Barriers, incentives, and benefits of the open educational resources (OER) movement: An exploration into instructor perspectives
First Monday

Barriers, incentives, and benefits of the open educational resources (OER) movement: An exploration into instructor perspectives by Serena Henderson and Nathaniel Ostashewski

Open educational resource (OER) barriers, incentives, and benefits are at the forefront of educator and institution interests as global use of OER evolves. Research into OER use, perceptions, costs, and outcomes is becoming more prevalent; however, it is still in its infancy. Understanding barriers to full adoption, administration, and acceptance of OER is paramount to fully supporting its growth and success in education worldwide. The purpose of this research was to replicate and extend Kursun, Cagiltay and Can’s (2014) Turkish study to include international participants. Kursun, et al. surveyed OpenCourseWare (OCW) faculty on their perceptions of OER barriers, incentives and benefits. Through replication, these findings provide a glimpse into the reality of the international educators’ perceptions of barriers, incentives and benefits of OER use to assist in the creation of practical solutions and actions for both policy-makers and educators alike. The results of this replication study indicate that barriers to OER include institutional policy, lack of incentives and a need for more support and education in the creating, using and sharing of instructional materials. A major benefit to OER identified by educators is the continued collegial atmosphere of sharing and lifelong learning.


Literature review
The problem




In a 2016 survey, it was reported that over the next five years open educational resources (OER) will potentially triple in size (Cengage Learning, 2016). Starting in 2001, when the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) released 50 of their courses into the public domain through its OpenCourseWare (OCW, 2017) project, the educational world has taken notice of the many benefits that can develop through the use of open resources. In 2002, UNESCO held a forum to discuss reactions to OCW. Leaders from across the globe met to discuss the notion of removing barriers to education through an adoption of OER and open practices by 2015. Currently, UNESCO is working on a revised definition of OER to acknowledge the major changes to OER practices over the past 16 years and the growing open movement initiatives worldwide.

While there are many definitions of OER, a consensus is emerging in the literature. UNESCO (2017) defines OER as “teaching, learning or research materials that are in the public domain or released with an intellectual properly license that allows for free use, adaptation and distribution” [1]. Creative Commons (n.d.) claims OER to be “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” [2]. Educause (2005) states that OER “can include textbooks, course readings and other learning content; simulations, games and other learning applications; syllabi, quizzes and assessment tools; and virtually any other material that can be used for educational purposes” [3]. While most practitioners agree that OER best practices include free and openly licensed materials, the concept of openness is paramount to the expanding OER movement (Biswas-Diener and Jhangiani, 2017; Hegarty, 2015; Mtebe and Raisamo, 2014; Veletsianos and Kimmons, 2011; Wiley, 2014).

Unrestricted access for all is a critical concept to the social justice element that OER represents (Knox, 2013). Wiley and Hilton (2009) further support these claims by challenging educators and institutions to adopt open practices as an internal institutional value. Regardless of the passion that the OER movement has shown, a report by Cengage Learning (2016) also noted that there were barriers to the creation, implementation and acceptance of OEs and that these barriers hindered full adoption.



Literature review


There are many reported benefits of OER for education. One of the most noted benefits relates to cost savings for students and institutions (Jhangiani, et al., 2016; Belikov and Bodily, 2016). Additional benefits include: increased access to various materials (Mtebe and Raisamo, 2014); support for more independent learners (Kursun, et al., 2014); collaborative networking and open pedagogy, promoting social scholarship (Hegarty, 2015; Veletsianos and Kimmons, 2011); and social justice, reducing poverty and promoting equality (UNESCO, 2017).

Another noted benefit is the versatility of OER. Labeled as the creative use for OER by Belikov and Bodily (2016), OER can be tailored to meet student needs in course creation, and if it adheres to the 5Rs (retain, reuse, redistribute, revise, remix) identified by Wiley (2014), the creative uses for OER and potential positive effects and influences for others are significantly increased. Arguably in the literature, open resources are free and contain open licensing, such as one of the least restrictive Creative Commons open licenses to promote the 5Rs and anything outside of this definition cannot be considered “true OER” (Creative Commons, n.d.; UNESCO, 2017; Wiley, 2014). UNESCO (2017) defines OER as “any type of educational materials that are in the public domain or introduced with an open license. The nature of these open materials means that anyone can legally and freely copy, use, adapt and re-share them” [4]. The benefit to acknowledging OER in this liberal way is accessibility, versatility and the general open collegial culture that is created through a sharing of open resources.


Since research in the field of OER is still relatively new, there remains limited studies or reports that describe successful incentives for OER creation. Various topics exists that highlight the barriers to encouraging OER creation, such as issues with funding, institutional policy and copyright (Belikov and Bodily, 2016; Henderson, 2016; Henderson, et al., 2018; Kursun, et al., 2014; Wickline, 2013; Vladmerski, 2017). There are examples of organizations that have created sustainable OER initiatives, such as Lumen Learning (, Openstax (, BC Campus OpenTextbook ( and MIT OpenCourseWare ( While these initiatives are primarily supported through public funding, the impact of these organizations is significant. They support the movement by creating OER materials, promoting policies to encourage the use and creation of OER, providing education and support and encouraging the sharing and sustainability of these educational materials through open licensing.

Likewise, open textbooks have become a welcome addition. In addition to being free to access and a cost benefit to institutions, many open textbooks provide educators with the freedom to revise, reuse, redistribute, remix and retain materials they require to effectively teach to the objectives of their courses and improve the student learning experience (Hendricks, et al., 2017; Annand and Jensen, 2017; Jung, et al., 2017). This monumental transformation in information ownership in turn stimulates open educational practices.

Further incentives are evident in how institutions acknowledge the creation and use of OER. Kwantlen Polytechnic University provided clear designation of intellectual rights for faculty in their collective agreement (Kwantlen Polytechnic University and Kwantlen Faculty Association, 2014). The University of British Columbia encouraged the creation of OER through the addition of OER to the list of evidences that faculty can use towards tenure-track promotion (Yano, 2017). Albright (2005) and Pena (2009) identified a need for institutional acknowledgement and promotion of OER as an incentive to creating and using these resources.


Regardless of these initiatives, barriers to the adoption of OER is widely documented in the existing literature. A few of the most common barriers being reported are: limited understanding of copyright law and open licensing initiatives (Henderson, 2016; Hilton, 2009; Kursun, et al., 2014; Henderson, et al., 2018); limited quality or perceived quality, difficulty finding or accessing relevant materials (Jhangiani, et al., 2016; Cengage Learning, 2016); and resistance of educator participation in OER use and creation (Straumsheim, 2014).

Policy changes to encourage the increased use and creation of OER materials has been shown to support the growth of OER (McGreal, et al., 2015; Panda and Santosh, 2017). While there is evidence that in higher education institutions OER are more prevalent and supported, not all institutions subscribe to this view. Confusion and delays in the integration and creation of OER have been identified as being directly due to institutional policies (Henderson, 2016; Henderson, et al., 2018; Kursun, et al., 2014). In some cases OER policy is nonexistent while in others it is ambiguous. Additionally, issues around tenure and promotion of faculty who publish OER (Wickline, 2013) and that the free element of OER is not sustainable (Anderson, 2008) can also cause limitations to OER.



The problem

Although there is a significant growth in OER, existing barriers, incentives and benefits to the adoption of OER are key topics of interest. While OER research and practice exists in higher education (Annand and Jensen, 2017; Hendricks, et al., 2017; Jung, et al., 2017), educators continue to articulate a limited understanding about OER (Ostashewski and Henderson, 2017). This lack of understanding is problematic as inconsistencies in practice and understanding can hinder the full potential of the open movement and OER across many educational spheres. It is important to fully understand educator perceptions of the barriers, incentives and benefits of OER in order to support solutions for any issues that exist. Through a complete understanding of educator experiences and issues, actions can be taken to support the international open movement in order to enhance its full potential.

To further understand educator perspectives, this research replicated and extended the 2014 study of Turkish faculty perceptions of the barriers, incentives and benefits to OER by Kursun, et al. (2014). In particular, this International study extended the pool of research participants to include both K–12 and higher education educators from other institutions around the world, as well as to including any individual who identified their profession as one that could be categorized as an “educator.” Additionally, the survey was extended to an international stage to expand the reach of educator experiences. The results of this International study validate and extend the Turkish study regarding educator perspectives on the barriers, incentives, and benefits to OER use.




This quantitative study, which replicated the Kursun, et al. (2014) study, further articulated faculty perspectives of OER use and the barriers, incentives and benefits of OER. The Kursun, et al. research was specific to Turkey and the faculty who were employed in local universities. This replication study was intended to confirm and extend that research and make the findings of the Kursun, et al. study more generalizable to other educator populations. This was achieved by extending to an international audience (i.e., Canada, North America, etc.), as well as by expanding the research participant pool to include both K–12 and higher education educators, in addition to anyone who identified as an “educator.”

In order to conduct this study, we utilized the pretested Kursun, et al. (2014) survey instrument with minimal modifications. Specifically, terminology was updated to acknowledge the expanded participation group and removed language specific to HEI or faculty experience to create a less restrictive wording in survey questions and options.

Research scope

The OER movement has increased, and as such, so have the barriers, incentives and benefits to OER adoption. Without a complete understanding of the existing perspectives of K–12 and higher education educators, very little can be implemented to manage issues that exist. The research questions guiding this study are:

  1. What are the perceived barriers to educators sharing their course materials?
  2. What are the perceived incentives for educators to share their course materials?
  3. What are the perceived benefits for educators sharing their course materials?




This International study explored as many educators as possible who identified themselves as “educators,” including K–12, higher education and others, through the use of listservs, conference proceedings, word-of-mouth and social media. Data were analyzed using descriptive statistics, resulting in a comprehensive view of participant perspectives in comparison with the original Turkish study results. Kursun, et al.’s sample included a total of 1,637 participants from 56 Turkish universities who were OpenCourseWare (OCW) consortium member universities, with a gender distribution of 65 percent male and 35 percent female. The total number of participants in this study was 161; with a gender distribution of 48 percent male and 52 percent female (Table 1).


Table 1: Comparison of male and female participants between Turkish and international studies.
GenderTurkish studyInternational study


Participants ranged in their job affiliations between the two studies due to the scope of each participant group. The most notable employment affiliation for both groups was as an assistant or associate professor (44 percent vs 19 percent), while full professors were relatively evenly represented between the two participant groups. The Turkish study did not consider other educators, such as K–12, which has been captured in this study (11 percent). This study resulted in significantly more individuals identified as “other” (32 percent vs 18 percent), which may be the result of an extended participant group. The various employment affiliations are reflected in Table 2.


Table 2: Employment affiliations identified by both the Turkish and international participant groups.
Job titleTurkish study participants %International study participants %
Professor16% 17%
Assistant/Associate professor44% 19%
Specialists1% 5%


This study captured the years that participants worked in academia, their departments and what the nature of their work institutions. This information provided perspectives on the remaining survey questions (i.e., K-12 teacher with limited academic experience versus an education faculty member with 15 years of experience). Work institutions, departments and years of academic experience in the international participants are not compared to the Turkish study since this study intentionally enlarged the scope of study. The majority of participants worked in a post-secondary setting, in the field of education and had over 15 years of service. Details are provided in Table 3.


Table 3: Department, institution and years of academic experience for international participants.
Open learning7%
Academic years15+50%


The amount of time that participants spent on their computers weekly and how much time that the participants spent on the Internet weekly was also captured in this study. This information provided a perspective on how likely participants might use or create OER and their relative level of comfort with technology in general. For example, a participant who used very little technology and had taken little advantage of Internet access may be less inclined to participate in the use or creation of OER in comparison with a participant who accessed technology and Internet more regularly. Table 4 presents the percentage of time participants claimed to use computers, with 21 percent stating that they used the Internet less than 10 hours a week and six percent noting that they used a computer less than 10 hours per week.


Table 4: Amount of hours spent on the Internet and computer per week.
HoursTime spent on computer weeklyTime spent on Internet weekly


The Turkish study and the international study both surveyed participants regarding whether they felt that they benefited from OER. The Turkish study reported that 82 percent of participants found OER beneficial, while the international study noted that 90 percent of participants agreed that OER was beneficial. The majority of participants (76 percent Turkish; 88 percent international) in both studies report that they accessed OER through different Internet search engines. Similarly the majority of participants (93 percent) in this study reported that their main objectives for accessing OER were for learning, teaching and personal development.

The use of digital course materials was captured in both studies, which resulted in participants identifying that the majority used digital materials for instructional purposes. The Turkish study reported that 41 percent of participants used a great proportion of digital materials and that 17 percent used all digital materials. While the International study reported similar findings; 43 percent of international participants claimed a great proportion of digital materials in instruction, with only 28 percent reporting a use of all digital materials (Table 5).


Table 5: Use of digital materials between Turkish and international participants.
Time used on digital materialsTurkish studyInternational study
All of their time17%28%
Great proportion41%43%
Other amount42%29%


Perceptions of barriers, incentives and benefits were identified by participants in both studies. The greatest perceived barrier for the creation of OER in the Turkish study was that participants were having, or expecting to have, problems protecting their intellectual property rights for their own materials. They either had, or expected, problems providing those rights to other materials and expressed that there was a lack of incentives to share their materials. The greatest perceived barrier in the International study was that participants did not believe that their respective home institutions had in place publishing or sharing policies. Other factors that were identified as barriers were insufficient time; too heavy of a course load; and no support from their respective institutions to publish materials as OER. Both studies identified hardware concerns as one of the minimal barriers to OER use, while the Turkish study identified technology skills as another hindering factor, though this study showed that plagiarism concerns were a lesser barrier. The barriers, incentives and benefits to OER are summarized in Table 6.


Table 6: Summary of results: Identified barriers, incentives and benefits to OER.
  • Having/expecting problems protecting intellectual property rights and providing those rights to others.
  • Lack of incentives to share materials.
  • Do not believe that their institution has a publishing/sharing policy.
  • Not enough time.
  • Hardware.
  • Technology skills.
  • Hardware.
  • Plagiarism concerns.
  • To be informed of any changes to materials.
  • Protecting their materials from plagiarism.
  • Training or workshops for educators in materials development, etc.
  • User-friendly platform should be designed for sharing course materials.
  • Sharing should be compulsory.
  • Share materials on a single platform.
  • Course materials should be shared and not altered in any way.
  • Scaffolding for inexperienced educators.
  • Increase amount of Turkish materials on the Internet.
  • Supports lifelong learning.
  • Scaffolding for inexperienced educators.
  • Increase amount of educational materials on the Internet.
  • Supports lifelong learning.
  • No data.
  • Provides and environment where courses can be controlled.


The international study provided a different view to OER sharing incentives for educators than the original Turkish study. Incentives for this study were identified as including training workshops for participants in creation of materials; providing usable platforms for sharing course materials; and a desire for the creation of instructional technology centres to support material development. The Turkish study showed that the greatest incentive was to be informed about changes to their materials by others, as well as protecting their works from plagiarism. The least incentive for this study group was that course materials be shared and not altered in any way, while the Turkish study showed making course material compulsory and sharing material within a single platform as the least.

Many OER benefits were identified by both study groups. The greatest perceived benefit to sharing course materials as OER by Turkish participants was an opportunity to learn from experienced faculty, scaffolding for inexperienced faculty and an increase of Turkish resources on the Internet. Other benefits included contributing to existing educational resources in general, an ability to view differing aspects of courses, archiving of course materials and support for life-long learning. The international study found that the greatest benefits to OER were that it supported lifelong learning, enabled scaffolding from experienced educators, made contributions to institutions where educational materials were scarce and increased the amount of materials on the Internet. The least benefit in the international study was that OER created an environment where educators had more control over how their courses were delivered and what specific content was taught.

Participants in both studies were asked whether they currently published their materials online. Turkish faculty reported that 23 percent published their course materials, 61 percent stated they would like to publish their materials and 16 percent stated that they did not have any immediate plans to publish their materials. In the international study, participants reported that 63 percent currently published their materials online, 28 percent do not currently publish their materials and 10 percent do not have any plans to publish their course materials (Table 7). In this study, the majority of participants reported that they would like their resources completely open (72 percent), while some would like to offer limited access (27 percent). Currently, 39 percent house their resources on personal Web sites, 16 percent on a departmental Web site, 20 percent on an institutional site, 62 percent on an institutional learning management system (LMS) and 28 percent selected “other” as a storage locale for course materials.


Table 7: Comparison of Turkish and international publication of OER.
 Turkish studyInternational study
Publish online.23%62%
Do not publish, but would like to.61%28%
Do not want to publish online.16%10%





This study replicated and extended the Kursun, et al. (2014) study of Turkish faculty members employed by institutions that were also OCW consortium members. The current study expanded the population to include participants outside of Turkey, including K–12 teachers, educators in higher education and others. Findings indicated that educators in both studies prescribed to an open sharing attitude though appeared to choose self-restricting practices in their creation and use of OER materials. Self-restricting practices identified in the international study included:

  1. the desire to share but not actualizing this behavior for fear or misunderstanding of intellectual property laws,
  2. desire to use OER but reluctance due to unclear or misunderstanding of institutional policy, or
  3. lack of institutional support to modify courses using OER.

International participants claimed to already publish their materials online more frequently than Turkish participants; however, the majority of both groups also stated that if they do not currently publish their materials online, they would like to do so.

Two major barriers identified in both studies were institutional policies and a lack of legal understanding. The number one barrier identified by international participants was that participants did not believed their institutions had publishing or sharing policies. Lack of existing institutional policies or understanding existing policies appeared to significantly hinder the use and creation of OER by cultivating a self-restrictive practice. Educators were reluctant to interpret copyright on their own, with many institutions with unclear or outdated policies relative to open educational practices. Many educators elected to remain conservative (Henderson, 2016; Henderson, et al., 2018).

Likewise, the Turkish study identified that legal factors, such as issues regarding the protection of intellectual rights for themselves or for others, plagiarism concerns and copyright, further hindered the use and creation of OER. These findings support Henderson’s (2016) study into faculty perceptions of copyright law and fair dealing. Henderson states that educators self-restrict their use of OER due to a limited understanding of institutional policy, specifically for the sharing and use of educational materials and understanding their rights as content users and creators within the bounds of copyright law. Supporting open licensing of materials, through the use of Creative Commons, would be one effective solution for these issues.

Incentives that would encourage the use and creation of OER related to major barriers as identified in these studies. Support for educators in the creation, use and sharing of OER was identified as a major need by educators in both studies. Concerns regarding plagiarism and the desire to be informed of changes to their materials was a major incentive for participants in the Turkish study, while general support, through the support of technological units, was identified by participants in the international study. Though confusion and concern was common in these two studies, incentives would stimulate educators to participate in OER and associated open practices. Institutions were not always, as a whole, providing clear guidance over OER. As a result, this lack of support encouraged self-restricting behaviours by educators.

The benefit of scaffolding knowledge from other educators was a common theme amongst both studies. Both studies found that educators desired to access educational materials in order to expand their skills. The common value for lifelong learning was obvious in these results as well as a desire to increase quality resources on the Internet. Much research supported this desire for community; the majority of educators were interested in sharing resources for an enhanced collegial atmosphere, promoting social justice and stimulating personal and professional growth (Hegarty, 2015; Veletsianos and Kimmons, 2011; Wiley and Hilton, 2009; Knox, 2013; Henderson, 2016).

The international study confirms many of the results from the initial Turkish study. Both studies found that educators shared a high desire for the open distribution as well as access to quality educational resources. Likewise, both studies exemplified the legal issues that continue to exist for OER. These legal issues must be addressed. According to various reports (Henderson, 2016; Henderson, et al., 2018; Kursun, et al., 2014; Wickline, 2013), institutional policy is either missing or is not fully supportive of open education practices. This policy incertitude results in concerns regarding what institutional support exists, prevention to the creation and integration of OER, and can cause overall confusion regarding intellectual property in general. An atmosphere of open sharing can be created through the revision of institutional policies; in Canada’s Athabasca University the fair dealing exception was used as a reference to support and enhance open education practices. Additionally, encouraging educators to license their materials with Creative Commons open licenses would help to reduce self-restrictive behaviours.


Limitations to these studies involved the lack of participant responses. Kursun, et al.’s (2014) study was a large-scale study involving 56 universities in Turkey, but only resulted in 1,637 responses. As well, the Turkish study was also limited to one country, only OCW member universities and to faculty member participants. The international study, on the other hand, was fanned out to many potential participants through many avenues such as listservs, conference proceedings and social media sites, but also resulted in few overall responses. Additionally, the international study was open to various countries and all participants that identified as being an “educator” but still resulted in a small sample. While both studies provided a snapshot of educator perceptions of barriers, incentives and benefits to OER, neither provided a comprehensive picture. Further replication is necessary. As a result, we suggest that further replication of this study should be conducted in a more controlled manner, specifically by surveying specific groups or countries, in order to compare results more effectively.




As the Cengage Learning (2016) report noted, the OER movement is well underway. In the interval between Kursun, et al.’s (2014) study and this study, the majority of perceived barriers, incentives and benefits by educators, regardless of type, appeared to remain the same. Educators desired collegial lifelong learning that OER supports but were hindered in their adoption thanks to issues regarding copyright, institutional policies and general support. Policy-makers need to address these concerns if they wish to encourage the growth of OER within their own institutions. End of article


About the authors

Serena Henderson is Managing Editor of the International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning and Program Coordinator in the Centre for Distance Education at Athabasca University.
Direct comments to: shenderson [at] athabascau [dot] ca

Nathaniel Ostashewski is Assistant Professor in the Centre for Distance Education at Athabasca University.
E-mail: nostashewski [at] athabascau [dot] ca



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Editorial history

Received 8 May 2018; revised 21 November 2018; accepted 22 November 2018.

Creative Commons License
This paper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Barriers, incentives, and benefits of the open educational resources (OER) movement: An exploration into instructor perspectives
by Serena Henderson and Nathaniel Ostashewski.
First Monday, Volume 23, Number 12 - 3 December 2018

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