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Impact of Open Textbooks on Learning Outcomes

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JCHEA recently published study analyzed the impact of open textbooks vs. traditional commercial textbooks on the learning outcomes of 16,727 college students at four universities and six community colleges.

The study, “A multi-institutional study of the impact of open textbook adoption on the learning outcomes of post-secondary students”¹ published in the Journal of Computing in Higher Education, looked at five measures of student success:  course completion, passing grade of C- or better, course grade, credits enrolled, and credits enrolled in the following semester.   The sample group included 4,909 students enrolled in courses using OER only and 11,818 students enrolled in courses using commercial textbooks only.

The study found that in the key measures of course completion, passing grade of C- or better, and course grade, students in the courses using OER performed as well or better than students in courses using commercial textbooks.  In the key measures for enrollment intensity, the study found that students in the OER courses “enrolled in a significantly higher number of credits in the next semester.”  The authors speculate that this is due to the OER cost savings since “funds saved on textbooks can be applied directly to enrollment in additional courses.”

This is the largest study to date exploring the the impact of OER on student outcomes in terms of access and affordability.  According to the authors, the study “demonstrates that at least one non-instructional design option exists that can effectively improve student outcomes.”


¹Fischer, L., Hilton III, J., Robinson, T.J., Wiley, D.A. (2015). A multi-dimensional study of the impact of open textbook adoption on the learning outcomes of post-secondary students. Journal of Computing in Higher Education.  Advance online publication. doi:10.1007/s12528-015-9101-x

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