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Definition(s) of “Open”

The word “open” in Open Educational Resources” is interpreted differently by different people at different times, for various purposes and agendas.

David Wiley

David Wiley

David Wiley discusses open educational resources in a detailed, analytical, thoughtful manner on his opencontent.org blog.

David has an interesting discussion on The Consensus Around “Open. In particular the issues of open educational resources being both free and freely modifiable are raised.


  • Not all freely available educational resources – books, videos, software, for example –  are able to be modified. Sometimes a book author or publisher will make a book freely available without making the source file available so that potential users are able to modify the text to their liking. One finds many examples of this in freely available statistics texts, many of which are indexed on this site.
  • Conversely, some authors and publishers make available the source file for the book – in LaTeX, for example – so that the book can be modified. Some large educational publishers allow instructors to modify online versions of books to better suit an instructor’s aims and goals. Yet these are rarely freely available. The model , in other words, is educational material – books, in particular – that can be modified by an intended instructor, but which are still only available commercially for a price.
  • An example of statistical software that is both freely available and modifiable is the data analysis program R. It is widely used and accepted as a data analysis tool principally because it helps data analysts solve problems and is modifiable in that users can write their own packages and upload them to a web repository where they are freely available to all other R users.

An extensive discussion of the definitions of “open” can be found in this pre-print.

On this site, educational resources will not be listed as open (that is, not listed here at all) if they are not freely available to instructors and students. Our preference is that these resources should also be modifiable. In fact, that they should satisfy the following five conditions (the “5 R’s”), articulated by David Wiley, wherein users should be able to:

  • Retain – the right to make, own, and control copies of the content (e.g., download, duplicate, store, and manage)
  • Reuse – the right to use the content in a wide range of ways (e.g., in a class, in a study group, on a website, in a video)
  • Revise – the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself (e.g., translate the content into another language)
  • Remix – the right to combine the original or revised content with other open content to create something new (e.g., incorporate the content into a mashup)
  • Redistribute – the right to share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others (e.g., give a copy of the content to a friend)