Openness, lessons from innovation for education

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In two seminal papers, Dahlander and Gann (2010) and Huizingh (2011) try to define openness as used in open innovation.  Here, I try to use these definitions of openness in describing openness in education, drawing some lessons for both sectors.

Definitions on openness in innovation

Although Huizingh (2011) bases its definitions on Dahlander and Gann (2010), it is easier to start with his distinction between the innovation process and the innovation outcome. Openness in terms of the process is determined by the amount of knowledge which is obtained externally, or developed internally. The openness of the outcome is determined by the fact if the resulting process or product is proprietary or made freely available for external partners.

Innovation process: Innovation outcome:  
  Closed Open
Closed Closed Innovation: proprietary innovation developed inhouse. Public Innovation: the outcome is available for others, whereas the innovation was developed inhouse.
Open Private Open Innovation: a proprietary innovation, developed with the input of external partners. Open Source Innovation: both the development as the result of the innovation are open.

Source: Huizingh (2011, p. 3)

Closed innovation is the traditional way innovations were developed. The aim of public innovation often is the development of a standard. For example, by making the PC the standard in computing during the 80’s, IBM could control part of the market for personal computers.

Another way to divide open innovation is to make a distinction between inbound and outbound innovation. In the definition of Huizingh (2011, p. 4): Inbound open innovation refers to internal use of external knowledge, while outbound open innovation refers to external exploitation of internal knowledge. Dahlander and Gann (2010) combined these types with the question whether there is money involved or not.

  Inbound Innovation Outbound Innovation
Pecuniary Acquiring Selling
Non-pecuniary Sourcing Revealing

Source: Dahlander and Gann (2010, p. 702)

Revealing seems to be used to attract collaboration, especially in situations without strong IPR regimes. It also resembles Public Innovation of Huizing (2011), in aiming to set a market standard. Sourcing refers to the absorption of external available knowledge to create new products and services. The literature suggests an inverted U-shaped curve: searching for external knowledge will be profitable up to a certain level, after which the “over-search” will become more costly than profitable.

There seems to be a paradox in openness: as Huizingh (2011) states, companies perform more inbound than outbound activities (which recently confirmed by studies of the open innovation network, http://oi-net.eu/), yet inbound activities of one organization should generate reciprocal outbound effects from other organizations?

Openness in education

As we noted elsewhere (De Langen, 2013), there are a lot of definitions of openness in education. Openness in the sense of free to obtain (MOOCs), free to use (OER) or the absence of entry barriers (Open Universities).

If we define the process as a measure of openness of the process, leading to the product, we can distinguish between free to access, free to use or even collaboration in design and production. The outcome is the education, the course or the program. Traditional education is mostly distributed in a closed form: it is exclusively for students of the institution. Traditional education is often designed and developed by a single teacher, by an internal group of teachers (both examples of closed process) and in some cases with developers outside of the own institution (often subsidy-led) or the usage of open resources and MOOCs. The Open Outcome-side describes the production of open educational products and services. The closed production of open outcomes are typically of the production of MOOCs. A situation of open production and open outcomes is found in situations where communities both develop and use educational resources. For example in the case of knowledge bases and portals, developed and exploited by communities of fellow teachers; two examples are MERLOT and FEmTechNet.

Educational process: Educational outcome:  
  Closed Open
Closed Closed Education: traditional education with an one-to-one relationship between students and teachers. Free to use: the outcome (courses, programs) are open to use, but the teaching/developing process is closed. We can distinguish different regimes:

a.       Traditional education without fees, as in large parts of Europe is practice; Open Universities

b.      MOOCs, where the product is free, but the process of developing the course is proprietary.

c.       Certain forms of Open Access, in the sense that the production process belongs to the researchers (holding the copyrights, sometimes having to pay a fee), whereas the published research results are free for the public.

Open Use of free: the use of free (open) resources to develop educational resources for traditional institutions; for example Lumen Learning offers to teach educators to use OER to develop courses and programs for usage within traditional institutions. Open Education: Open educational resources, DOCCs, communities of practice and alike.

If we look into the role of money in (open) education, than is the pecuniary side of the inbound knowledge acquisition the fact that most teachers use standard textbooks, produced and sold in a for-profit-business model by publishers. Of course, in traditional education teaching is one of the courses of income, however there are more opportunities. For example,

  Inbound education Outbound education
Pecuniary Acquiring textbooks and materials. Selling knowledge, texts and competences.
Non-pecuniary Sourcing: collaborating to acquire knowledge and resources. Revealing: collaborating to supply knowledge, competences and resources.

Another model

Another way to categorize education is based on Yunus et al. (2010). In their view, organizations optimize either financial profit or social value. On the other dimension, they distinguish the way organizations are financed: either they have to earn back the invested capital, or they don’t. In this last case, another organization will supply the funds necessary for the long term survival of the organization. Traditional HEI’s were placed either in the Not-for-profit category for public education; or in the For-profit-category for private educational firms. Interesting are those organizations (websites, portals, knowledge bases ect.) which resulted in the past years, as result of inter-organizational collaborations, subsidies or individual initiatives.

Financial Profit Maximization
No recovery of Not sustainable in the long term For profit organizations Repayment of
Invested capital

(depending on external funds)

(Traditional) Not-for-profit organizations Social businesses Invested capital

(self-sustainable)

Social Profit Maximization

Next to the educational knowledge and competences, their survival will depend on the capability to generate funds to reimburse the capital used in the production and exploitation of open education.

Literature

Dahlander, L., & Gann, D. M. (2010). How open is innovation?. Research policy, 39(6), 699-709.

De Langen, F. H. T. (2013). Strategies for sustainable business models for open educational resources. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 14(2), 53-66.

Huizingh, E. K. (2011). Open innovation: State of the art and future perspectives. Technovation, 31(1), 2-9.

Open Innovation in European industries (2015), study for the European Commission, http://oi-net.eu/.

Yunus, M., Moingeon, B., & Lehman-Ortega, L. (2010). Building social business models: lessons from the Grameen experience. Long Range Planning, 43, 308-325.

Internet, sharing and openness; lessons from e-commerce

At the beginning of the century, the influence of the Internet on business really took off. This induced managers and scientists to reflect on the role of the Internet on the way we do business. One of the major changes was the openness and sharing. Another influence is the increasing competition. Because information flows “openly”, the possibility to compare prices, quality and other characteristics increases beyond the geographical proximity.

Education is only beginning to feel the influence of both trends. The High Level Group on the Modernisation of Higher Education has published a new rapport on the New Modes of Learning and Teaching in Higher Education. In this report, the importance of technological progress for the widening of access of HE is stressed. As they state “Online technologies provide opportunities to learn anywhere, any time and from anyone”. Non-traditional learners have access to new forms of learning which will increase lifelong learning and ongoing professionalization.

In a world were global politics become more complex and worldwide manual labour has become a commodity, both European democracy and Europe’s competitive position require an ever increasing education of its population. Creativity and smart solutions have to take the place of mass production; not only the designers and developers have to be high educated, the average labour force also has to scale up. Another interesting observation is that “The goal should be to ensure that all publicly funded education resources are openly available”. This is not only a support of the Open Educational Resources-movement, but can be interpreted broader: education should be free as mostly all public educational institutes are mainly funded by the government.

Tony Bates (2014) concludes his review of Moocs with the observation, that “[A]t some point, institutions will need to develop a clearer, more consistent strategy for open learning, in terms of how it can best be provided, how it calibrates with formal learning, and how open learning can be accommodated within the fiscal constraints of the institution, and then where MOOCs might fit with the strategy”.

When we look into different sectors, where openness plays a role, we can distinguish:

– Open as in free to use, re-use and distribute: the open source movement in the sector of Information Technology. In general there are two different approaches. Communities develop free software, whereas companies are allowed to use the free software to sell specialized adaptations (only making the customers pay for the added value). In the other case, firms give away software or products to earn money with additions to these products and services (freemium, ranging from WinZip to razors).

– open as in open access in the publishing sector, where costs are shifted from users (readers) towards producers (researchers, writers); the intermediate firms keep the same or more income. Often open access is motivated by the fact that most research is funded by public funds, so it should be freely available for the public. Publishers are then compensated for their costs by authors’ fees.

– open as in free to participate, as the Internet opens the possibility for the public to participate in journalism or quality control. Furthermore firms use customers to improve their products and develop new products and services; labeled co-creation.

– open as in open innovation, the process whereby firms ‘spin-in’  ideas and inventions of others and ‘spin-out’ ideas and inventions which do not fit into the business models of the firm, especially in the industrial sectors. IP-rights are essential as they make it possible to trade inventions which can or will not be used internally. By selling and buying inventions, the efficiency and size of innovations in society will increase. Technology increases the possibilities for innovation on a small scale. Sharing of knowledge and resources is a major force behind the MakersMovement, in which small inventors design, prototype and -eventually- distribute their innovative products or services (see Anderson, 2012).

Wiley (2014) – in his discussion on Moocs – defines openness in education as the transition of ‘open entry’ (in the sense of no entry demands from the Open Universities) towards ‘open licenses’, as in Open Educational Resources (OER), towards a possible  ‘open educational infrastructure’.

The Open Educational Resources movement strives to generate educational resources, which are shared for free (although often developed using subsidies of national governments and private institutions).  Moocs are a part of this development, but where the majority of OER is aimed at teachers, Moocs are developed for usage by learners, opening up participation.

Moocs are also, more then OER, examples of the ‘give-part sell-part’ approach to openness. In the regulations of several Mooc-platforms, we see explicit remarks about the earning potential of alternative usage of the Moocs: licensing, assessment and certification but also use a HRM-instrument and corporate universities.

This definition of openness is consistent with the 5-components model for open education (5COE) of Mulder and Janssen [2013]. This model analyses the different activities of (open) education and it is possible to un-bundle these into three components on the supply side and two on the demand side.

On the supply side they distinguish:

  1. Open educational resources (OER)
  2. Open learning services (OLS): online and virtual activities which are available either free or for payment, including assessments, exams and communities.
  3. Open teaching efforts (OTE): all supporting activities as teaching, ict-support and other roles in (distance) teaching; these activities will generally not be free.

On the demand side they describe the following two components:

  1. Open to learners’ needs (OLN): open education should be free in the sense of time, space and tempo; however, it should also be affordable for everyone.
  2. Open to employability & capabilities development (OEC): education should be open towards new and changing demands from society and the labour market, but also promote critical thinking, creativity and personal growth.

Christensen et al. (2014) uses a similar approach to forecast a more disruptive development with respect to the (American) educational sector. Distance education, the competence based approach, the existence of high quality, accredited open educational materials offers commercial firms the opportunity to enter the educational sector, aiming at low cost segments and non-consumers (of existing education). According to them, it is only a matter of time before the last bastion of the traditional mixture of academic research and education, the accreditation organizations, will fall. So unbundling education at an organizational level could result in unbundling at a sectorial or national level and a new division between open en exclusive forms of education.

Most educational programs are not financed by their students, but subsidized by governments, churches or private enterprises. Depending on the fee, the financial barriers of participation in education are substantial to non-exsting. Contrary to the (average) openness in finances, most institutions have entry barriers in terms of quality requirements. Only the Open Universities (yet not all, and not for all programs) accept all students without a formal qualification. So, although open access in a financial way exists in some European countries, where the majority of the costs is shifted from the individual towards the collective. Yet open participation is even rarer due to qualitative restrictions for non-degree learners. This is an explanation why Moocs have attracted so much attention: it is the change for many not formally qualified learners to follow relevant academic courses.

Open innovation is based on collaboration, based on trust or contracts and on bought knowledge. HEI’s have a long tradition on working together on research projects. Yet, it seems that in the field of education, both developing and exploiting courses and programs, collaboration is less common. Still, there are large opportunities to exploit the Long Tail of Education. In Anderson’s long tail, the Internet combines two factors. The distribution and marketing costs of digital materials is approaching zero, so it’s only production costs which determine the price; furthermore is it possible to reach out to more people than locally interested. In the music business this means that a Celtic classical ensemble can distribute its music towards a global public covering costs, whereas in the traditional music industry this was only possible for hits. In education, this means that it should be possible for small audience courses to survive, provided that the teachers work together and share resources.

The success of Open Innovation depends on the right attitude. It requires a realization that the organization has to absorb external knowledge and has the competence to do so. It also requires an awareness of the strengths of the organization, as the external knowledge has to be complementary with the existing knowledge and competencies. External knowledge can destruct the existing business model and help to build a new one, but only when the competencies are available to transform the knowledge in an actual business model.

This means that opening up the supply side of the educational business model, we should ask ourselves questions like:

  1. What are our strengths and weaknesses, in the services we provide towards our students, our financiers and society?
  2. Which external knowledge can lessen our weaknesses and how do we acquire this knowledge? Are collaborations possible?
  3. How do we exploit and enlarge our strengths? Can the be of use in the collaborations to lessen the weaknesses?

For example, specific knowledge could be used to develop online courses which are taught to both our own students as students of other institutes for a fee. Even the expertise to develop online courses itself could be used to make excellent external knowledge available for our own students, by seeking combinations of our excellence in online teaching, combined with the knowledge of research institutes.

So opening up on the supply side may be a case of showing the possibilities of win-win situations by combining the strengths (or weaknesses) of the different institutions involved. Opening up on the demand side, from teacher/institution to student is perhaps both simpler and more difficult. As shown above, an Open Access-model requires a shift of costs from the users towards the producers. The simple solution is the removal of all fees for students and a full government funding of the HEI’s. This can be resisted on ideological grounds. For example, the British government finances students through loans, so they will choose the HEI’js best fitted for them, challenging HEI’js to improve their education in such a way that most students chose for them. If this is a good model to improve educational quality and the knowledge level in the economy can be discussed, however, it is one of the used models.

The second barrier to openness depicted above is the use of qualitative entry demands. Of course, there are formal restrictions on entry, but institutions are often more strict than legally required. For example, in the Netherlands, the entry demands for students with a vocational degree when entering a university are very high. That is not only because they lack research competencies, or the knowledge of specific academic subjects, but also because educational institutions in the Netherlands strive for the best students. The flexible part of their budgets depends on the success ratios of students and the amount of degrees awarded. By discouraging the lesser students, success ratios will be enhanced and for every student the “degree bonus” will be received.

Openness will increase experimentation, which will lead to a certain amount of failure. Not every (open) invention becomes a sustainable innovation and not every individual starting an academic program will become a successful student. Yet, without experimentation no successes too!

Remaining question of course is who is going to pick up the bill of the students’  “free lunch”?

Live BC – Before College / AD – After Degree according to 9GAG http://9gag.com/gag/aRPPPxM?ref=fbp

Literature:

Anderson , C., (2014) Makers: The New Industrial Revolution, Crown Business

Bates, T. (2014), A review of MOOCs and their assessment tools,  http://www.tonybates.ca/2014/11/08/a-review-of-moocs-and-their-assessment-tools/  , accessed November 2014

European Commission (2014), Report to the European Commission on New modes of learning and teaching in higher education, October 2014, ISBN 978-92-79-39789-9, doi:10.2766/81897,  http://ec.europa.eu/education/library/reports/modernisation_en.pdf , accessed November 2014

Mulder, F.,  B. Janssen (2013, in Dutch) Open (het) onderwijs, Surf Trendrapport, http://www.surf.nl/en/knowledge-and-innovation/knowledge-base/2013/trend-report-open-educational-resources-2013.html (accessed October 2014);
English version: https://www.surf.nl/en/knowledge-and-innovation/knowledge-base/2013/trend-report-open-educational-resources-2013.html

Wiley, D. (2014) The MOOC Misstep and the Open Education Infrastructure, September 18, retrieved September 30,  2014, http://opencontent.org/blog/archives/3557

Wiley, D.,  (2014), The Open Education Infrastructure, and Why We Must Build It, July 15, 2014, http://opencontent.org/blog/archives/3410 , accessed December 18, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Education, let’s blow it to bits or put it back?

At the end of the last century some business theorists saw the start of a new development. The combination of technological change and an increasing competition between firms would result in a concentration on the core competencies of firms. This has two results: every firm concentrates on the tings they do best. Survivors of the competition will produce the best for the lowest costs. If every firm does so, and the B2B system is organized well, customers get the best quality for the lowest prices.

Of course, recent years showed a mixed pattern. Concentration in the banking sector, combining different financial products and services within one organization, ignoring the specific competencies necessary (including control and organization) is one of the causes  of the financial crisis. Yet, as result of this crisis, we see an increase in start-ups, employee-buy-outs and the emergence of other forms of small enterprises.

It would be interesting to see what the industry triggers are which rule concentration versus fragmentation, but also success versus failure in the different industries.

Technological change and didactic experiments have broadened the variation of digital education with the introduction of Open Educational Resources and Moocs.

In line with commercial business we have seen two trends emerging.

So let’s blow it to bits ………………………

One trend is shared by economists as Christensen and educational managers as Fred Mulder (UNESCO-chair OER). Both envisage a division within the academical sector. Christensen sees a division between research and education as a disruptive factor in the educational sector. E-learning provides a vehicle for the emergency of low costs mass education provided by organizations which concentrate on the educational process, without the burden of academic research.

Mulder goes one step further, in dividing the educational process in different stages and services. He concentrates on the division between content, which should be offered as open educational resources, and services as tutoring and grading, which should form the base of organizational income.

** Added 13-02-14: As pointed out by Ben Janssen as a comment to this post, he and Fred Mulder stop here with their analyses (also see their chapter Opening up education in Trend Report: Open Educational Resources 2013). The next text is my augmentation of their arguments, not their reasoning.**

However, if different products and services within the educational sector can be offered using different business models, there is no reason why they should take place within the same organization. If all organizations concentrate on the activities which they do best (making materials (Moocs or otherwise), tutoring, grading), the combination, the fragmented model, should produce the best and most effective and efficient education possible.

Both the individual student as society as a whole will gain as education becomes more affordable, public subsidies can decrease and quality increases. Christensen, therefore, concludes his paper with a set of advises for the public sector to realize the predicted benefits.

Of course there can be several drawbacks: in the age-group of 12 – 24 education is also about socialization, which is absent in the fragmented model. Also, there can be a discussion if academic education is possible without fundamental research; although the best researchers are not necessary the best teachers. Lastly, the advantages of the fragmented model ignore so-called transaction costs. Students have to select the best teaching organization and grading institute, but also the best combination of those two. Teaching organizations have to search for information on the grading requirements and the best (open) educational resources. The government has to inspect and accredit several institutes. In contrast to Open educational resources and Moocs, the workings of the open market are not free.

Or put it back …………………………………….

Another aspect of the fragmentation into core-competence organizations is the need to cooperate. This cooperation can result either of a spontaneous organization, as we know of complex dynamics, or it can be the result of an intermediary organization. For example, Laura Czerniewicz sees as one of the reasons to be engaged with Moocs is the fact that it  “gives us an entry to talking about online learning …. with people with whom we have not had those conversations before” and  there is room to “experiment”  with new online materials.

From: http://www.workingpoint.com/blog/free-tools-for-entrepreneurs-collaboration/3591

Another interesting point Laura makes is that there is room for niche subjects. As Anderson has pointed out in his theory of the Long Tail, is that small percentages of the total demand can generate large numbers when the materials are available electronically and world wide. Some courses cannot be organized because of the lack of local students. If different organizations work together, they can combine the local interest into a sustainable (inter)national group of students. The same can be done in the case of to few qualified teachers on a special subject: by using the new technologies it should be possible to teach in different locations without extensive travel.

Again using the conclusions of research in the field of business co-operations, an interesting phenomena is that firms who compete heavily on the consumer side, will cooperate at the backdoor. For example, beer companies do their best to convince you that their beer is the best fitting with your life style, is the cheapest or the best quality. However, in most Western European countries all beer is sold in the same bottles and crates as the distribution and retribution of the bottles is organized together.

Question for educational organization is: what do you want to be? What is the identity you try to communicate towards your students? Given this strategic identity, you can determine your core competencies and resources. You can also determine all the non-core activities and resources.

These are the things which could be outsourced or developed in a common program. Courses like mathematics, statistics or English are often just secondary to the major program, international business, European law or psychology. Resources which could be freed by cooperation with other organizations could be used to enhance the strategic profile.

To me, working together to improve the quality and efficiency of education on a international scale seems a more interesting perspective than decreasing our organizations into atomic cores which orbit the potential students without any sense of curricula or programs; being totally dependent on the authority of some external agent who sets the requirements for a degree. Yet, if education is left to the open market either because of the ruling ideology or because of the lack of public funding, there is no guarantee that cooperation will overcome competition.

Moocs, education from service to product and back.

At this moment, all kinds of enterprises experiment with the change of “Product Dominant Logic” towards Service Dominant Logic”.  Value creation is seen in the usage of a product, which implies that the interaction between supplier and consumer becomes more important. We don’t sell simple products anymore, but the product is part of a consumer-experience and the firm accommodates this experience. Products become services and customers co-creators, interaction becoming a major competitive force.

In education, however, we see an opposite movement. Distance learning, whether open or not, involves the translation of the didactical interaction, the presentation of the content and the experiences of the teacher into an electronic product, which could be uses independent of the individuals who made the online course. Again, because of the required quality and completeness of the course materials, a good online distance course will be much more expensive to develop than a face-to-face course. The quality and completeness are requirements which follow from the fact that the student should be allowed to study most of this material independently from tutors or peers.

By packaging the teacher into an electronic self-sufficient educational product, education moves from a service orientated sector towards a product orientated sector. In a sense it is showing a shift seen before in the performing arts. Baumol showed that labor productivity did not rise for a long time in performing arts; a performance of King Lear did require a standard amount of actors and the amount of spectators was constrained by the physical possibilities (space and time); leaving the ration spectators/actors roughly constant. However, through movies, television and –later- internet made it possible that the same performance was seen by millions of people, over and over again. So this altered the ratio spectators/actors largely, reducing the costs per spectator to almost nil.

The same applies for ODL: whereas production costs are above the development of face-to-face education, once the product is available, the delivery costs depend largely on the amount of students interested in the course. So if the course becomes Massive in usage, the delivery costs will go towards zero, justifying a free and open supply of online courses. In this sense, ODL is the answer to stagnating marginal labor costs in education and the logical  way to increase total factor productivity through capital intensive innovations.

The declining marginal costs do not solve the problem of covering the initial cost of development. At this moment there are three models developed to cover these costs:

  • Institutions bear the costs themselves for different reasons: for example marketing motives, the universities as MIT and the OU-UK who were frontrunners in OER reported on the rise in new students; others invest in potential future earnings by selling the program to third parties.
  • Institutions and the participating individuals use materials which are developed in a different context(regular programs) for which is paid by students and the government thereby reducing   the investment in ODL or Mooc.
  • Several governments and private foundations funded initiatives in the OER-movement; for example the Hewitt foundation, the Gates foundation and at present the Obama administration.

Of course, institutions do combine the three sources of funding to reach an optimal solution. The shift from education as interaction towards education as a product does not only provide the possibilities for a commercialization of education, this shift is expected to generate new sources of income, as described by different authors [ 1, 2].

In line with the Bottom of the pyramid –approach of Prahalad and the Blue-Red Ocean approach Kim and Mauborgne Moocs are the ultimate version of this development: strip your product of every unnecessary feature, leaving the bare supply which meets the demands of the customer. The decline in costs (and price) will make the product widely available, reaching customer segments comparable products will not.

This commoditization of products results in a downward spiral, were competition brings down prices and quality in a shark infested ocean, coloring the water red as only “the strongest survive”. Yet, several thinkers have suggested a way out of this situation. By moving from the commodity towards an experience, seeing a service instead of a product, firms can add unique features to their product offerings.

It is interesting to notice that what took the private sectors decennia to develop, is adapted by the educational sector within two years. Fred Mulder, the Unesco-chair on open educational resources,  proposed a system in which the content was separated from other educational features as tutoring, assessment and  certificates; describing a kind of Mooc before it really existed, but also foreseeing that independent sustainability requires additional sources of income. Thomas Friedman implicitly describes the flipped class room:

Therefore, we have to get beyond the current system of information and delivery — the professorial “sage on the stage” and students taking notes, followed by a superficial assessment, to one in which students are asked and empowered to master more basic material online at their own pace, and the classroom becomes a place where the application of that knowledge can be honed through lab experiments and discussions with the professor. There seemed to be a strong consensus that this “blended model” combining online lectures with a teacher-led classroom experience was the ideal.

In these approaches Moocs become a kind of electronic text book, used by others in their education. It will become a matter of time for the suppliers of the Moocs to ask a contribution of either the students or the institutions which make use of their materials. Yet, if this is the only contribution of Moocs to education, this is hardly to be called disruptive.

In several publications, we can see that Coursera, edX and Udacity are thinking about alternative earning models. These models all involve some kind of service to accompany the electronic lessons within the Mooc.  So in this sense, Moocs are no disruptive innovation, nor a treat to traditional education. However, Moocs can be a change agent in the sense that they facilitate educational innovations as flipping the classroom, integrating learning and working or stimulating quality (why sit through a boring class when you can take the content from a first degree university or teacher).

Also do Moocs open up education for people who otherwise would not be in a position to attend classes. This will, however, depend on two factors:

  1. The attitude of employers to free online courses; will they have a civil effect or will employers still hold onto official degrees?
  2. Openness in Moocs should be redefined not only in terms of barriers of entry, but also in the availability of the course over the year.

Within two years, Moocs become full circle. From a publicly founded service related activity (education) towards to a free product orientated electronic course, a commodity; towards a privately funded experience by adding exclusive services to the free commodity.

Education as a service: Moocs, ODL and production of knowledge.

Education As Service by Jiddu KrishnamurtiAs I have argued elsewhere, education resembles a service more than a product. The characteristics of a service are that production and consumption are simultaneously. Yet, education is special, in the sense that sharing is non rival; it has this characteristic in common with information and knowledge. When you teach something to someone, the knowledge is doubled in the sense that you both have the knowledge, whereas in the case of a rival service or product the seller transfers the use of the sold good over to the buyer. And sometimes the process of education increases the knowledge of the teacher throughout the process.

 The linkage between educational production and educational consumption is broken by the usage of distance learning. Instead of standing before a class delivering a lecture, the teacher designs a course, taking into account the perceived problems of students. In Open Education, Moocs or otherwise, students will be more diverse than in traditional education. To quote Andrew Ng

Throughout the entire MOOC creation process, educators must constantly be student-focused, figuring out what is the most useful content for their students to experience next. With no admissions office, on-line students are vastly more diverse than the students in a typical college classroom. They vary in educational background, learning ability, and culture. Students are also at different points in their life, and range from teenagers to working professionals to retirees, and may have different learning goals. Educators have to make classes accessible without underestimating student ability.

This could be interpreted as the hypothesis that good distance education requires better teachers than face-to-face education because of both the distance (making their didactical skills explicitly available) and the heterogeneity of students.

 A misunderstanding with regard to ODL is that on-line education is less expensive than face to face education. Experience shows that the costs of developing high quality distance materials is more expensive than developing a classroom lecture. However, the deliverance costs of distance education are less than those of the classroom lecture. Having made some calculations for a program we would develop in collaboration with traditional f2f-educational partners, we estimated that the break even point between the two methods was around the 60-100 students; below this amount of students, the higher development costs of ODL were not compensated by lower deliverance costs in comparison with the costs of the face to face situation. Of course each course can have a different break even point, but as a rule-of-the-thumb 100 students is a save number.

Part of these higher development costs is caused by breaking the direct linkage between teacher and student. In our experience at the Dutch Open University, the classroom teacher can partly be replace by high quality materials, partly by offering distance tutoring (email, webinars) and partly by organizing meetings between experts and students. In this sense I do not agree with the caricature Bob Samuels sketches in Inside Higher Ed, describing ODL:

The web also creates the illusion that all information is available and accessible to anyone at any time. This common view represses the real disparities of access in our world and also undermines the need for educational experts. After all, if you can get all knowledge from Wikipedia or a Google search, why do you need teachers or even colleges? In response to this attitude, we should recenter higher education away from the learning of isolated facts and theories and concentrate on teaching students how to do things with information. In other words, students need to be taught by expert educators about how to access, analyse, criticize, synthesize, and communicate knowledge from multiple perspectives and disciplines.

A Wikiversity Logo for Open Educational Resour...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As we all know, there is a difference between data, information, knowledge and competences. The facts and figures resulting from web-research have to be put into a context to be understood. However, there is a world of difference between the facts and figures of the CIA Worldfactbook and ODL. And even within ODL we can make a distinction between simple components offered as Open Educational Resources (OER), full OER-courses as by Saylor.org, taped lectures and assignments (Moocs) and the distance courses as developed and offered by the Open Universities and similar institutions.

Each of these resources or courses, free or paid for, is designed within a certain didactical context, whether you agree with the chosen method or not. The free availability of information and data on the Internet should not be perceived as a treat to teaching, but as an advantage, at most a challenge when there are conflicting opinions on subjects.

I think that more free available information demands more (educational) experts to provide contexts and meaning to this avalanche of data. However, it still remains to be decided in which context the traditional teacher of Samuels is better than the on-line teachings in ODL. This does not only (and perhaps not even mostly) depend on the costs of producing education, but on the nature of the competences to be learned, but also on the economical and social situation of the learner. As Amanda Ripley showed us, ODL-courses can play a major role in the development of poor learners in developing countries/regions, or the underprivileged in richer countries.

However, as we see in the Netherlands, it are not only underprivileged or remote learners who profit from ODL. There are individuals studying degree programs to further themselves; there are also individuals and groups studying a single object or course because of a gap in their former education.

And agreed, in some situations, the “canned” teacher or peer support will not be enough. Other kinds of tutoring should and can be offered without relying on f2f support alone.

So from an international and even a national perspective on economic and social growth, distance education can be a good investment. Yet, good distance learning will not come cheap, unless there are very large groups of students interested in following the same subject at the same institution; putting the Massive in Moocs. Question is why educational institutions should participate in these programs.

Well, Kevin Kiley, in Mainstreaming MOOCs, interviews Mark Becker, Georgia State’s president. Kiley states that:

“He sees open, on-line courses as benefiting the university in three ways: by providing content — and therefore potential courses — that the university doesn’t offer, such as languages or highly specialized topics; by meeting demand that exceeds what the university has resources for, such as for some introductory classes; or by supplementing what faculty members do in the classroom. The technology could also allow for more flexible scheduling. Georgia State serves a high number of low-income students who often have to work, as well as nontraditional students who might have other demands on their times”.

So, ODL’s including but not exclusively Moocs, can be used to involve non-traditional groups in education (low-income, working). It can make education more efficient by providing education at lower costs and similar or higher quality and -assuming that more institutions participate- broaden the choices for students by collaborating in ODL, accepting each other courses and credits. However, openness may be taken equivalent to free, but it will still demand a lot of effort (and costs) to develop good quality ODL.

Another interesting feature is that open distance education either on paper or through the Internet is available for more than a quarter of a century. The correspondence education goes back to the 1800’s, the open universities were developed in the second part of the last century.

Open educational resources as a concept emerged in the 1990’s, the first projects were about the same time. Yet, the discussion on electronic and open learning as a disruptive mechanism to education is only started with the emergency of the first Moocs and their hosting companies as Edx an Coursera. From a business economics perspective, it is interesting to know if this has to do with the reputation of the providers, the acceptance of social media and openness or has their popularity to do with their commercial potential which is perceived but not yet realized?

On another note, I don’t think that Moocs are a true disruptive innovation to education as some argue; but that’s for another blog.

The Evolution of Distance Learning to the Digital Age