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Open Educational Resources and Free Content

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Open Educational Resources and Free Content

For years, schools and districts have been using online learning programs and curriculum, both of which can transform the teaching and learning processes when used well.

Last year, after schools closed, many educators sought out online learning resources so their students could continue learning from home. And with so little time to prepare for the shift, many schools and districts turned to free content and open educational resources (OERs).

There is a robust community of sharing that exists in the education world, which has led to a plethora of incredible, free resources for use in the classroom. But some of these resources come with limitations, especially depending on how they are used.

Limitations of Open Educational Resources and Free Content

With a quick web search, educators can find anything from educational songs to coloring pages to full lesson plans. And many of these resources can be used well to help reinforce what students are learning, and stretch them to apply what they’ve learned in other contexts.

But as many educators learned over the past year, creating or curating high-quality, engaging, thoughtful, and just overall good learning resources isn’t necessarily easy.

When evaluating free content and open educational resources, there are a few important things to be mindful of:

  1. Free content has its appeal, especially for cash-strapped schools and districts, but “free” can mean that you’re paying to use the content in other ways. This can happen via distracting ads, a surprise paywall, your user data being sold, or even high printing costs.
  2. Online learning programs that charge for use typically also offer customer support, learning tools for student use, and detailed help centers and training for educators. All of these resources can help you and your students spend less time learning how to use the programs and more time learning.
  3. Do you need or want the content/program you’re considering using to be standards-aligned, research-based, and have proven results? It may not be easy to determine if the free content/OER you’re considering using meets all these criteria.

There are other things to consider, too, such as whether the programs collect meaningful user data that can make your job easier, data security, and the time spent finding, vetting, and collating the free content and open educational resources.

There are many paid online learning programs that are standards-aligned and research-based, collect useful data, and come with other helpful supports for both educators and students, including those offered by Imagine Learning.

While many would argue that free content and open educational resources have been great for students and educators for years, they also have some limitations. So make sure to carefully review any freely available learning content you find before you start using it, and happy teaching and learning!

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