Open education: seemingly widely spread as it is rarely understood

In the ONL (open-networked learning) course, when we started our discussion regarding openness, open education, and open learning, it was revealed from the beginning that people had different interpretations and understanding of open education and open educational resources (OER) and practices. For example, open education may just be a buzzword for some people, seen as a way to save money for others or something that reminds them of licensing issues, to name a few. In my opinion, although it is not a problem to have a different understanding of this concept, the benefits and the impact of practices associated with different definitions differ tremendously. Benefits or challenges of open education and pedagogy can be discussed if only we come to a consensus about their definitions. Otherwise, we would apparently talk about the benefits and challenges of different things.  

All that glitters is not gold or as we say in Persian “not every small round object is a walnut!”. There are probably several misconceptions about the idea of open education. In the following, I discuss the ones that I noticed which are even common among scholars:

Online means open. Sometimes open education is easily misunderstood with online education. Online technologies foster open education. Without the Internet, open education would not have all of the benefits it has now. However, online education is different from open education. For example, during the pandemic, lots of universities transformed their courses from on-campus courses to online courses, e.g. given via Zoom but those courses are not open courses accessible for all and may not use OER. Another example is the distant courses different universities offer that can be categorized as online education but not necessarily as open education. They are closed courses for students who enrol and pay for their education and the resources may not necessarily be open resources accessible for all and modifiable. Online education does not necessarily have the equity and inclusion benefits of open education. 

Correspondingly, not all MOOCs are open (even if advertised to be so) because they are produced based on copyrighted content that does not fulfil the requirements of the OER definition. Learners in lots of MOOC courses can only access the content but cannot reuse or modify it. In addition, in a world that assesses your qualifications based on your degrees and certificates, the ultimate benefits of taking a MOOC are only achieved when you receive a certificate that is not in most cases freely issued. 

Freely available means open. Another misconception about open education is related to the availability and accessibility of resources. In other words, the concept of openness can easily be misunderstood by the idea of the freely available information in any format. OER should be openly licensed, freely available, and modifiable. If we assume that using freely available resources which are not modifiable is one way of practising open education educators will not be free to edit, reorder, and remix OER materials in many ways. Thus, the benefits of using such resources will be far more limited than using OER. 

Creative Commons (CC) provides free open licences for creators to use when making their work available. Creative common licenses are understandable by humans. The layer we as users of the works or creators see is jargon-free, symbolized, and simple. However, whenever we see a CC symbol we should not by default imagine that the resource is modifiable or OER. Also, we should not forget about attribution. Unless licensed under CC0 1.0, we cannot use the recourse without attribution. 

Open education and open pedagogy are ongoing movements. Their success is dependent, among other things, on endeavours to counter misconceptions and promote their key values. Considering all misconceptions and different incorrect interpretations of OER I can agree with people who think it is widely spread and used worldwide. Nonetheless, if we stick to the key values of OER and open education we have still far to go. 

5 thoughts on “Open education: seemingly widely spread as it is rarely understood”

  1. Interesting blog post Farzaneh. I agree the debate about how to understand OER is a bit immature perhaps. Not many academics have sufficient knowledge regarding these questions, leading to confusion. But would it be constructive to talk about openness as a spectrum? I guess courses could be more or less open. Striving towards becoming more open could be a good start even though you might not get all the way.

    Also really like your emphasis on the opportunity to modify content. Sometimes we forget this part although most of us probably do this every other day teaching.


    1. Thank you, Johan. I totally agree with you that striving toward becoming open is good itself even though it might not be perfect at the beginning. Nonetheless, it should not stop us from observing the problems, misconceptions, and incorrect interpretations. Considering different misconceptions and interpretations around openness, we may conclude that it is widely adopted worldwide and people are benefiting from it but if we stick to its core features we need to make a lot of improvements. In this post, I wanted to emphasize the fact that without having a common understanding of what open education is and what characteristics it has we could not discuss its pros and cons as our arguments would not be on the same thing.

  2. Lars Harrysson

    I have this fantastic walnut tree in my garden. I am very proud of that it produces new plants that I can give to family and friends. Sharing is the key.

    Thank you for you very enlightening post concerning what is required for openness. Very important for us teaching to consider.


    1. Wow, I envy you that you own a walnut tree, especially that you can share its products with your beloved ones. Practising openness in the nature 😉

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