Statistics, Research, and Reports

There is a growing body of research on OER. A recent nationally representative survey found that “most faculty at four-year institutions remain unaware of OER” (Spilovoy, Seaman, & Ralph, 2020). Because of this, it’s important to share the growing body of research on not just the need for OER materials, but also on the positive impact of these materials on students, faculty, and institutions. 

“Because students and faculty members generally find that OER are comparable in quality to traditional learning resources, and that the use of OER does not appear to negatively influence student learning, one must question the value of traditional textbooks. If the average college student spends approximately $1,000 per year on textbooks and yet performs scholastically no better than the student who utilizes free OER, what exactly is being purchased with that $1,000?

Hilton (2016)


The COUP Framework is the Open Education Group’s approach to studying the impact of open educational resources (like open textbooks) and open pedagogy in secondary and post-secondary education. COUP stands for Cost, Outcomes, Usage, and Perceptions.


The Cost category provides empirical evidence about the magnitude and direction of the financial impacts of OER adoption. Recent research conducted in Tennessee found that students spend an average of $119.18 per course (Spica, 2020). Close to half of students surveyed spent more than $300 on course materials for the fall 2019 semester. OER implementation saves students an average of $116.94 per course (Nyamweya, 2018). 


The Outcomes category provides empirical evidence about the magnitude and direction of the learning impacts of OER adoption.

Graphic showing that grades tend to increase with the use of OER, and drop fails and withdrawals tend to decrease

A recent study in Georgia conducted by Colvard, Watson, and Park (2018) showed that adoption of OER resulted in higher average grades and lower number of drops (D), fails (F), and withdrawals (W). The positive effects of adopting low-cost resources resulted in more pronounced effects for at-risk and historically underserved groups. Seventy percent of UTC students surveyed during the ACMI pilot prefer course materials as ebooks over print books, especially if the cost differential is significant.

Ozdemir and Hendricks (2017) examine over 51 e-portfolios written by faculty in the state of California about their use of open textbooks. For the 55% of the 51 faculty who assessed the impact of adopting an open textbook on student learning outcomes, all reported that they remained the same or improved. None reported that student learning declined. The vast majority of faculty also reported that the quality of the textbooks was as good or better than that of traditional textbooks. 40 of the 51 portfolios contained data about students’ attitudes towards the open textbooks used in their classes; the overwhelming majority of students reported positive experiences with the open textbooks, only 15% of the e-portfolios reported any negative comments by students.

The same or better student outcomes and textbook quality

In total, more than 25,000 students have utilized OER materials across the studies that attempted to measure results pertaining to student efficacy. Given that (1) students and teachers generally find OER to be as good or better than traditional textbooks, and (2) students do not perform worse when utilizing OER, then (3) students stand to save literally billions of dollars without any negative impact on learning through the adoption of OER.


The permissions provided by open licenses allow students to use OER in a range of novel ways. Teachers are also able to engage in new pedagogical practices.  Proponents of OER frequently claim that improvements in student learning outcomes will be highly correlated with the degree to which students and faculty exercise the permissions offered by OER. This is operationalized by determining the degree to which students and faculty engage in activities described by the Open Education Group’s DIME model of OER Adaptation:

  • Deleting material from OER
  • Inserting other open material inside OER
  • Moving material around within OER
  • Editing material in OER


The Perceptions category investigates how faculty and students think about and feel toward Open Educational Resources. 

This pie chart shows that 55% of students perceived OER as excellent, 39% perceived OER as good as or slightly better than traditional textbooks, and 6% perceived OER as worse than traditional textbooks
This pie chart shows that with the money saved from OER use, 42% of students reinvest in their education, 31% apply it towards daily expenses, 20% save the money, and 7% report "other"

Ikahihifo, Spring, Rosencrans, and Watson (2017) received responses from 206 college students who had used OER materials and compared it to typical textbooks. “A majority (54.9%, 113 students) of the participants rated the open material as excellent (Figure 1). Roughly 39% (81 students) considered the quality as good as a traditional text or slightly favored the quality of the OER material. Less than 6% (12 students) considered the quality of the OER material to be less than that of a traditional textbook.” They also asked students what they did with the money saved by not spending textbooks. They report, “Of the 206 responses, 87 students (42.2%) said they reinvested in their education, 63 students (30.5%) indicated they applied it towards daily expenses, and 42 students (20.3%) said they saved the money. Additional codes such as “Spent It Anyway,” “Do Not Purchase Own Textbooks (Receive Money or Books from Other Sources),” and “Leisure,” were used, but these categories were relatively small (6.3%, 2.9%, and 0.97%, respectively).

Several thousand students and faculty members have shared their perceptions across more than a dozen studies that have focused on perceptions of OER. In no instance did a majority of students or teachers report that the OER were of inferior quality. Across multiple studies in various settings, students consistently reported that they faced financial difficulties and that OER provided a financial benefit to them. A general finding seems to be that roughly half of teachers and students find OER to be comparable to traditional resources, a sizable minority believe they are superior, and a smaller minority find them inferior.

Material on this page was adapted from The Open Education Group’s The Review Project page website under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial License.