New Study Points to Learning Effectiveness of Open Textbooks

There are many good reasons to use open textbooks instead of costly commercially published textbooks. The obvious one is that it saves students a great deal of money. Faculty support that but may be hesitant to adopt an open textbook for their course over concerns of quality and impact on learning.

A new study by three researchers, one of whom is David Wiley, the prominent advocate for open education, may help to convince faculty that there is value in adopting open textbooks – and not just because of the savings for students. Open textbooks, in this study, proved beneficial to student learning.

A multi-institutional study of the impact of open textbook adoption on the learning outcomes of postsecondary students” is by far the largest study of its kind conducted to date—nearly 5000 postsecondary students using OER and over 11,000 control students using commercial textbooks, distributed among ten institutions across the United States, enrolled in 15 different undergraduate courses. So what did the researchers learn?

In three key measures of student success—course completion, final grade of C- or higher, course grade– students whose faculty chose OER generally performed as well or better than students whose faculty assigned commercial textbooks. The article does discuss the challenge of identifying and using appropriate measures of student learning, but the findings should encourage faculty who may be averse to open educational resources.

The findings support the experience of Temple University faculty that have participated in our local Alternate Textbook Project. Their evaluations of student outcomes often confirm that replacing the commercial textbook with alternate learning content (including licensed library content in many cases) leads to improved student engagement with learning materials which results in better academic performance. If you are interested in additional information about open textbooks, OER or our Alternate Textbook Project contact Steven Bell, Association University Librarian(bells at

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