. With this in mind, educators must be intentional with these resources, developing curricula and corresponding learning experiences that can lead to deeper learning outcomes for all students.


Abner Oakes is director of outreach and strategic partnerships for the standards, assessment, and deeper learning team at the Alliance.

Donique Reid is a policy and research associate for the standards, assessment, and deeper learning team at the Alliance.

Photo by Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action