Search Engines

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Image courtesy of Sharif

A number of specialized search engines and services have been set up to make finding OER easier. If your aim is to find resources to combine and mix with your own and with each other, it is important to understand the licensing implications. See Licensing and specifically Which License Should I Choose? and License Compatibility. Each search engine has different strengths and may not provide the accuracy and speed of standard web searches. The list is constantly growing, but some examples include:

  • ADRIANE Search and Indexation Tool[1]: Search among several prominent OER repositories including MERLOT[2], OER Commons[3] and ADRIANE[4].
  • Creative Commons Search[5]: offers license-aware search through Creative Commons enabled services of Google, Yahoo, Flickr,, etc.. The search results will only include resources that are licensed under a Creative Commons license which matches your requirements (e.g. resources which may be modified and used commercially).
  • Commonwealth of Learning (CoL) Knowledge Finder[6]: used to be its own unique search engine, but was recently replaced by a set of specialized Google searches, one of which focuses on open educational resources. This means that the CoL has created a list of websites they consider good sources for OER, and your search will be restricted to that set of websites.
  • Federal Resources for Educational Excellence (FREE)[7]: learning resources from government agencies. Licenses tend to be either All Rights Reserved or public domain.
  • Learning[8] a website that collects links to OER, but does not actually store any itself. Over 250 links, with updates on OCW and wiki sites. License varies.
  • OpenCourseWare Finder[9]: developed by the Center for Open and Sustainable Learning (COSL) at Utah State University, collects a list of courses from some of the well-known OpenCourseWare sites, and organizes them taxonomically. It offers an efficient service with a clean user-interface, but new resources (or new sites) do not show up immediately. The emphasis is on MIT OCW material.
  • OER Recommender[10]: a simple search engine that returns results from several different repositories. A browser extension is available which can recommend learning resources for any page you visit.
  • OER Commons[11]: developed and hosted by the Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management (ISKME) in Education and funded by the Hewlett Foundation, this large database of OER includes resources for K-12 and higher education. It also includes features such as tagging, ratings, comments, reviews, and social networking.
  • Universal Education Search[12]: While not operational yet, expectations are high that the recently announced specialized search engine developed by Google and the Creative Commons ccLearn[13] project with support from the Hewlett Foundation will improve things considerably. The key difference to a general Google search is that the project is currently collecting URLs from OER repositories. In the meanwhile, Creative Commons has its own list of OER search engines[14].
  • TechXtra[15]: find articles, key websites, books, the latest industry news, job announcements, ejournals, eprints, and technical reports.

Effective search with search engines

If you are already familiar with different search engines and BOOLEAN search you can skip this section.

For a normal search simply enter one or more keywords or a phrase into the search box of your favorite search engine and click on the "search" button for the results. Most search facilities offer "boolean" capabilities which permit the use of special keywords (e.g. "and", "or", "not") or symbols (e.g. "+", "-", ":") to refine a search. You can use the same methods and techniques as you would for a general search.

Boolean search is a type of search that uses words to establish the relationship between search terms. There are three Boolean operators:

  • AND: Use the AND operator to retrieve a set in which each citation contains all the search terms. This operator places no condition on where the terms are found in relation to one another; the terms simply have to appear somewhere in the same citation.
  • OR: Use the OR operator to retrieve documents that contain at least one of the specified search terms. Use OR when you want to pull together articles on similar subjects.
  • NOT: Use the NOT operator to exclude the retrieval of terms from your search.

For example, if you wanted to search for the fruit "apple", you could exclude all results which also refer to "computers" and "macintosh" with a request like:

apple AND fruit NOT macintosh NOT mac NOT computer

Every search engine has its own rules, but nearly all of the major search engines understand the following request:

:apple +fruit -macintosh -mac -computer

If you are looking for a phrase, you should set the phrase in quotation marks. If you are looking for a "big apple" plant and are not interested in New York - which is often called "big apple" you could write:

:"big apple" -"New York"

The colons (":") used in the search examples are meant to give greater weight to one of the search terms over the others. For example ":Apple+fruit" would have the search results ranked differently than ":fruit+apple."




Schmidt, P. (2007, November). "7.1 Searching and finding OERs." UNESCO OER Toolkit Draft. WikiEducator. Retrieved March 21, 2008, from