Paid curricula vs. OER: Does it have to be “either/or”?

Side view of elementary school boy looking at a laptop computer

Educators are some of my favorite people. They are smart, dedicated, enthusiastic, and creative problem solvers. During my time at Pearson, I have had the opportunity to interview and write about quite a few educators, each with unique strengths, yet all share a passion to help students learn. One thing I have found interesting is that they liked to incorporate their own touches into their classrooms. Some like to add specific topics to lessons. Others want to include a particular book. And others want to incorporate online resources they think will personalize learning. So while they have professionally developed curricula, they like to add their own touches to it. In the broader conversation around professionally made content versus Open Educational Resources (OER) then, I have often wondered, “Does it have to be either/or?” Perhaps teachers can and do use both. These are my observations, what do others say about it?

One perspective I find valuable is from Literary Expert and Author Pam Allyn. During a podcast interview, she talked about the Common Core State Standards, and the freedom teachers have to make lessons their own. She encouraged teachers to use their expertise and knowledge to create lessons that would help students reach grade level objectives. Even though she was talking about the standards, the elements of customization and personalization are still relevant to this conversation about curricula development. 

Another perspective comes from Lisa Hansel, director of Knowledge Matters. She wrote a blog post on the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s website that raised some good points about education needing a good plan that ensures all of the pieces of curriculum fit well together. She said, “[L]et’s develop OER and pursue personalized learning. But let’s also accept the fact that a solid education depends on a blueprint for how all the pieces go together—across all subjects and grades.”

So if instructors use well developed curricula with OER as they try to meet the needs of students and personalize learning, what are some considerations to find a good balance? Here are a few questions to ask:

  • Do we have media-rich content that leverages our digital learning environment?
  • Does our program include data capabilities to help teachers monitor student progress?
  • How do we plan to update our content so that it remains current and accurate?
  • How does what I am trying to accomplish align to district and state standards?

As the larger conversation continues, great ideas and insights shared by educators and administrators will rise to the top. We welcome your comments and questions.


Explore your options and find ideas to help you master the shift to digital and transform learning.