Promoting Access to Diverse Learning Opportunities through Open Resources, Equity, and Accessibility

Open book with ideas and lightbulb coming from it

There is an inherent connection between equity, accessibility, and open educational resources (OER). OER have the potential to offer more equitable and accessible learning experiences because they can be tailored to meet the needs of the students, including learning outcome alignment, accessible formatting, diverse learning materials, and diverse assessments. Before discussing this in earnest, a few terms are important to know.

  • OER stands for open educational resources; these are open resources with Creative Commons Licenses applied to them. Examples include textbooks, peer-reviewed studies, images, videos, and more.
  • Equity is the fair and just access to opportunities and resources for all. Equity is achieved when students receive resources according to need. Equity in education strives to achieve the best possible outcome for students; not necessarily providing equal treatment but seeing each student as an individual and adjusting accordingly (Brothers Academy; Bukko & Liu, 2021; Hough et al., 2020; Miller).
  • Accessibility is the quality of an item being easy to obtain, use, understood, and appreciated. Accessibility in education typically refers to the ability for content to be easily accessed, but it is important to note that accessible learning materials benefit all learners, not just a few.
    • For example: I do not have hearing, vision, or ambulatory impairments. However, I do not enjoy watching video content. If a video has transcripts or offers closed captioning, I will read the content instead of watching. However, if the content has neither, the likelihood of me reviewing the content is nearly zero. Offering an accessible alternative benefits all learners.

Ultimately, the three terms promote the success of all learners by providing diverse learning opportunities. Research suggests OER has the potential to create more accessible learning experiences. Nusbaum et al. (2020) found OER addressed many of the issues of educational equity while also sustaining the quality of students’ education, especially for minority students. Thomas (2018) shared in their research how OER can enhance accessibility for students by creating policies informed by best practices and the collaboration between entities. OER offers educators the autonomy to create learning experiences tailored to the needs of diverse individuals, and often, OER materials are already “adapted to meet accessibility” standards (Thomas, 2018).

We have not conducted a formal study at my institution, but I would like to share with you some of the data we have collected on a few courses.

  • Nearly 45% of students in one course said they read more of the content than they would normally, mentioning better quality of resources, free access, and easier accessibility. Students also more readily shared the easy-to-understand content, promoting their success.
  • In another course, nearly 60% of the students read all of the assigned OER materials and 53% of those students who shared the content had completed more than the usual number of readings, when compared to other courses. Students cited the material being accessible, free, and allowing them more money to spend on basic needs.

While training and education may be necessary in order to review content for accessibility features, there are a few, quick ways to integrate and implement these ideas into your own work.

  1. Learning outcomes aligned with the materials and assessments is critical. The concept of alignment is intended to identify the relationship between learning materials, assessments, and the objectives of the course. All of these should work together, demonstrating alignment each week.
  2. Next is accessibility. There is a long list of items related to accessibility, but I want to cover just a few of the main ones.
    • Descriptive hyperlinks are an easy way to promote accessibility for users. A study conducted in 2017 (Ng) demonstrated the value of descriptive hyperlinks and stated everyone can benefit from universal design. Sites using descriptive links provide direct assistance to those using assistive software, which do not allow the user to distinguish between all links with the same text label. Moreover, descriptive links improve user experience by informing the reader as to where the links go and what content is covered. Offering descriptive links actually decreases “clicks” because the user is better informed.
    • Videos should also be an appropriate length, theoretically no longer than 15-20 minutes, and each video should always include captioning or transcripts in order to be accessible for all learners. Videos should be used as a hook rather than an entire lesson.
    • Consistent and clear formatting is a huge step toward accessibility. Clear formatting includes using one font and one size within a document; avoid using all-caps and italics (bolding is okay when used in moderation); refrain from using coloration to convey meaning. The headings and other formatting strategies provided within your platform of choice can be helpful to guide your document creation.
  3. Diverse learning materials should offer a balance of reading, watching, and listening to promote the understanding and engagement of all students.
  4. Assessments should be diverse with less focus on high-stakes exams. Fetter (2021) shared that in her experience with high-stakes exams, after the pandemic they did not make sense. There was a lack of creativity and innovation when only using close-ended questions, and Fetter also shared the exams did not convey the vibe or the objective of the course; she began developing open-book exams or open-ended assignments to encourage innovation and deeper thinking. She recognizes this practice can cause more work for faculty, but ultimately, it is a better experience for students and mitigates cheating (Fetter, 2021).

OER is inherently equitable because it strives to provide access to learning opportunities and resources for all learners. All learners can access learning materials without expectation of payment or particular status. Equity in education is important because it builds self-confidence and aids students in becoming productive members of society. Wiley (2021) shares the important role OER can play in closing the “achievement gap” between students of different socioeconomic statuses. Evidence of equitable OER includes: accessible PDF versions, compatible with screen readers, accessible technologies used, sensitive language (UNESCO), and considering diverse guidelines (Zhang et al., 2020).

I hope you can see the potential to offer more equitable and accessible experiences for students tailored to their specific needs.


Brothers Academy (n.d.) Equity in education. Brothers Academy. Retrieved March 15, 2022 from

Bukko, D. & Liu, K. (2021, March 2). Developing preservice teachers’ equity consciousness and equity literacy. Frontiers in Education. Retrieved March 15, 2022 from

Hough, H. J., O’Day, J., Hahnel, C., Ramanathan, A., Edley, C., Jr., & Echaveste, M. (2020, July). Lead with equity: What California’s leaders must do next to advance student learning [Policy brief]. Policy Analysis for California Education.

Miller, K (n.d.) Introduction to design equity. Pressbooks. Retrieved March 15, 2022 from

Ng, C. (2017). A practical guide to improving web accessibility. Journal of Library User Experience, 1(7).

Nusbaum, A., Cuttler, C., & Swindell, S. (2020). Open educational resources as a tool for educational equity: Evidence from an introductory psychology class. Frontiers in Education, 4(152). doi: 10.3389/feduc.2019.00152

Standards from the Quality Matters Higher Education Rubric, Sixth Edition. Quality Matters. Retrieved from Specific Review Standards from the QM Higher Education Rubric, Sixth Edition

Thomas, C. (2018, October 8). OER and accessibility: Working toward inclusive learning. SPARC. Retrieved October 18, 2022 from

UNESCO (n.d.) Annotating the UNESCO recommendation on OER. Pressbooks. Retrieved on October 18, 2022 from

Wiley, D. (2021). Open educational resources: undertheorized research and untapped potential. Education Technology, Research, and Development, 69, 411-414.

Zhang, X., Tlili, A., Nascimbeni, F., Burgos, D., Huang, R., Change, T-W., Jemni, M., & Khribi, M. (2020). Accessibility within open educational resources and practices for disabled learners: A systematic literature review. Smart Learning Environments, 7(1).