Open educational resources (OER) in higher education could triple in use as primary courseware in the next five years, according to a new survey of college and university faculty.

OER have the potential to jump from 4 percent use as primary courseware to 12 percent, noted a Cengage Learning survey of more than 500 faculty. And one of the main reasons for the projected increase in adoption is OER’s potential as a solution for students who skip or defer classes due to the price of required course textbooks or learning resources.

The survey, Open Educational Resources (OER) and the Evolving Higher Education Landscape, also found that OER use for supplemental learning materials may nearly quadruple in size, from 5 percent to 19 percent.

“Being able to afford a higher education—from tuition to living expenses and course materials—continues to be a challenge for many students. At Cengage, we are constantly working with faculty to create new, affordable learning options that are high quality and engaging. This includes integrating OER use into a growing number of digital learning solutions, including our MindTap and Learning Objects platforms,” said Cheryl Costantini, VP of Content Strategy, Cengage Learning.

Cengage interviewed industry experts and surveyed OER primary adopters, supplemental adopters and non-adopters. Overall, just 4 percent of the higher education respondents use OER as primary materials. Mathematics (13 percent) and computing (11 percent) had the highest OER use, while English (2 percent) and psychology (1 percent) had the lowest, according to the survey.

(Next page: How many faculty expect to move to OER soon?)

Interesting Results

For supplemental materials, OER are used by 5 percent of the respondents overall: 18 percent in computing, 13 percent in mathematics, 8 percent in English and 4 percent in psychology.

60 percent of those using OER said they were highly satisfied with the materials they were using.

Among faculty members who are not current users of OER, more than 77 percent said they either expect to use OER in the future or would consider OER use.

The Cengage report also cites a survey sponsored by the Independent College Bookstore Association that supports Cengage’s recent finding. For example, ICBA’s survey found that 4 percent of respondents were using OER in their classes and also making their own course materials available as OER. 39 percent of the participants had never heard of OER, while 36 percent indicated that they knew a little about OER but had not used or reviewed OER materials.

Selecting Materials

Digging further into OER use, another study from the Babson Research Survey Group attempts to discern the process faculty use to select educational materials used in their courses, and it focuses in part on OER use and awareness.

Only 5.3 percent of courses included in the study use an openly-licensed required textbook, though openly-licensed OpenStax College textbooks are adopted at twice that rate–10 percent–for large enrollment introductory undergraduate courses.

While faculty awareness of OER and OER use has increased over the past year, it still remains low–just 6.6 percent of faculty said they were “very aware” of such resources, with 18.9 percent saying they were “aware” and 16.5 percent saying they were “somewhat aware.”

Faculty awareness of open textbooks, classified as a specific type of OER in the study, was a bit lower–just 34 percent of faculty claimed some level of awareness.

The Cengage survey notes that in order to reach projected adoption levels, OER will have to be integrated with personalized and adaptive learning technologies, including assessment and analytics, that help improve student performance by mapping objectives to outcomes.

About the Author:

Laura Ascione

Laura Ascione is the Managing Editor, Content Services at eSchool Media. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland's prestigious Philip Merrill College of Journalism. When she isn't wrangling her two children, Laura enjoys running, photography, home improvement, and rooting for the Terps. Find Laura on Twitter: @eSN_Laura

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