Open Education, efficiency, collaboration and management

Ben Janssen, a former colleague who started his own consultancy on change and (open) education, and myself discussed several experiences we have with open educational resources and alike.

In this context he made an interesting remark, as Ben often does. In his view, Open Education is not only a public good, but can also be used as a communication channel. As he stated:

“in my work as an external consultant I often find that departments within an organization are working on the same projects, starting the same pilots and the same programs”.

Even over organizations he sees the same phenomena: organizations who work on the same projects without knowing what happens a stone throw away.

By opening up, organizations make this kind of information available for potential partners. In the same sense as commercial organizations try to innovate through openness and collaboration, offering knowledge and materials invites others to collaborate and improve on the original resources. Yet, as in open innovation, organizations should do so from their own strength: giving away your core competences is bad business, even when you’re not in business.

So opening up education in this way offers the possibility to share programs, or as Wiley (2014) argues, developing competence profiles and the accompanying programs, techniques and assessments.

By offering open competence programs, more institutions can develop new experiments based on these programs, improve and change the programs, which will feed back in the education of the original developers. This line of thought opens an interesting question: What is the core competence, resource, program or technique of a specific educational institution? What is the distinctive characteristic which distinguishes one HEI from another?

There is also a dangerous side to these possibilities. We know that both governments as boards of HEI’s have seen Open Educational Resources, MOOCs and other open educational materials as a way to reduce teaching costs. It causes a paradox: using OER can decrease teaching costs, producing OER will increase costs of the organization. The sensible management decision will be to demand that people use OER in their teachings, forbidding them to produce free materials for others.

In the ’70s of the former century, this was called the innovation paradox and used to explain why the national level of innovation will be below its potential level. Cure for this paradox is a good system of IP’s, so the inventing firm can also secure the income of the innovation.

This remedy is of course impossible in a system which is built on openness. Protecting OER with IP-rights would remove the essence of sharing.

So accepting that:

  1. the production of OER is costly in the sense of hours spend;;
  2. there is none or little incentive for an individual organization or department to offer free materials and programs in isolation;

    and assuming:

  3. that open education will increase efficiency (lower overall costs of education) and,
  4. increase effectivity (best materials will be used, freeing resources for additional teaching and teaching materials),

there has to be an external force redistributing income over the producers and users of OER.

This could be an internal authority, for example the board of the HEI, which can stimulate the development and use of the same supporting courses (for example, the development of an open course on statistics for non-mathematical studies; developed by the intern mathematical department). The development costs can be earned back as usage outside the own department is rewarded by additional funding by the board.

On a national level, government agencies could reward the supply and use of open courses by subsidizing the suppliers, without punishing the users by cutting back there teaching funds (which in itself is not a challenge for the HEI’s, but more for the politicians to resist the temptation to save money on the education budget).

Yet, by reading each other signals in the sense that organizations will open-up non-core courses; collaboration in these fields can make education more efficient and effective. As Janssen said, collaboration needs communication.

Specialised teachers can provide free courses for non-specialist students, freeing sources to develop better and more courses, flipping the class room and freeing students from uninteresting class room lectures.

A win-win situation could be possible if we would agree to communicate our “weaknesses”, offering our “strengths” to our colleagues.


Wiley, D., (2014), The Open Education Infrastructure, and Why We Must Build It, July 15, 2014,, accessed December 18, 2014