OER Case Studies/United States

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Key U.S. Open Education Resources (OER) projects in K-12, Higher Education, and the corporate sector. This is not a comprehensive list of U.S. or global OER projects.

OER Definition: OER are teaching, learning, and research materials in any medium that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others.


Utah Open Textbook project

  • Overview: Seven public high school science teachers and 1200 students in Utah used adapted openly licensed CK-12 textbooks in their classrooms last year. Student test scores were compared to the control group (traditional textbooks) and cost savings were measured. Conclusion? Simply substituting open textbooks for proprietary textbooks did not impact learning outcomes. 22 students and 2700 students are participating this year. The Utah State Office of Education recently announced that they are encouraging all 6-12 language arts, math, and science teachers to adopt open textbooks starting fall 2012.
  • Cost savings: print on demand for the adapted CK-12 textbooks cost the school district just $4.25 per book (including shipping) compared to typical $80 textbooks.
  • Open niche: project has proven, with data, open textbooks can both save significant money and be high quality.

Open High School of Utah

  • Overview: online, individualized high school learning fully leveraging OER. The school only uses openly licensed courses and open textbooks.
  • Cost savings: students use fully online OER so the school does not need to buy expensive print commercial textbooks or locked down, time-bombed publisher eBooks. The OER the Open High School builds is also shared under a Creative Commons license, so Open High School of Utah teachers and any other teacher can use and re-purpose content.
  • Open niche: leveraging fully online OER allows for robust, data driven performance analytics. Standardized text scores are about 0.5 standard deviations above state average.


  • Overview: high quality OER repository with ~20,000 openly licensed content modules.
  • Cost savings: K-12 teachers can use Connexions OER instead of purchasing supplemental materials; may be able to be used in place of commercial textbooks in some instances.
  • Open niche: online platform so teachers can build customized lessons by combining OER modules in unique ways.


  • Overview: 40,000 K-12 openly licensed educational resources.
  • Cost savings: K-12 teachers can use Curriki OER instead of purchasing supplemental materials; may be able to be used in place of commercial textbooks in some instances.
  • Open niche: OER content is aligned with state education standards.


  • Overview: 90+ free, high quality OER K-12 textbooks available in various formats like PDF, iPad and Kindle.
  • Cost savings: Books are free; print-on-demand copies are approximately $5, in most states K-12 textbooks cost on average $150; because they’re so expensive they’re often 10+ years out of date.
  • Open niche: highest quality, openly licensed, multi-format K-12 open textbooks.

Khan Academy

  • Overview: A library of over 2,700 videos covering multiple academic topics and 276 practice exercises. All are openly licensed and available for free online.
  • Cost savings: Free lessons for many academic topics.
  • Open niche: Conversational, short modules that are engaging. Math gaming overlay that awards learners points and badges as learners progress.

Higher Education

MIT Open Courseware

  • Overview: MIT OpenCourseWare is a web-based publication of virtually all MIT course content. OCW is open and available to the world and is a permanent MIT activity.
  • Cost savings: Course content is free and open to use. MITx will make allow learners (for a small fee) to get a certificate when they complete a course.
  • Open niche: first large, prestigious University to open their content, under a Creative Commons license, to the world.

Open Course Library

  • Overview: The Open Course Library (OCL) is a collection of expertly developed OER courses for Washington State Community Colleges’ highest enrolled 81 courses. 42 courses have been completed so far. 39 more courses will be finished by the end of 2013.
  • Cost savings: The courses are openly licensed with Creative Commons Attribution and are free to everyone. Because the textbook cost in each course is limited (by design) to $30, there is a 90% textbook savings for students. This translates to $102 in savings per student per course.
  • Open niche: Developing OER for highest enrolled community college courses and making affordability a priority.


  • Overview: Saylor.org is a repository of free, openly licensed, OER based courses on a variety of subjects.
  • Cost savings: Saylor provides free access to high quality courses for self learners.
  • Open niche: Saylor invests in aggregating the best of OER content from across the web and builds its own online courses. They are also running an open textbook competition which will award $20,000 for the production (or buyout) of openly licensed textbooks.

Open Courseware Consortium (OCWC) and Community College Consortium for OER (CCCOER)

  • Overview: These groups contain collectively over 400 member institutions in support of openly licensed courseware community colleges and universities in the U.S. and around the world.
  • Cost savings: OER content can help save college students hundreds of dollars per quarter as it begins to be use as a supplement or in replacement of expensive commercial textbooks.
  • Open niche: These groups have a powerful collective voice in supporting openness on campus, from faculty, students, and administration.

Carnegie Mellon Open Learning Initiative (OLI)

  • Overview: OLI uses learning science, online learning and cognitive tutoring to transform instruction, significantly improving learning outcomes and achieve significant increases in productivity in learning outcomes.
  • Cost savings: OLI courses are high quality and free to use by community colleges. OLI course redesign is data driven, so colleges don’t waste time and money recreating the wheel.
  • Open niche: uses rigorous instructional design methodology and feedback loops to: course redesign (so designers are guided by how students learn), students (the curriculum changes in real time), faculty (data dashboards of how students are doing) and learning science (researchers test new pedagogy in OLI courses to advance best practices).


  • Overview: MERLOT is an online repository of 32,000+ online OER materials.
  • Cost savings: Free access to high quality OER materials for supplement or replacement of expensive learning resources.
  • Open niche: MERLOT is a leading edge, user-centered, collection of peer reviewed higher education, online learning materials, catalogued by registered members and a set of faculty development support services.

Open Study

  • Overview: OpenStudy is a social learning network where students ask questions, provide help, and connect with other students studying the same subjects. OpenStudy uses openly licensed materials from MIT’s Open Courseware as baseline tutoring content.
  • Cost savings: Students can take existing courses for free and self-organize study groups around the OER content. Good way for students to preview or review course content with their peers.
  • Open niche: building a sustainable service around an already open system (open courseware).

College Open Textbooks

  • Overview: Group of 16 education organizations focused on driving awareness and adoptions of open textbooks to more than 2000 community colleges. This includes providing training for instructors adopting open textbooks, peer reviews of open textbooks, and mentoring online professional networks that support for authors opening their resources.
  • Cost savings: Provide information to colleges about the cost benefits of open textbooks and best practices for adoption. Colleges that adopt open textbooks save their students significant money, increasing college access and decreasing student debt.
  • Open niche: Providing this guidance is key to getting the word out and helping to promote open textbooks as pedagogically effective and cost efficient.

PhET Interactive Simulations

  • Overview: 113 interactive, research-based and user-tested simulations for teaching science and math. The simulations are openly licensed with Creative Commons Attribution and the Creative Commons GNU General Public License.
  • Cost savings for teachers and schools: K-12 and college teachers can use PhET OER simulations instead of purchasing high-cost, lower-quality simulations from commercial company.
  • Cost savings for commercial and non-commercial companies: PhET simulations are being used by numerous commercial and non-commercial companies and organizations for free, including Pearson, Learning.com, Plato Learning, Compass Learning, McGraw-Hill, WebAssign, and many more.
  • Impact: Over 25 million simulations run per year; over 60 million simulations run to date. Ranked top site on search of 'science simulation' on Google out of 161 million sites (and first on Yahoo, Bing, AOL). Translated into 66 languages by worldwide users. Peak usage rates during K-12 school hours in US. Used in all 50 states, and by hundreds of universities. 30 published articles about use and impact in education. Demonstrated improvement in learning across multiple topics.
  • Open niche: High-quality science and math simulations providing flexible use that transforms the way science is taught and learned across K-16 levels.


Flat World Knowledge

  • Overview: The largest commercial publisher of free and openly licensed college textbooks.
  • Cost savings: Students pay on average 80% less for Flat World books than traditional commercial textbooks. To date 300,000 students have saved approximately $39M.
  • Open niche: Flat World provides free online access to open textbooks and makes money by selling print on demand copies and supplemental materials. Faculty can customize their own textbooks via the online platform.