The wOERld is not enough

By July 31, 2016English
The book “Open Education: A study in disruption” is one of the few accounts on open education that clearly outlines the paradoxes and contradictions which are currently determining the public and scholarly discussion around open education. While the vision of the scholarly community to make (higher) education more accessible and to increase access to knowledge and instructional content seems to be a common denominator, the ways to achieve those goals are developing in very different directions, partially even in opposing ones.

One of the biggest worries at the moment is from my perspective the dichotomic discussion around open educational resources (OER) and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). While OER are the foundation to make learning resources available for reuse and adaptation, MOOCs are going beyond this resource-centric perspective and offer an educational experience embedded in a social and instructional context. One could think that those are perfect combinations and that they should work well together, but in reality both paradigms of open education seem to develop in very different directions at the moment.

One of the often repeated arguments why MOOCs are breaking with the tradition of open education is that they do not share learning resources under an open license. While I think that it should be the goal to make learning resources accessible as freely as possible, I think the reduction of the value proposition of open education to learning resources shared under an open license is a dogmatic perspective which is not in line with the perspective of the learners. Who would seriously calculate the value of some open learning resources deposited in a repository against a mean time investment of 73 hours that 6453 learners have invested to engage in an 8-week open course (recent results from one of our MOOCs)? Are we the ones to judge which one is more valuable to learners?

After several European projects focusing on the design of repositories for OER my experience is that one of the biggest blind-spots for OER is that there is so little evidence for their reuse. Argued from a tax-payer perspective I think it is a very good policy that educational material developed based on governmental funding should be released as OER, but we should definitely focus in the future on the psycho-social factors that influence reuse rather than assuming that the mere existence of OER leads to reuse. As a result of my first grant project my colleague Guntram Geser has edited the end-report of our project Open eLearning Content Observatory Services (OLCOS) in which of the the most important and still valid recommendations were:

“The ability to have easy access to and re-use Open Educational Resources is important […] but is not the key point. Open content, tools, licenses are only means to an end, which is to foster the acquisition of certain competences needed by teachers and learners. Therefore, OLCOS stresses the importance of open educational practices within and across educational institutions, as the actual practices are decisive in whether, which and how digital educational content, tools and services will be employed” (Geser, 2007, p.38).

MOOCs are a step towards open educational practices, but have of course also a lot of shortcomings at the moment. Especially the instructional design for scalable open online courses is a big challenge and it is an open question which methods are suitable to serve learner populations that go beyond the usual classroom size. What unites OER and MOOCs is that still many basic questions are not answered yet. Most importantly, it is still unclear who benefits and what is the socio-economic but also the organisational impact. For the MOOC side these are questions which will be researched on the national level in the SOONER project and on the European level in the MOOCKnowledge project. Let’s hope that the discussion about open education will be geared again towards the joint vision rather than focusing on dogmatic value propositions.

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Author Marco Kalz

Professor for Open Education at the Faculty Management, Science and Technology and the Welten Institute of the Open University of the Netherlands. Currently involved in several national and international research projects on open education.

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