Defining Open Terms: Open Education (OE) vs. Open Access (OA)

Creative Commons Six License types

If you’re new to the world of Open Education and practices, your head may start to spin when you encounter the terminology that makes up this space; there’s a lot to keep straight!

Perhaps the most important terms to understand are Open Educational Resources (OER), Creative Commons Licensing, and the collection of terms that make up the 5Rs: Reuse, Retain, Revise, Remix, and Redistribute. OER are educational materials that are licensed using Creative Commons licenses so that they can be used by the public in accordance with the 5Rs.

There are approximately 6 total licenses that are versions of Open created and developed by the Creative Commons, which is a nonprofit organization that provides guidance for maneuvering the legal challenges associated with engaging with Open licenses in the USA and around the world.

These Open materials must be licensed so that they can be:

  • Reused, meaning that educators can use materials in their unaltered forms freely,
  • Retained, referring to the user’s right to create copies, store them indefinitely, and otherwise maintain ownership of them,
  • Revised materials, which allows for changes to be made to materials,
  • Remix materials by allowing them to be combined with other openly licensed and/or original content to make a new resource,
  • Redistribute materials, which refers to sharing openly licensed materials with the public.

5 Rs Retain Reuse Revise Remix Redistribute

A final note on Open terminology: Open Education is not the same as Open Access, and while they occupy similar space in Open territory, they actually refer to completely separate Open practices.

To be clear, Open Education prioritizes access as a primary principle of achieving its ultimate goal, but Open Access is actually its own separate term. Open Access refers to the “free, immediate online availability of research articles” (SPARC). OA is entirely concerned with availability and demolishing obstructive paywalls too often standing between readers and consequential research material; furthermore, articles that are freely available in an OA journal do not necessarily have to be openly licensed in order to be considered OA compliant.