I am at OpenEd in Washington DC this week. Earlier today I sat in on a session by John Hilton from Brigham Young University called A Review of Research on the Perceptions, Influence, and Cost-Savings of OER In lightening sequence, Hilton presented 12 empirical research studies that showed that students who used open educational resources do as well and, in some cases, slightly better, in their class. 

Now, many of these studies were cautious in drawing direct conclusions that it was the OER alone that lead to the results of the studies (and I’ll post the full link of research studies he quoted here when the slides of the presentation are released), but 12 studies that all looked at classes using OER’s returning similar results is encouraging, even if that result is, in essence, no significant difference. Because if there is no significant difference between learning outcomes with students who use free open learning resources and a $200 commercial textbook, then why use the commercial textbook?

One of the interesting points in the presentation came at the end during the Q&A when David Kernohan asked John if he knew of any studies that looked specifically at the efficacy of publishers textbooks. John’s reply, essentially, that he wasn’t really aware off the top of his head, but he may have come across 3 or 4. But there isn’t much.

Which is a similar finding that I discovered this spring as I was doing some research on what makes an effective textbook as I was preparing for our Geography book sprint. There is not a lot of research on efficacy of textbooks, period. One paper I looked at was from 1996 titled Student’s Perceptions of Textbook Pedagogical Aids by Wayne Weiten, Rosanna Guadagno & Cynthia Beck which stated that

“virtually no research has assessed the usefulness of the numerous pedagogical aids that are now standard far in psychology texts”.

Meaning that, in the views of these researchers, the features of a textbook that have been put in place to help student learn weren’t put there because they have been shown to help student learn.

Now, I noted at the time of that post that the research I was looking at was 20 years old, but the scans I did at the time showed something similar to what John Hilton had discovered – there are not a lot of research studies showing that publishers textbooks help students learn better (and if you know of studies, please point me to them).

Contrast this lack of empirical research on the efficacy of publishers textbooks with what the recent Babson report on OER’s said is the most important factor faculty consider when selecting teaching resources – proven efficacy. And not just a few faculty, but 59.6% of faculty said “proven efficacy” is the number one consideration for them when choosing teaching resources. Which is a huge disconnect for me. You have faculty saying they pick resources because they are proven effective, but yet reviews of the literature don’t show a lot of “proven efficacy” of publishers textbooks. Which should start to make educators reframe the question from “show me the proof that open educational resources are effective” to “show me the proof that publishers resources are”.

Weiten, W., Guadagno, R. E., & Beck, C. A. (1996). Student’s Perceptions of Textbook Pedagogical Aids. Teaching of Psychology, 23(2), 105-107. doi:10.1207/s15328023top2302_8

CC BY 4.0 Proven efficacy? by Clint Lalonde is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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Wrangler of learning technologies by day, Dad, cyclist, soccer fan and, lately, home roaster of coffee by night. INFJ. I am the Manager of Educational Technologies at BCcampus, working primarily on open education projects. This blog is a personal blog and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of BCcampus.