The Babson OER Survey and the Future of OER Adoption

The Babson OER Survey is incredible. If you care at all about OER, you absolutely need to read it. Then go read what Phil has written at e-Literate and 20 Million Minds. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

The popular media will no doubt focus on the awareness findings in the report. On the most liberal measure of awareness, 65.9% faculty are completely unaware of OER. On a stricter measure, 73.6% of faculty are completely unaware. Phil characterizes these awareness findings as bad news for OER advocates in his 20MM article. He’s right, but for a far deeper reasons than he suggests. These awareness findings are bad news for OER advocates because it means there is still a huge window for traditional publishers to organize a massive FUD campaign against OER. If publisher’s can control faculty members’ first exposure to OER and attempt to control the messaging around OER, there may still be a chance for publishers to turn the tide back against OER. And make no mistake, the report clearly shows that the tide has already turned in favor of OER among faculty who are aware of OER. To me, the biggest takeaway from the Babson survey is this question – who will introduce the remaining 66%-75% of this country’s faculty to OER? Haters or advocates?

On the 20MM website, Phil characterizes the following graph as bad news for OER proponents because cost appears at the very bottom of the criteria faculty consider when selecting educational resources:

Selection Criteria

(Well, at least that explains why textbooks are so expensive – less than 3% of faculty consider cost an important factor to consider during the adoption process!)

The “bad news for OER” conclusion is easy to reach if you consider cost savings to be the only significant benefit that OER bring to the table. But of course there’s far more to the OER story than cost savings.

For example, the most important selection criterion identified by faculty in the graph above is proven efficacy. If you review the data tables on page 38 of the report, you’ll see that when faculty who are aware of OER are asked to compare the proven efficacy of OER to traditional textbooks, 16.5% of faculty say OER are superior while only 15.3% say that traditional materials are superior. In other words, once faculty become aware of OER, OER beat traditional textbooks on faculty’s most important selection criteria.

Realizing this, of course I thought we should look at the correlation between where faculty rank the importance of selection criteria and how OER and traditional materials do on those criteria. The following graph plots the percentage of faculty who rate a criterion as Important on the X axis, and the percentage of faculty who rate OER (blue) or traditional materials (red) Superior on the Y axis. (Excel file with raw data)


The trend lines in this graph show the correlation between how important faculty think each selection criterion is and how superior each type of educational material is on that criterion. The news in this graph truly isn’t good for OER – there’s a strong negative correlation between the importance of selection criteria and the superiority of OER on those criteria, while traditional materials have a strong positive correlation with importance. However, a lot of the action in this graph and correlation is driven by outlier criteria like cost, which less than 3% of faculty think are important.

What would happen if we plot these values again, but only include the top half of the selection criteria as rated by importance? In other words, what if we only look at the selection criteria that at least 14% of faculty agree are important? It becomes a very different story:


When you look at the correlation between superiority of resource types and the selection criteria faculty care most about, faculty perceptions of OER correlate positively, while faculty perceptions of traditional textbooks actually correlate negatively with the criteria they self-report as being most important. Neither of these correlations is incredibly strong, but the directions flip-flop nonetheless.

This is why, as Phil writes on e-Literate,

Once you present OER to faculty, there’s a real affinity and alignment of OER with faculty values. Jeff [Seaman, co-author of report] was surprised more about the potential of OER than he had thought going in. Unlike other technology-based subjects of BSRG studies, there is almost no suspicion of OER. Everything else BSRG has measured has had strong minority views from faculty against the topic (online learning in particular), with incredible resentment detected. This resistance or resentment is just not there with OER. It is interesting for OER, with no organized marketing plan per se, to have no natural barriers from faculty perceptions.

Combine the fact that OER are superior to traditional materials on the selection criteria faculty care most about with this quote from the Babson report:

“When faculty members that are not current users of open educational resources were asked if they expected to be using OER in the next three years, a majority (77.5%) reported that they either expected to use OER or would consider consider using OER.” (p. 31)

Many people think my prediction that “80% of all US general education courses will be using OER instead of publisher materials by 2018” is crazy talk. But it isn’t. It’s not crazy at all. OER align better with faculty’s top adoption priorities than traditional materials do, and the majority of current non-users will try OER between now and 2017:

3 years

Things are looking very good for OER. Which means that things are looking very good for students – let’s not forget which is the means and which is the end here.

While things are looking good, advocates of improving student learning and increasing affordability can’t sit back. Remember the quote (disputedly) attributed to Gandhi: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” As I warned at the very top, the awareness findings of the Babson survey indicate that publishers may still have an opportunity to protect their market through a campaign of mockery, scorn, and other FUD – somewhere in the transition between Gandhi’s laughing and fighting. Now is the time for advocates of improving student learning and increasing affordability – and hence, advocates of OER – to be on the offensive with honest, positive messages about OER.