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.

Literature

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

What is Openness in Open Education??

In general, there seems to be a tendency towards openness in society.

Ilustation from Magelia WebStore, https://www.magelia.org

In the sector of Information Technology, we see the Open Software movement, a movement in which people share knowledge, resources and products for free.

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).

In the publishing sector, we see a discussion on Open Access; free access to scientific (subsidized) publication.

In industrial sectors, we see a discussion on Open Innovation (Chesbrough, 2006, de Wit and Meyer, 2014); the idea that most knowledge will be developed outside the firm. New knowledge, necessary for innovations, has to be bought, sold or shared. (Information) 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 (also 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’.

Open Universities over the world (generally) accept all kinds of students, independent of the level of former education. Yet, education in this case is not free; students have to pay fees, which can become a barrier despite the formal openness. So did a member of the Open University of the UK argue that it could be seen as a social obligation to set entry tests. Given that students have to pay certain fees, it would be unfair to let them make debts for a couple of years, after which the university concludes that they are not capable of finishing their study.Since the nineties of the last century, several organizations worked on the development and distribution of free educational objects. These objects were termed Open Educational Resources in 2001 by the Unesco (1st Global OER Forum in 2002). This openness is defined over five dimensions (the 5R activities, as defined by the Unesco (2012):

  • Retain – the right to make, own, and control copies of the work (e.g., download, duplicate, store, and manage)
  • Reuse – the right to use the work in a wide range of ways (e.g., in a class, in a study group, on a web site, in a video)
  • Revise – the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the work itself (e.g., translate it into another language)
  • Remix – the right to combine the original or revised work with other open works to create something new (e.g., incorporate the work into a mash up)
  • Redistribute – the right to share copies of the original work, your revisions, or your remixes with others (e.g., give a copy of the work to someone else)

© Chad Anderson | Dreamstime.com

Another general model of openness is the 5-components model for open education (5COE) of Mulder and Janssen [2013, figure 2]. This model unbundles the different activities 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. 5. 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 .

The unbundling of Janssen and Mulder (2013) had the aim to develop a potential earning model for HEI’s, combining paid activities with the supply of free resources. This was necessary because there was a feeling that the isolated development of open educational resources, as done by MIT (subsidized by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation), or Saylor.org (offering whole courses, subsidized by Michael Saylor ( MicroStrategy Inc.)) were too much dependent on the goodwill of a person or foundation.

Others are building on Andersons 2009) Freemium model ). For example, the Free Software Academy, which offers free courses and paid tutoring within accredited programs. The Moocs developed in recent years often use a similar business model.

With respect to the openness of this model two remarks have to be made:

  1. there is a major division between several providers of resources, whether objects or full courses. All are open in the sense that using them to learn or teach is free (costless and no entry barriers), Yet, some do apply all the Unesco R’ s, some only part (both participating under different Creative Commons Copyrights), some are not reusable or adjustable at all. Especially Moocs are static in the sense that they cannot be changed or adjusted to new usage, sometimes new usage is actively discouraged. Furthermore, Most Moocs are only open for a certain period (often the period the same course is given in the original university).
  2. as shown by economic theory, obtaining money for products or services requires the possibility to exclude others from using the service or product. Unbundling to design a business model for open education means to draw a line between activities and products which are open (exchanged for free, but not necessarily costless) and activities which are closed (exclusively available for paying participants). Janssen and Mulder (2013) did use their model to show the possibilities of traditional and open universities to participate in the OER movement. Yet, it can also be used to explain the initial enthusiasm of xxx-investors to participate in the American Mooc-platforms. The expectation was that by offering additional activities, the platforms would generate profits. To guarantee the required exclusivity, participating HEI’s had to sign contracts which restricted their freedom in usage of the material placed with the platform. Data, but also third party contracting (in-company trainings ect.) became the prerogative of the platform.

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.

Wiley (2014) moves openness even one level higher. He sees open education as  an open education infrastructure. With this he means a “set of interconnected structural elements that provide the framework supporting education”.

He concentrates in this on competence-based education. Developing competence profiles and the accompanying programs, techniques and need is costly and complex. 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. Such a process should improve quality and efficiency of CBE-programs and the educational infrastructure. The same applies to assessments. In a CBE-world, knowing the exams will not increase a student’s chances (a reason for secrecy in a the more traditional educational world) as the test are competence based, and will judge performance rather than reproduction. Again, opening up your assessments will improve them by increasing usage, localization and experimentation. Wiley (2014) adds open certification to his open educational structure as a logical step following the definition of competence oriented learning objectives, teaching and learning using open educational resources; being tested through open assessments and using open certificates to show for the acquired competences. Openness of this kind will increase the quality and efficiency of the national educational system.

There are two important distinctions between these approaches. First of all, we can make a distinction between free activities and free products. As Michael Saylor is quoted at the Saylor.org website: Education should be free. Yet, at the website, a lot of courses can be found, however if we define education as the combination of materials, teaching, assessments and feedback, it represents only part of the educational activities.

The same seems to apply to the open education of Wiley (2014). He writes about the exchange of CBE-profiles, open exchange of assessments and alike. However what will be done with these products is not discussed.

The second distinction touches this point. Mulder and Janssen (2013) distinguish between the supply and the demand side. The supply side of the educational system are the teachers and HEI’s offering education to students; competent employees to employers and engaged civilians to society; forming the demand side of the system.

Openness on the supply side seems to concentrate on educational resources, whether teaching materials, assignments or CBE-profiles. The aim of the resources is to support and improve teaching by making materials available, but also stimulating quality through discussion and improvement of existing materials.

Openness on the demand side is about the freedom to participate in education. This is about the removal of entrée barriers. These barriers can be formal (admission restrictions), financial (high fees, large additional costs) or otherwise. The OECD (2014) rapports on tuition fees . These range from non (eg. Austria, Greece, Finland) to € 1950 in the Netherlands. Outside of Europa, the average fees are higher: Canada (approx. 4,000 USD), UK and the USA (approx. 5,000 USD) .

Other barriers, however, may be even more important especially in later-in-life education, as the combination between education and work.

Open education is different from free education; yet in my opinion, openness should be about removing barriers for learners, not only on providing resources for teachers.

Literature

Anderson , C., (2009) Free: The Future of a Radical Price, Hyperion

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

Chesbrough, H. (2006) Open Business Models, Harvard

Christensen, C. M., M. B. Horn, L.Caldera, & L. Soares, (2011) Disrupting College: How Disruptive Innovation Can Deliver Quality and Affordability to Postsecondary Education http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/labor/report/2011/02/08/9034/disrupting-college  (accessed April 4 2013)

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)

OECD (2014) Education at a Glance, http://www.keepeek.com/Digital-Asset-Management/oecd/education/education-at-a-glance-2014_eag-2014-en#page1 accessed December 2014.

Unesco (2012), Declaration of  Paris, http://www.unesco.org/new/fileadmin/MULTIMEDIA/HQ/CI/WPFD2009/English_Declaration.html, retrieved September 30, 2014

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

Wiley, D., (2014), The MOOC Misstep and the Open Education Infrastructure,  July 15, 2014, http://opencontent.org/blog/archives/3557 , accessed December 18, 2014

Wit, de B., R. Meyer (2014), an international perspective, 5th edition, Cengage Learning

 

The Crowd and Open Education: resilience and sustainability

Updated July 21 2014

 Update:

A relevant quotation I found in my notes:

Paul Stacey

Crowd learning

Crowd learning describes the process of learning from the expertise and opinions of others, shared through online social spaces, websites, and activities. Such learning is often informal and spontaneous, and may not be recognised by the participants as a learning activity. In this model virtually anybody can be a teacher or source of knowledge, learning occurs flexibly and sporadically, can be driven by chance or specific goals, and always has direct contextual relevance to the learner. It places responsibility on individual learners to find a path through sources of knowledge and to manage the objectives of their learning. Crowd learning encourages people to be active in setting personal objectives, seeking resources, and recording achievements. It can also develop the skills needed for lifelong learning, such as self-motivation and reflection on performance. The challenge is to provide learners with ways to manage their learning and offer valuable contributions to others.

 

Deloitte University Press published an infographic on crowdsourcing. Crowdsourcing is defined as “an approach to harnessing the power of individuals to work to solve problems in a decentralized way”.

They distinguish five different kinds of crowd sourcing, using the crowd’s creativity and knowledge (competition, collaboration and voting), its funds (funding) or its labour power (labor). According to the writers, Rob Hamill, Emily Malina and Elizabeth Pal, each form of crowd sourcing is applicable in certain situations and will be contra-productive in other situations.

The table below gives an overview of the different ways of crowd sourcing, the video has some funny examples, starting with 1714 as start of one of the first crowd sourcing projects.

 

Form Pro Contra
Crowd CompetitionCrowd competition refers to the hosting of contests in which participants work individually or in groups to come up with a solution to a given problem. The outputs may include many viable ideas or solutions.
  • creating actional solutions
  • developing prototypes
  • Generating outside ideas
  • predetermined desired outcomes
  • lack of resources to review submissions
  • building community
Crowd Collaboration
Crowd collaboration requests the input of decentralized individuals to develop, aggregate, and share knowledge and information across a pool of contributors, generally through a loosely controlled web-based platform. The typical outputs of a crowd collaboration effort are collective concepts with shared buy-in.
  • building and sharing knowledge
  • responding to emergencies
  • shared policies
  • User anonymity
  • Small and inactive crowds
  • Promoting individuality
Crowd Voting
Crowd voting is the process of turning to the crowd to reach a decision. This practice typically involves inviting participants to help make a decision based on pre-defined options.
  • Decision making
  • Rating and ranking
  • Quality assurance
  • Strategic decision making
  • Political sensitive issues
Crowd FundingCrowd funding is the process of funding projects through small contributions from a large group of participants. Crowdfunding activities are typically hosted through web-based platforms.
  • Fundraising
  • Disaster relief
  • Start-ups
  • High transparency

 

  • Ongoing operations
  • Loosely structured initiatives
  • High short term expectations on returns
Crowd Labor
Crowd labor refers to the engagement of a distributed labor pool to accelerate the completion of large-scale projects by splitting up a task into components that require little creativity or coordination but that cannot be automated.
  • Creating actionable solutions
  • Data entry and validation
  • Translation (eg language)
  • Digital archiving
  • Unstructured tasks
  • Subjective tasks
  • High-level thinking

As I argued before, the sustainability (or resilience to use a new buzz word) of business models for Open Education will depend on the inclination of people and institutions to cooperate either on the input/production side as on the user/learner/consumer side of the business model. As crowd sourcing is a form of this kind of collaboration, it could generate knowledge on the the potential success factors by reversing this table and apply the pro’s and contra’s to different systems of Open Education.

Crow Labor is one of the most used forms of Crowd Sourcing in the development of Open Educational Resources. Organisations as the Saylor.org, Merlot.org rely heavily on materials of others. However, this kind of free labour has also some aspects of Crowd Collaboration because it is not necessarily about projects which “require little creativity or coordination”.

Crowd Competition is seen in situations in which organisations as the EU, Hewlett foundation or the American government ask for proposals which will be subsidized. On an individual level, these calls will be passed on towards teachers and other educational developers to come up with the creative solutions to win the funds.

It can also be used as an instrument to start-up a new data-base or website on educational resources and programs. By setting a suitable reward, the system can generate a certain minimal critical mass, above which it will be interesting for other partners to participate.

Crowd Voting is often used to give an indication of the quality of the resources or programs. For a ranking to be functioning, there have to be enough votes and the voting public has to be something of an “in-crowd” of experts.

The remaining form of Crowd Sourcing is the financial form, Crowd Funding. According to the authors, this instrument is unsuitable for ongoing operations and loosely structured initiatives. Yet, I have the impression that several non-commercial projects depend on one large fixed subsidizer and a fringe of minor short-term donors.

Concluding, the examples of Open Educational Resources and Open Education show that the forms of Crowd Sourcing as described by Hamill, Malina and Pal is not complete; there are other situations which can only partially described by this taxonomy. Especially the voluntary participation in high-knowledge projects does not fit either the Crowd Collaboration nor the Crowd Labor definitions.

Still, the research in Crowd Sourcing should generate a further understanding of these kinds of collaboration: the free contribution and exchange of educational materials between individuals and organisations. A better understanding of these phenomena will enhance the changes of success of the Open Education movement.

 

Educating the bottom of the pyramid or of the market: the difference between Prahalad and Christensen

On first sight, the approaches of Prahalad (bottom of the pyramid) and Christensen (disruptive innovation) seem very similar. New firms offer products with less functionality at lower prices, making the products affordable for more customers, especially those with lower incomes.

It is even so that firms who aim for the bottom of the pyramid will be disruptive in their market in the sense that their new offerings will replace the old products and so the old firms.

 However, at a more fundamental level both approaches differ substantially from each other. Prahalad tries to combine social responsibility, capitalism and social welfare in a sustainable way. By producing for the millions, a small profit rate can generate enough absolute profits for a sustainable development of the firm.

Christensen describes a situation in which small firms are able to offer a product of a lesser quality for a lower price to both existing and new customers. By offering less functionalities and a lower technological quality they attack the lower end of the market, where the profit rates for the existing firms is lowest. Yet, when the last of the high-cost high-price firms has left this segment, competition will drive the price towards its zero-profit level. This will induce the low-cost firms to innovate their products, adding quality and functionalities, and attacking the new bottom of the market. This process will be continuing until the top of the market has become the new bottom.

[For non-economists: Profits is often used in several ways; here Prahalad uses the word profits for the income of the firms; at the zero-profit level of Christensen, firms have a 'normal' level of income; so not to worry, no people starve because of this kind of competition]

I see the same fundamental difference in the approach to Open Education. People and institutes involved in the production, distribution and research of Open Educational Resources do this because they see a linkage between social responsibility, welfare and offering education towards people whose access is financially or otherwise restricted.

Business models for OER are conducted in line with the approach of Prahalad. Given the need for free education for the bottom of the pyramid, how can this be organized in a sustainable way? This concentrates not only on the kind of earning models, but especially on efficient ways of production and organization.

 

Other initiatives, as Moocs and the online offerings of for-profit educational institutes, have explicit earning models. For example, most Mooc-platforms have contracts which contain regulations about the usage of the courses in commercial settings, about the usage of learning data or about future income selling student data to prospecting employers. For-profit institutions see students as customers, stripping all academic overheads, making the student an offering which is inferior in the eyes of the traditional educational sector, but sufficient in the eyes of the potential student.

This could induce a disruptive development, in which the Moocs and for-profit institutions move upmarket; each time segmenting the market more by offering the lowest quality at the lowest price, adding to this with an increasing price until they replace the traditional institutions.

 

Problem is that once offerings move from the not-for-profit towards the for-profit sector, the price mechanism will not automatically take negative externalities into account. Political agencies which set the goals for not-for profit institutions often take into account other goals. In the case of educational institutions, not only the direct effect on the carrier of the students, but also on social welfare and the relationship between research, education and economic and social growth.

One actual effect can be seen: for-profit institutions which concentrate solely on education can offer educational programs at fees which are below the fees of traditional institutions. One of the reasons for this is the fact that they have lower cost as they have not to pay for the investment in new knowledge (research). Often they work with part-time teachers, who gather their knowledge elsewhere. By acting in this way, for-profit institutions forego both direct research costs and indirect coordination costs.

Assuming education has major positive external effects on general welfare. Most functions associated with these effects will be removed as part of the reduction in quality which is part of the disruptive tendency as described by Christensen and others. In this sense, disruption of education is one of the worse things which could happen to a creative competitive society.

Torrents and Moocs: the paradox of sharing

Time was too short to write a blog last week. To the why I will return later in this blog.

Sometimes things take some time before you make certain combinations. A few weeks ago I saw a documentary over the process against the people of the Pirate Bay in Sweden: the Pirate Bay away from key board.

 

The last week I was working on a paper, with a colleague of mine, concerning the effects of Moocs on Higher Education: are they disruptive or not?  And suddenly, I am thinking about this paradox between Torrents and Moocs.

People invest in making things, physical or virtual objects. Growth theory tells us that property rights are very important for innovations. Given that

  • most inventions never will become more than a nice idea in the laboratory and
  •  that between the state of creativity and a commercially interesting innovation the organizations has to spend a lot of money,

it is clear that organizations have to earn a lot of money to pay back for all those investments.

So -according to the theory- this earn back period depends on the time  an organization can protect its product or service from becoming replaced by cheaper copy cats. Hence the importance of property rights.

This paradigm is adjusted in recent years, both in practice as in theory. Open innovation still builds on solid property rights but sees a lot of wasting resources because of the closed approach to research and innovation. In practice there are firms who decide against the long period of patenting their inventions, stating that the patenting process in itself increases the possibilities of competing copies and results in losing valuable marketing time (move fast before they catch up).

Yet, the entertainment sector still bases itself on the old growth paradigm. They point to the investments of artist and producers to develop books, music and movies; things that can be digitalized and copies. An interesting exception are paintings. There is a whole industry offering Van Gogh’s Sunflowers and nobody is treating to shut down my printer if I make a color print of a picture of the Rijkswacht of Rembrandt.

However, exchange of digital copies of other artistic products will result in a world where no movies are made, no books will be written and no original music will be composed.

There is something strange with respect to this attitude. When I buy a book or a cd, all rights are mine; I can resell them, give them away or donate them for a good cause. There are even organizations who buy books and leave them in trains and other public places. I can make copies for “home-use” and share those with friends. Sharing in this sense is seen as something good and socially desirable behavior. However, when I buy an electronic book, I can only resell it if I read it online at Amozone.com who put it in a vault. When I resell it, it is not the book I sell, but the combination of this vault. I have the feeling that when I buy something digitalized, I never become the owner but will always rent it in some way. Let alone that people should share on a larger scale, using P2P networks (Pirate Bay) or hosting sites (as Megaupload). The movie about the process against the Pirate Bay shows that the vision of the South Park creators is more than fiction.

So sharing with a small group of people is good, but sharing with a lot of people is bad!! At least that is the message as I read it in the behavior of society with respect to internet organizations who facilitate mega-sharing.

Yet, in the past year, I read nothing but good words about teachers, institutions and foundations who facilitate the free mass sharing of knowledge and education. Of course there are discussions on the motives and the pedagogical models, c- versus x-, definitions of free, gratis versus available and so on. Yet there is a consensus to the fact that free education perhaps not will change higher education, but at least will raise the quality with decreasing costs. The newest hype being Moocs because massive is good adn efficient. So in education Sharing is good, Big Sharing is better!

Why does society feels that big sharing in some ways is bad, whereas it is desirable in other situations? Could it be that developing (good) education does not require investments; perhaps the fact that Moocs build on existing courses and that the ‘putting online’ does require such small sums that these small sums disappear in the larger budgets of universities? Yet 55 % of the Mooc-teaching professors indicate that these activities significantly competes with other activities.

Another explanation can be that the suppliers of the Moocs are different from the owners of education; as I described elsewhere the motives of individuals to participate in OER can be different from those of the institutions involved. So a professor can offer a Mooc because he thinks that his materials are not worth anything elsewhere, or for reputational reasons; organizations often participate because of the additional subsidies, marketing reasons or as part of their corporate governance.

Partly this is recognizable, offering a successful Mooc is good for your professional reputation. Yet, most Moocs contain specially for the Mooc developed materials, no rerun of old presentations and recorded colleges. The participating institutions put a lot of effort in the presentation of the Moocs, not only because of marketing reasons. There are a lot of ideas of potential future business models including providing additional services, selling programs for in company trainings and selling the information about the Mooc-participants. So, the Mooc institutions resemble modern day pop groups who offer (part of) their songs for free at the internet because they decided that their earning potentials are in other areas as life performances or fan goods.

http://www.economist.com/node/21552574In the same sense, publications in the form of double blind peer reviewed articles, published in closed journals are seen as of a greater academic value than blogs, columns or contributions to free journals. Also, in this sense free is a disqualification, synonym to bad quality. Perhaps scientific publications have to undergo a disruptive shock, just like education.

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.

Are Moocs disruptive, interesting or just marketing?

Van der Bosch poses an interesting question as he states that Moocs are an interesting development, but as he says that Moocs are the wrong revolution.  Bonnie Stewart writes about the supposedly disruptive character of (x) MOOCS, pointing to the many publications using this term. She sees a trend in the power relations to shift, however preserving and consolidating the power relations of the traditional universities. xMOOCs are, in her view, just an opening of new markets based on the reputation and brand of the elite universities. Rolin Moe in Reviewing Christensen’s Disruptive Technologies (Harvard Business Review, 1995) in MOOC Terms gives an historical interpretation of Christensen’s original definition of disruptive innovation, using it to analyse xMoocs.

Thrift in de Chronicle is even more cynical, listing four main reasons why MOOCS are called a disruptive innovation and became a hype over the past months: 1. Moocs do appeal to economic elites, which see opportunities for profit in an economic environment where pretty well everyone is chasing limited opportunities for high returns. 2. because it taps into a vein of middle-class anger over tuition costs (a subject also mentioned by van der Bosch). 3. Moocs could reduce costs of higher education for governments, providing an attractive excuse to reduce spending. 4. because all that said, as higher-education systems continue to grow in scale, it makes sense to look at ways of teaching more people more efficiently, and MOOCs may well be a part of the answer.

Concluding that, no elite universities will be caught up in a more general industrialization of higher education

Meanwhile, edX announced the new members in February. In this announcement, they described their selves as “the not for profit online learning enterprise [..] building an open source educational platform and a network of the world’s top universities to improve education both online and on campus while conducting research on how students learn”.

Promising: “Courses offered by institutions on the edX platform provide the same rigor as on-campus classes but are designed to take advantage of the unique features and benefits of online learning environments, including game-like experiences, instant feedback and cutting-edge virtual laboratories”.

However, the Chronicle poses the question How can a non-profit organization that gives away courses bring in enough revenue to at least cover its costs?  Agarwal (president of edX) states that edX is non-profit, but self sustained. EdX expects income from several sources. Firstly, there is an agreement that “self-service” courses will be offered through edX without any further help, it pays a fixed amount of the income generated by the course to edX ($50.000 for a new course, $10.000 for recurring ones). Next, institutions can use edX as a consultant and design partner, paying for each course developed within this model. Furthermore, edX has a deal with a network of testing centres and has plans to license the courses to other universities, both potential sources of income.

Another interesting aspect is that Koller is quoted stressing that Cousera offers to share a larger part of the profits with the university that provides the course. It seems that competition between the MOOC-platforms has started?

napkin sketch by Clayton Christensen for Wired Opinion

So there are several positions taken with respect to the way we should look towards Moocs. Of course it is interesting to know the opinion of the person who labelled Disruptive Innovations. Christensen and Horn asked the question: Beyond the Buzz, Where Are MOOCs Really Going?

Their answer is simple: Yes.

For this answer, they have three reasons. Firstly, Moocs are serving non-consumers. Although Moocs are limited in the services they provide compared to traditional colleges, they offer free and accessible education to a broader audience, who can not afford the traditional offering. However, this is a characteristic of ODL in its broadest sense as can be read in the rapports of the UNESCO. China, Russia, Brazil and Turkey all offer some kind of Open Educational Resources with the intention of making education available in places where are no institutes for higher education and for people who are not able to participate in the traditional HEI’s. Secondly, as they state: disruptive innovations improve over time to march upmarket. This is also given as a reason why Moocs have become popular in recent months, using the augmented possibilities to increase quality. An observation which will not be shared by everyone commenting on Moocs. Lastly, Moocs redefine quality in the industry. As Christensen and Horn state: in the future, courses might be offered based on employer demand, not faculty research interests. MOOCs are already evolving in some ways away from traditional educational constraints: Udacity’s courses, for example, have shifted from a time-controlled to a more competency-based learning model that takes advantage of the online medium.

License Some rights reserved by Toban B.

Will Moocs be disruptive in the sense that they will change traditional education?

Their specific form, to which I will return in a later blog, makes it possible for a new segment of “customers” to participate in education. It becomes more easy to sell “education” as a product to firms, incorporating it in their corporate universities. Just as the introduction of the film, the movies, made the stage performance available for whole new audiences, winning in efficiency as one performance could be seen by millions but (perhaps) losing in other features as effectiveness  (the impact of the players on the spectators) or artistic aspects. Moocs facilitate the mass-consumption of education, but not the mass customization as predicted by Christensen and Horn. For that they are to inflexible. Furthermore, ODL and Moocs can facilitate other “revolutions” in education as flipping the classroom; transferring simple readings and task making to the e-domain, whereas the class room will be used for discussion and group work.

Predicting the future is not something I like to do, but my experiences with scenario techniques make me very doubtful if these kind of uses of Moocs will be applied soon. Drawing a line representing the use of Moocs as a change agent in traditional HEI’s versus a line of the supply of relevant Moocs by other HEI’s provides an optimistic quadrant in which Moocs will be offered and used to change the traditional educational systems against a realistic quadrant in which Moocs are offered by good willing individuals, used by individuals who have no other choice!