Open Educational Resources vs. traditional textbooks – is there a difference in quality?

materials is through a traditional, centralized model of content creation, the kind utilized by educational publishers. Certainly, it can sometimes be difficult to imagine how one can guarantee high quality Open Educational Resources, which are formed, as we know, through a decentralized approach, meaning anyone can create, change, remix, or combine them.

Researchers use the colorful metaphor of the cathedral and the bazaar to describe the difference between the two resources (Raymond, 1997). The cathedral model refers to a complete final product created by a limited number of authors, whose final form is not revealed until publication. The bazaar model refers to a product created in the open by all interested, without any barriers to entry. A good example of the cathedral model is the Encyclopedia Britannica, published since the 18th century. On the other hand, Wikipedia, which can be edited by anyone, exemplifies the bazaar model.


Do Wikipedia and Encyclopedia Britannica have a noticeable difference in quality? It seems that the answer is obvious. And yet, in 2005, the prestigious multidisciplinary journal “Nature” published a study comparing the English-language version of Wikipedia and Encyclopedia Britannica. The results proved that the quality of Wikipedia’s scientific articles is negligibly lower than Encyclopedia Britannica’s articles!

A decentralized, diffused, and open method of creating educational materials can guarantee high quality – though this doesn’t happen automatically.


Where Does the Open Educational Resources’ quality come from?

Many educators, animators, and librarians who create their own educational materials have some concerns about publishing them on the Internet. The concerns partially stem from the sense that their own works are imperfect, and that they may be judged by other educators in the same school or field.

And yet there’s nothing to fear! The high quality of Open Educational Resources comes from their open, collaborative model of creation. Creating together, exchanging opinions, and creating better, improved educational materials is exactly what guarantees their quality in the long-term. This kind of open, communal, and elastic form of work guarantees the most up-to-date information, which is one of the most important signifiers of quality.

Wikieducator (an international project dedicated to the collaborative development and promotion of Open Educational Resources) describes it as follows: “In education, quality is more about the process than a product. Most open developments start as a first draft — the expression of an idea. Through repeated iterations and refinements, and collaboration from the [community] the quality of individual projects improve over time.”


Guaranteeing the Quality of Open Educational Resources: A Checklist

First of all, it is important to underscore David Wiley’s point: that the quality of educational materials is not related to their presentation or the quality of their graphics. An eye-catching layout, beautiful illustrations, or a full-color textbook are not indicators of quality. According to Wiley, there is one most important criterion when appraising the quality of an educational resource: how effectively students learn from the resource. In other words, the most important measure is how well the materials created by us support student learning.

A more detailed checklist of quality often includes the following criteria: accuracy, the reputation and affiliations of the author, high technical quality, accessibility, and usefulness in achieving a particular goal. The University of Illinois Library has published a complete list of the aspects one should take into account in order to guarantee the quality of Open Educational Resources. It’s worth looking over them before publishing educational resources.



  • Peer Review available or used;
  • Reputation of author/institution is transparent;
  • Pedagogical methods are sound;
  • Allows for customization or refinement.

Appropriateness of material:

  • Content is accurate and well-prepared;
  • Sources are identified and cited;
  • Alignment with a learning outcome or course objective.

Technical aspects:

  • High technical quality;
  • Clear licensing declaration (Creative Commons, public domain);
  • License to remix or share again.