The Power, Promise and Possibility of Open Education

If you are reading this between March 10 and March 15, happy Open Education Week! While it seems like every week is a celebration of something these days, I’m especially fond of the education theme getting extra attention this week, open education. So, in celebration of this important movement, I offer the following short FAQ about open education.

What is Open Education?

As with many terms in education, different people use it in different ways. Some think mostly of open education as open education resources (OER); which are free, open, editable, reusable resources.  However, I appreciate the following explanation from the Open Education Week site,

“Open Education incorporates free and open learning communities, educational networks, teaching and learning materials, open textbooks, open data, open scholarship, open source educational tools and more. Open Education gives people access to knowledge, provides platforms for sharing, enables innovation, and connects communities.”

From a philosophical standpoint, open education is about increased access and opportunity; human agency; and a spirit of openness, collaboration and connectivity.

Why should I care about it?

There are many reasons why people are drawn to open education, ranging from the philosophical to the more practical. Some argue that open education resists the commercialization of education by providing free access to high quality teaching and learning resources. Others speak to the fact that open education increases global human access to learning opportunities. It promotes a vision for global education where fewer and fewer people are prevented from the ability to pursue life and learning goals. From the teacher perspective, open education helps educators build upon and refine one another’s work; producing incremental or monumental improvements in learning resources that are freely available to other educators around the world. From this perspective, open education increases the toolbox that teachers are able to leverage for their craft, and it helps teachers experience the power of participating in an open and global education community.

Here are a few other reasons people give for the importance of open education:

Who are the winners with open education?

As I see it, there are several winners.

1. Global learners – People around the world who do not have access to adequate learning resources, communities and experiences can tap into open education in pursuit of the learning goals that will help them fulfill their present and future callings in life.

2. Educators and Learning Organizations – Open education increases access to the resources and people who will help educators and learning organizations provide high-impact learning experiences, often without financial barriers.

3. Entrepreneurs – While open education promotes free and open, there are still plenty of ways for creative entrepreneurs to build business plans that are financially beneficial while promoting a social good.

Who are the losers with open education?

At first glance, some might think that for-profit businesses are the losers. How can businesses survive if free and open resources dominate the field of education. However, that isn’t quite accurate. Consider the case of two open source learning management systems, Moodle and Canvas. Moodle started as open source from the beginning, but there are plenty of people who make good money because of Moodle. There are companies that offer Moodle hosting, Moodle support, Moodle training, custom programming for Moodle, and much more. Several years ago, Canvas/Instructure made the code to Canvas open source. They still make their money by providing the updates, service, and hosting of Canvas for customers; making as much as their traditional LMS competitors in the process. These two examples apply to many other contexts as well. While open education increases access to free and reusable resources, there is still plenty of money to be made by the education for-profit sector.

With that said, those seeking to control or monopolize around educational access and resources do have something to lose. Open education democratizes education, and it jeopardizes the stronghold of some who would rather support a strong authoritarian and centrally controlled vision for education.

How can I get started in the use of open education resources and/or participation in the open education movement?

Start by checking out the wonderful resources on the Open Education Week web site, which includes links to some of the most promising open education projects today.

Here are a few other places to check out:

  1. Edutopoia Open Education Resources Roundup
  2. Open Professionals Education Network
  3. Open Education Database
  4. OER Commons
  5. Why Open Education Matters
  6.  Connexions
  7. OpenEd
  8. The Open Directory Project
  9. SchoolForge
  10. Open Tapestry