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.


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


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!