Scroll down for a textual description of each hypothesis a summary of some of the data we have so far found.

Improving access

Open Education models lead to more equitable access to education, serving a broader base of learners than traditional education (OER widen participation in education)

Summary: There is mixed evidence relating to this hypothesis. Many OER and MOOC users tend to have existing higher education qualifications, suggesting they are best suited to experienced learners. Some projects are reporting broader demographics, and open textbooks are encouraging students to read core texts in greater numbers. It appears that open educational resources and open education models do not guarantee widened access to education but, all the same, we are uncovering evidence that they increase educational inclusion for some formal and informal learners. 

Informal support

Informal learners adopt a variety of techniques to compensate for the lack of formal support, which can be supported in open courses (Informal learners develop their own forms of study support)

Summary: Informal learners make some use of social networks to support study, but formal learners make use of a wider range of support techniques. This suggests that the learning support techniques in formal education are utilised with OER also, but informal learners tend to consume resources. With MOOCs, experienced learners often make use of social media and their own networks, but these can be intimidating and confusing for inexperienced learners. 

OER choice

Informal learners use a variety of indicators when selecting OER (Informal learners use a variety of indicators)

Summary: Trust is perceived as a significant factor in selecting a resource, as are possible indicators of quality, such as number of downloads. However, other factors such as ease of download and the presence of learning outcomes are deemed as important. Users seem to be combining indicators that suggest quality and also those that facilitate their own use of the resource. 

OER policy change

Participation in OER pilots and programs leads to policy change at an institutional level (OER use encourages institutions to change their policies)

Summary: OER policy can be seen as the next major development in the OER community, with the establishment of the Creative Commons Open Policy Network. While there are numerous top-down initiatives to drive OER adoption (especially with regards to open textbooks), examples of bottom-up policy adoption are rarer. There are some examples, particularly amongst community colleges where participation in OER projects has led to the formal adoption of an OER policy.

OER saves money

OER adoption at an institutional level leads to financial benefits for students and/or institutions (OER adoption brings financial benefits for students/institutions)

Summary: An area of much interest, the open textbook movement has demonstrated considerable savings are possible for students with no detrimental effect on learning outcomes. The evidence for institutional savings is not as strong, but there are some examples of purchasing costs being reduced.

Open assessment

Informal means of assessment are motivators to learning with OER (Informal assessments motivate learners using OER)

Summary:  The use of badges to reward informal learning is influencing the design of MOOCs and providing a mechanism for assessing OER use. Evidence of how important these are for learners is lacking at the moment. The high attrition rates in MOOCs makes the value of badges difficult to isolate. Analytic based models are also gaining currency. 


The Open Aspect of OER creates different usage and adoption patterns than other online resources (People use OER differently from other online materials)

Summary: Understanding of open licenses is growing, and while many educators state that open licensing is important, this does not always transfer into their own practice. For learners the presence of an open licence is not seen as important. 


Reflective practice

Use of OER leads to critical reflection by educators, with evidence of improvement in their practice (OER use leads educators to reflect on their practice)

Summary: There is quite strong evidence that exposure to, or the use of, OER in teaching does cause educators to reflect on their own teaching practice. However, this may be a result of foregrounding teaching in a project, rather than an explicit characteristic of OER themselves. 


Student impact

Hypothesis: OER improve student performance/satisfaction

Summary:  Educators show strong belief that OER improve student performance and satisfaction, learners less so. Where comparative data points exist there is some evidence that performance is improved by OER use. MOOC completion rates are low but satisfaction of ‘completers’ is high. (more…)

Student retention

Use of OER is an effective method for improving retention for at-risk students (OER can help at-risk learners to finish their studies)

Summary: Evidence shows that in purposefully targeted projects OER based material can improve retention. It can also be used in a pre-emptive fashion to help learners make informed study choices. There are a number of methodological issues with this hypothesis and in Year 2 detailed analysis of comparative student data has been planned. 

Transition support

Open education acts as a bridge to formal education, and is complementary, not competitive, with it (Open education acts as a bridge to formal education)

Summary:  Students can use OER to make informed choices about further study, and when OER is closely aligned with courses and an institution, it can act as an effective recruitment tool, encouraging learners to transition from informal to formal study. Increasingly formal learners are also using OER to supplement their education. 


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