5 Hilton, “Open educational resources, student efficacy, and user perceptions: A synthesis of research published between 2015 and 2018”


Hilton, J. (2019). Open educational resources, student efficacy, and user perceptions: A synthesis of research published between 2015 and 2018. Educational Technology Research and Development, 1–4. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11423-019-09700-4.


This study synthesizes the results from 16 efficacy and 20 perception studies involving 121,168 students or faculty. The results across the studies suggest student achievement is the same or better when using Open Educational Resources (OER) while saving significant amounts of money. The results also show the majority of faculty and students had a positive experience using OER and would do so again.

This article critiques the way these different studies were conducted and how they have improved over time. One central theme remains, students prefer more affordable textbooks and faculty are agreeable to help them save money. Due to rising costs of college, policy of textbook cost pricing is hard to ignore when such positive academic results are being found using OER.

Key points

  • The author cites a Slavin and Lake (2008) study that found instructional improvement had a larger impact on student performance that the choice of curriculum. This should be account for in any study relating to OER use.
  • Positive results: Of the sixteen articles identified by Hilton 2016, nine investigated the relationship between OER and learning outcomes, providing a collective 46,149 student participants.  Only one of these nine studies indicated OER use was associated with lower learning outcomes at a high rate than with positive outcomes.
  • Three of the nine studies had results that significantly favored OER over traditional textbooks, another three revealed no significant difference and two did not discuss the statistical significance of their findings.
  • A challenge to these positive findings is that several of the studies have serious methodological issues. For example, comparing courses that us OER with different courses that are not using OER.  OER being used simultaneously with flipped classrooms, making it difficult to correlate changing efficacy and OER.
  • This study synthesizes the results of studies following the methodology of Hilton 2016:
    • OER were the primary learning resource used in a higher education setting and had some type of comparison made between them and textbooks.
    • The research was published by a peer reviewed journal, part of an institutional research report, or a graduate thesis or dissertation.
    • The study included results related to either student efficacy or faculty and or student perceptions of OER.
    • The study had at least 50 participants.
    • The study needed to have been written in English and be published between October 2015 but part of 2019 journal publications were not included.
  • There has been a large increase in Articles published from 2008 to 2018.


Research is growing on OER in both size and sophistication. Of the thirteen efficacy studies published prior to 2016 only two controlled for student variables, with four controlling for teacher variables. Of the thirteen efficacy studies published between 2016 and 2018 seven controlled for student variables and nine controlled for teacher variables. This is a significant improvement in research rigor.

The key pattern of research is easy to identify, students do not like paying for textbooks and tend to appreciate free options. Instructors sympathize with them and with may influence their rating of OER. One of the common elements mentioned in article was a decrease in the drop rates when using OER. Both faculty and students who use OER largely rate it as being equal to or superior to textbooks has important practical and policy implications for those responsible for choosing textbooks.

Discussion questions

  1. Why do you think there has been a rise in efficacy vs. perception questions?
  2. Can you think of a time when you were able to replace a textbook with an OER? What were the results, and would you use it again?
  3. This article uses OER very vaguely, have you seen a difference in quality of OER? What student engagement does OER offer that Textbooks do not?

Additional resources


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