Caren Watkins
Educational Technology, Elementary Education, Higher Education, Special Education
Material Type:
High School, Community College / Lower Division, College / Upper Division, Graduate / Professional, Career / Technical, Adult Education
  • Educational Resources
  • Inclusive Design
  • Inclusive Design for Learning
  • Inclusive Education
  • Inclusive Learning
  • Oer
  • License:
    Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial

    Inclusive Design for Learning: An educator's guide to Open Educational Resources (OER)

    Inclusive Design for Learning: An educator's guide to Open Educational Resources (OER)


    In this guide you will learn about:

    What makes an educational resource open; Why OERs are important in the practice of Inclusive Design for Learning; How to find and use OERs; How to jump in and make your own OER.

    About this Guide

    In this guide you will learn about:

    • What makes an educational resource open
    • Why OERs are important in the practice of Inclusive Design for Learning
    • How to find and use OERs
    • How to jump in and make your own OER

    This guide is organzied in the following sections:

    • Introduction
    • Supporting learning differences
    • Benefits for educators
    • Benefits for learners
    • How-to:
      1. Use an OER: Adapt, remix, extend, modify or create
      2. Find an OER
      3. Create an inclusive OER
      4. Apply and understand copyright and OER

    Third party links provided thorought this guide are for information purposes only. SNOW at Floe does not endorse any of the products or services.

    cover image: “Moths & Larvae” by Llew Mejia is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0

    CCby4.0 Inclusive Design Research Centre, SNOW at Floe



    What is an OER?

    Open Educational Resources (OERs) are:

    • research, teaching and learning materials that are free to use because they are in the public domain or have an open license.
    • part of a movement to support equal access to education and lifelong learning for everyone.

    What is a digital OER?

    Digital OER come in many different formats including audio recordings, videos, written texts, or interactive simulations. An OER can be as simple as a digital document created with word processing (eg. Google Docs or MS Word) or as complex as modules made up of different content formats (eg. video and text), embedded interactive components (eg. calculators and simulations), and different methods of delivering learning (eg. multi-step quizzes).

    • Think of OER as flexible learning resources
      • sharable
      • editable
      • accessible
    • Let go of proprietary notions
      • paywalls and strict copyright limit who can develop and access learning
    • Support equity of learning by contributing open resources that support different ways or situations someone may need to consume learning material
      • Align and make curriculum relevant to different local, cultural and socio-economic contexts1
      • Customize with different formats relevant to learners in your groups
    image: plant by UNiCORN from the Noun Project

    CCby4.0 Inclusive Design Research Centre, SNOW at Floe

    Supporting learning differences


    OERs have many inclusion benefits, including economic (no text book costs), cultural (easily share or adapt existing cultrual contexts) and learning differences.

    Learning differences can be individually addressed to benefit each learners unique strengths and needs: 

    • Use web searches, dedicated websites and OER platforms to design projects and lessons that fit specific strengths and needs.
    • Share resources with an open license so other educators and learners can use part of, add to or adjust the resource to better suit a situation.
      • For example, sharing a history module you created gives an educator in another part of the world the opportunity to make a copy and then adjust content to their cultural context. Another person in another part of the world then makes a copy and adds alternative text to images because the low-bandwidth in their area often doesn't allow images to fully load.
      • Each newly created OER is an important offsping of the original OER. As the resource expands it becomes more robust because it is meeting the needs and contexts of more and more learners.
    • Some learners may need individualized strategies to support successful learning while others may choose one modality over another depending on their need at the time.
      • Common modalities include:
        • Vision – computer graphics typically through a screen
        • Audition – various audio outputs
        • Tactition – vibrations or other movement
      • Uncommon modalities include:
        • Gustation (taste)
        • Olfaction (smell)
    • How might you create options to support different ways of learning?
      • A text-based resource could be adapted to include:
        • a variety of learning preferences by adding audio recordings, pictures, slide shows or hands-on activities.
        • different representations of information by adding charts, pictures, simulations and videos of the same topic.
    image: Learning by Ivan Colic from the Noun Project

    CCby4.0 Inclusive Design Research Centre, SNOW at Floe

    Benefits for educators


    • By using shared resources, educators can spend more time focussed on meeting diverse learner needs by adapting existing content rather than always having to create new content. 
    • Making materials accessible and inclusive is not a “one-off”. In an OER ecosystem accessible resources can be used repeatedly, and continually expanded, remixed and adapted based on learner differences. Educators can access a multitude of resources rather than only those they can afford to develop and contribute to the growing inclusive OER ecosystem.  
    • Educators can learn and grow their knowledge and skills as they participate in drawing from, adapting and contributing to the OER ecosystem. 
    image: team work by Ivan Colic from the Noun Project

    CCby4.0 Inclusive Design Research Centre, SNOW at Floe

    Benefits for learners


    • Educators can engage learners in contributing to the OER ecosystem as a learning exercise. For example, an educator might facilitate the creation or modification of a an OER module with information learners recently learned from a project or in class.
    • Learners can use OERs to independently enhance their learning. They can access OERs for research, class projects, essays, or self-study. The ability to remix and add to educational materials can give learners more agency and influence over their own learning—they can become active participants in their learning process. For example, learners could add captions or text descriptions to a video or create a mind map of an essay as an alternative non-linear way of understanding the content. Learners can also explore and share ideas around inclusion and inclusive learning when creating or adapting resources.
    • Digital OERs can also benefit learners by removing barriers to where and when information can be accessed. For example, remote or self-directed learners and learners in precarious situations like refugee camps can take advantage of digital downloads and asynchronous access.
    image: team chat by Ivan Colic from the Noun Project

    CCby4.0 Inclusive Design Research Centre, SNOW at Floe

    OER How-to:

    For educators and learners:

    1. Find an OER 
    2. Use or make an OER
      • Adapt, remix, extend, modify an OER to better match learner contexts and needs.
      • Include all learner perspectives, in particular, diverse and atypical learners, in the edit, remix, and creation of OERs.
    3. Share back your resources with the learning community using appropriate open licensing

    For educational resource authors, developers, and designers:

    1. Create resources so copies can be easily made, parts can be reused, and content can be edited
    2. Design using inclusive practices and consider the accessibility of each content type. The idea is to provide different ways for content to work better in more situations. 
    3. Use open software and platforms available to learning and education communities
    4. Apply open licensing such as Creative Commons

    CCby4.0 Inclusive Design Research Centre, SNOW at Floe

    1. How to use an OER


    Adapt, remix, extend, modify!

    Some ways you might use an OER are:

    • Exactly how it was originally authored
    • Mix various resources to form one new resource (remix)
      • Eg. combine a video, written text and interactive simulation to create a lesson
    • Copy resource and change contexts (modify)
      • Eg. such as cultural or gender contexts
    • Copy resource and build upon (extend)
      • Eg. add alt text to images, build out a concept in more detail, add a different representation of the information (chart or video)
    image: share leaf by Mujibur Rohman Efendi from the Noun Project

    CCby4.0 Inclusive Design Research Centre, SNOW at Floe

    2. How to create an inclusive OER


    The following information is for anyone who may be involved in creating an OER—educators, learners, publishers, designers, programers. Read through and don’t worry if there is something that doesn’t connect with what you do or are wanting to do—take what works and make your OERs.

    Author inclusively

    Choose authoring software and / or a platform to create your OER

    Some options include:

    Make it editable

    Consider licensing your OER to allow derivative works so others can make a copy and edit to fit their course and learner needs. If your OER is written text be sure to make it available in an editable format such as .doc, .rtf (rich text format), EPUB3 format or on an OER platform such as OER Commons or MERLOT. Only providing the OER in .pdf format will make modifying your work much harder to do.

    Make it discoverable (and share it)

    Consider uploading, creating, or including permanent links to your work on platforms like MERLOT and OER Commons. Using concise and clear language and alt text for all images will help search engines, such as Google, find your OER. Good descriptive metadata can help discoverability as well. Share good resources with peers and colleagues—an OER gets better the more people know about it, remix it and adapt it.

    Make it open

    Choose the Creative Commons (CC) licenses you would like to publish your OER under.

    Make it accessible

    When writing keep content concise and clear

    Consider text simplification guidelines

    Include alt text for all images

    …including photos, drawings, charts and diagrams such as infographics. Alt text, the first principle of accessibility, is not a picture caption but rather a written equivalent to image content. If an image or series of images in any form of content has meaningful content it must have accompanying alternate text. Learn more about what alt text is and how to apply alt text to a Word document.

    Check that the video you want to use has captions or described video

    Some platforms, like Youtube, have auto captioning that can be turned on if a video doesn’t have its own captioning. Be aware that automated captioning can stumble on some spoken words or pronunciations and offer incorrect and sometimes inappropriate interpretations, so make sure you review the captioning before sharing. Having a separate digital transcript of the video content can be helpful for clarity as well as for screenreaders, braille displays, and learners who retain meaning by reading as well as listening. Audio recordings can also be made more accessible and inclusive by having a digital transcript available. 

    Provide accessibility and inclusion information

    This information is primarily for organizations, but individuals can provide accessibility statements at the beginning of their resource. By being transparent about the accessibility of your content people can decide if it is right for them or they may choose to build on your OER with further accessibility and inclusion.

    A website should include an accessibility statement. Statements should contain at least the following:

    • A commitment to accessibility for people with disabilities
    • The accessibility standard applied, such as WCAG 2.1
    • Contact information in case users encounter problems
    • Any known limitations, to avoid the frustration of your users
    • Measures taken by your organization to ensure accessibility
    • Technical prerequisites, such as supported web browsers
    • Environments in which the content has been tested to work
    • References to applicable national or local laws and policies
    • Find out more at the Web Accessibility Initiative page Developing an Accessibility Statement

    Some (important) tech-y stuff:

    Hardware and software

    Sometimes barriers are created by the digital interface (what sits between learner and material on the computer) or the technology delivering the material (software and platforms). Become familiar with the built-in accessibility features of the software and platforms—most have information pages with this information. For example, Moodle's accessibility page shares their approach and tools.

    There are some tools that can be added to a website or browser to increase learner accessibility options. For example, UIO (user interface options) or Learner Options can be added to a website or browser to give users the ability to customize a site by applying multiple settings such as page contrast, font style, and simplified view. See the demo here and access the beta chrome version here.

    Good interfaces should be easy to use and easy to build. Infusion takes the pain out of developing accessible, high performance, clean and nimble front-ends for applications that want to do more. The approach is to leave you in control—it’s your interface, using your markup, your way. Find out more at the Fluid Project

    Metadata to support personalization

    Use metadata to provide information about what needs a resource can accommodate

    Metadata supporting personalization is moving gradually from a container/record-based approach to a flatter data model. This supports the use of mash-ups, media, and services that can be personalized, matched to individual requirements and delivered to the current context, independent of the device being used (e.g. HD television, desktop computer, laptop, tablet, mobile phone or some other device). Consider using the AccessForAll metadata. AccessForAll includes a standard way to describe a user’s needs and preferences. AccessForAll accessibility promotes an inclusive user experience by enabling the matching of the characteristics of resources to the needs and preferences of individual users. In circumstances where resources might not be suitable for all users, it enables the discovery of other appropriate resources. AccessForAll metadata is typically recorded in a metadata record separate from the resource itself., which defines microdata properties that can be embedded directly into web resources, has incorporated several accessibility properties based on the AccessForAll metadata. This allows search engines such as Google to improve search results by not only matching search terms but also filter results based on the learner’s expressed needs and preferences.

      image: plant by SBTS from the Noun Project
      CCby4.0 Inclusive Design Research Centre, SNOW at Floe

      3. How to find an OER



      OERs can be small, stand-alone resources or combined and built upon to form large course modules or full courses. OERs can be found through educational institutes, online academic textbooks, simulation sites, and OER databases. Here are links to some OER content you can start using (remember to check licensing on individual OERs to find out how they have been shared for reuse):

      University courses 

      Academic Earth (English)

      Curated lists of online courses from Universities and Colleges such as MIT, Berkely, and Princeton. Among the many course topics such as film studies, and accounting is preparation courses for tests like the LSAT, GMAT, and MCAT. U.S. content

      MIT OpenCourseWare (English)

      Online textbooks, from over 2,000 courses, including engineering, fine art, science, and humanities. U.S. content

      OpenLearn (English with some Welsh)

      Free learning platform, delivered by The Open University out of the UK. Over 900 free “bite-size” courses including subject areas in history, arts, science, health and law among others. You can also create and publish open content, courses, and resources on the OpenLearn Create platform that is Moodle-based. English with some courses in Welsh.

      Peer 2 Peer University (English)

      P2PU is a learning circle facilitation platform that maintains software tools, facilitation resources, and a global community forum. Learning circles at P2PU are free study groups for people who want to take online classes together and in-person. Global

      University of the People (English)

      Accredited U.S. online University offering tuition-free college degrees (processing fee for administration costs) in Computers, Business, Health, and Education.

      Interactive mini-lessons and simulations

      GeoGebra (English)

      Elementary to College level classroom resources that include activities, simulations, exercises, lessons, and games for math & science. 

      Khan Academy (multiple languages)

      Practice exercises, instructional videos, and personalized learning dashboard to support learners to study at their own pace. Topics include math, science, computer programming and art history among others. Some specialized content created in partnership with institutions such as NASA, The Museum of Modern Art in New York and MIT. Global; English, Spanish, French and Brazilian Portuguese; video closed captioning.

      Mathispower4u (English, some Spanish)

      Over 6,000 math topic mini-lessons and example videos with closed captioning. Content from grade school number sense to trigonometry and calculus. English with a developing Spanish channel (English)

      Free math resources and online learning management system. Resources include textbooks (OpenTextBookStore), interactive questions (print version available), video support with YouTube auto-captioning (presented in quietube which serves up only the video with a choice of white or black background). Supports student self-study and has some content delivery support for educators. 

      PhET Interactive Simulations (English)

      Science and Math simulations that encourage exploration and discovery developed out of the University of Colorado Boulder. Resources and activities are uploaded and shared on the site by educators. Several of the hundreds of simulations have been built and are being built with accessibility features that include alternative input (eg. keyboard navigation), sound and sonification, and interactive description for screen readers. U.S.

      ProjectOSCAR (English)

      Project OSCAR (Open Source Courseware Animations Repository), based out of India is a large repository of web-based, interactive animations and simulations for teaching and learning concepts in science and technology. Simulations mostly run in Flash. Many simulations have downloadable Detailed Instructional Design Documents and source code.


      CK-12 (multiple languages)

      Textbooks (called Flexbooks) are customizable and some have interaction. Aligned with U.S. curriculum standards; some aligned with Indian and Brazilian curriculum standards. Simulations and some textbooks available in English, Korean, German, Chinese, Greek and Polish. 

      BCcampusOpenEd Textbooks (English)

      Textbooks adapted and created by B.C. campus faculty on many subjects from Art and Design to Earth and Ocean Sciences to Language Learning and Humanities. Guides and Toolkits are also available including Self-publishing an open textbook and How to author in Pressbooks among other topics.

      MERLOT’s Open Textbook Initiative (English)

      MERLOT (Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching) is an online OER program of the California State University. It is a repository and a tool to house and build OERs online. MERLOT has designed their interaction to be screen-reader and keyboard user-friendly.

      OpenTextBookStore (English)

      Open license Math textbooks that can also be printed. Shortlists under various math sections are considered to be “really adaptable and ready to use in a college classroom”. Document downloads vary from book to book and range from noneditable PDF to editable DOC and TeX. U.S. based

      WikiBooks OpenTextbooks (English)

      Collection of open-content textbooks, annotated texts, instructional guides, and manuals that anyone can edit. All content lives on the wiki and is licensed under creative commons.

      Elementary and high school (K-12) lesson plans, worksheets, activities 

      Classroom-aid (English and Chinese)

      A consulting company with several resources for educators to learn more about OERs. 

      Curriki (English)

      Community-created K-12 content in the form of lessons organized by subject area (from arts to engineering to math to world languages) and education level (from kindergarten to college). Licencing clearly noted on the information page of each resource. Resources linked to other sites may have different licensing.

      OER repository

      Centralized locations to search OER materials:

      Connexions (English)

      Library of thousands of articles, books, documents, and periodicals: current materials as well as historical documents. Information about the world as it is now – and the visions, struggles, and movements of people working to change it. Global, English with French and Dutch home pages, and articles in over 20 languages.

      Creative Commons (English)

      The source for CC license information. The site has a search function for CC images and information and tools for how to share resources, create resources and search for and remix resources. Global

      Gooru (multiple languages)

      Learning management system with a catalogue of k-12, post-secondary and lifelong learning OERs from publishers like Openstax, NASA and EngageNY amongst others.

      Hewlett Foundation (English)

      Data and stories from grantees working to make a better world in the following areas: education, environment, global development and population, performing arts and cyberspace. Global partners

      OER Africa (English)

      Learning resources developed in Africa that include Agricultural, Household food security, Health, and Teacher education.

      OER commons (English)

      A robust platform with an open textbook library, indexed resources by subject area, grade level and material type with terms of use clearly marked. Upload an OER into a shared repository or create one from scratch with an online tool. A wide array of groups focused on specific topics and global curriculum standards are available to join (or create a group). For example, Writing for Designers, Media Literacy Education and Youth Media or the Rwanda ICT Essentials for Teachers Course. U.S., global, English with language search offering cross-curricular resources (eg. Washington, U.S. school district shares Chinese musical instruments: Cross-Curricular Collaboration between Chinese Language Class and Music Class) and resources written in different languages.

      OER Knowledge Cloud (English)

      Over 2,500 documents with free access to research initiatives, data and other information on all aspects of open educational resources. Developed and supported by Athabasca University.

      OER World Map (English)

      Anyone involved in Open Education can share information, experiences, and ideas related to their work. Anyone can contribute to information and access information on the map. The goal being the exchange of data, experiences, and ideas between different people and Open Education communities. Find OERs, repositories, projects, and events available around the world.

      The Mason OER Metafinder (English interface)

      OER discovery site that works in real-time with a simultaneous search across 21 different sources of open educational materials.

      Trousse du prof  (French)

      Directory of over 6000 free educational resources to teach French. Répertoire de plus de 6000 ressources pédagogiques gratuites pour enseigner le français.

      UNESCO OER (Multiple languages)

      History of OERs, latest global news, publications and documents including OER competency framework available in English, French and Spanish, and an OER trainer’s guide available in English and French.

      Wikieducator (English and Spanish)

      a collaborative community developing free content that includes free university-level online courses. Subjects include Managing money to Introduction to ecosystems to Contemporary realities for indigenous Australians.

      OER repository by specific content type 

      In your browser you may need to set your search for certain criteria (e.g. “labeled for reuse;” “creative commons license,” etc.):



      Wikimedia Commons

      Plus-Size Stock Photos: The Home Collection from Allgo 

      The Gender Spectrum Collection: Beyond the Binary 

      Disabled And Here from Affect the Verb

      “A disability-led effort to provide free and inclusive stock photos shot from our own perspective, featuring disabled BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) across the Pacific Northwest.”

      Disability Inclusive Stock Photography


      Co-op stock photography organization offering diverse multi-racial stock images for free.


      high-res photos of black and brown people licensed with Creative Commons Zero (CC0).


      Collection of tech photography resulting from a BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) stock photography project from Britain by a British audience. Creative Commons CC BY 4.0 License


      Over 500 photos of women of colour in tech. On flickr, creative commons CC BY 4.0 License

      Icons and fonts


      Over 1,500 out of the almost 8,000 icons are free and licensed under creative commons CC BY 4.0 License. Download the SVGs directly from the SVG directory in the GitHub repo. 



      Internet Archive







      Internet Archive

      Wikimedia Commons


      Scribd (not free)

      Internet Archive



      image: search by Mujibur Rohman Efendi from the Noun Project

      CCby4.0 Inclusive Design Research Centre, SNOW at Floe

      4. Licencing and OERs


      Whether you're creating an OER or choosing an OER to work with it is helpful to understand copyright.

      Understanding copyright and, well, getting it right, is what will allow the ecosystem of equity driven OERs to thrive.

      The most common copyright licenses used for OERs are Creative Commons (CC) licenses.

      Watch and listen to this video about the evolution of Creative Commons. It may be a little old but the message of why and how it evloved is really the basis of the OER movement.

      Reticulum Rex

      At a glance:

      The following licenses can be combined to let someone who would like to use your OER know what they can and cannot do with your work:

      circle with double C inside
      Creative Commons: the double C symbol indicates you are
      licensing your work under the creative commons organization.
      CC licenses let you change your copyright terms from the
      default of “all rights reserved” to “some rights reserved.”

      “Yes, you can use my work but I have some guidelines!”
      Attribution: the person symbol represents attribution.
      That means that individuals who copy, distribute, remix, tweak, add to,
      and display the work need to attribute it to the author.

      “Yes, you can use my work but make sure you say it was made by me!”


      No Derivatives: The “equal” symbol signals that the creator does not
      allow derivatives of their work. Derivatives are works that are based upon
      preexisting works, but altered, transformed or adapted in some way.
      So no derivatives mean you may redistribute the work as long as you
      do not alter, transform, or build upon the original work.

      “Yes, you can use my work, but only as it is. No remixing!”


      Share Alike: the arrow in the shape of a backward “C” is the
      Share Alike symbol (the ‘copyleft’ symbol in contrast to the ‘copyright’ symbol).
      Share Alike means that others are allowed to distribute derivatives of
      the original work only under a license identical to the license assigned to
      the original work. This means that if you use this resource, you have to pass
      it on with the same license. 

      “Yes, you can remix and adapt my work, but you must share it back with the same licensing!”


      Non Commercial: the symbol with the crossed-out dollar sign is for
      ‘non-commercial,’ which means that no one can earn money off of the
      resource. It has to be shared freely. 

      “Yes, you can use my work but not for commercial use!”


      Use this step by step process on the Creative Commons site to help you select your licence combinations

      image: leaf by Jonathan Gibson from the Noun Project

      CCby4.0 Inclusive Design Research Centre, SNOW at Floe