Open learning: is bigger better?

8288335386_217d82f9c9_zIllustration Created by Jessica Duensing for

Patrik’s reflections on Topic 2: Open learning – Sharing and Openness


Topic 2: Open Learning Sharing and Openness is coming to an end and it is time for some reflections. The concept of open learning is appealing and something that feels right, but when you dig deeper into the subject you soon become aware that sharing and openness is something that is rather complex with both pros and cons.

The scenario for topic 2 of the ONL191 course was based on an educator that would like to offer a course openly, i.e. wishing to go open. The discussions in PBL group 4 resulted in this Coggle mindmap illustrating the complexities of going open.

Coggle Topic 2

There are several aspects to consider but in this reflection I focus on only two, the definition of Open Learning and some pros and cons related to OL compared to traditional forms of learning, something that in this context may be referred to as Closed Learning.

The discussions with the group members concluded that OL is learning for all and information available to all, as well as life long learning. The main differens compared to ‘closed learning’ seems to be that information materials are made freely available to anyone, often on-line, without requiring and qualifications. Dr. David Wiley describes this very well in his Tedx Talk  where he says that modern digital technology (New media/tech) has given us an unprecedented ability to share information and knowledge without giving anything away, e.g. an online book or lecture can be read and attended by millions of people at the same time.

On the positive side

From the perspective of a university the number of potential students increase manyfold compared to a traditional campus course.

This form of education is free and the definition of success and failure is in the hands of the student. Regardless of a student taking the entire course or just some parts of it, the approach contributes to lifelong learning and a general awareness raising of the public (attending the courses), even if no degree of diploma is awarded.

This suggests that bigger is better, i.e. we reach more potential students and contribute to increased awareness and lifelong learning, which is building on the concluding remark by Dr David Wiley in his Tedx Talk who said: the more open we are the better education will be.

On the negative side

Free means no income, so how will we sustain the development and upkeep of open freely available resources? One model is to make information free but charge for assessment and diplomas (the MOOC approach). The success of MOOCs is now being questioned by some authors. For instance A. Kovacevic elaborated on the Post-MOOC era, stating that the lack of income has forced several MOOC platforms to restructure and aim towards enterprise customers instead. A major reason for this seems to be the low completion rate, as low as 5,5% according to Kovacevic.

Another aspect that can complicate matters when going open is the protection of intellectual property, e.g. course material. How do I protect the material I develop and make openly available to anyone? This requires some thinking and luckily the Creative Commons licensing is there, which is well described by Creative Commons Aotearoa New Zealand. This is a great approach, but after looking into this I still wonder how this will protect my stuff from being used in a way that I don’t want to, and how it will be controlled…

In conclusion

  • There are issues related to the business model of open learning as access to information is for free. In the MOOC approach you only pay for assessments and grading. However, with extremely few participants completing MOOCs there is little income and therefore the sustainability of open learning is often poor.
  • Risks related to protection of intellectual property rights have to be taken into consideration.
  • Even so, the philosophy of open learning is great.  It makes information freely available to the public, and by doing so contributes to life long learning and increased awareness.
  • Sharing  a course openly on a digital platform is likely to increase the number of potential students that can learn from the course compared to the same course only being offered at campus –> Bigger is better (some times).

This became a long reflection, I hope you made it to the end and that it was worth the effort!

9 thoughts on “Open learning: is bigger better?

  1. Hi Patrik! Thank you for your reflections and some interesting points you raised! Regarding the protection of your “stuff” from being used in a way that you don’t want to, and how it will be controlled, I wonder how you do this regarding your research? Are you in control how someone uses your research and do you control it?
    Regarding the sustainable business model for MOOCs, I agree that it is problematic and that MOOCs a la EdX and Coursera will not be for every University. But then there are open online courses such as ONL, ExtendmOOC or Idea management Courses which you can take for credit or as “official” course, but which is at the same time also opened up for the broader public – in a way, combining research, teaching and public outreach in a single activity. Maybe this can be a way forward?
    Best of luck with topic 3 and greetings from Karlstad!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Jörg,
      A very good point you raised regarding scientific publications and how these are used by others. The difference is that we are all aware of the requirement to cite the author when referring to written sources in academic publications. However, the licensing of other materials is something that is rather alien to many of us. Me and many of my colleagues do a quick Google search for an image that illustrate something we would like to highlight in a lecture we are preparing, without thinking too much about what we can and can’t use, without intruding on someone’s IP rights. Many think that, if I can download it from the internet then I can use it as I wish.

      I like your suggestion that a graded official version of a course is given in the normal system, where successful students are awarded credits, and giving the same course to the general public, without awarding the credit. This is an excellent approach, ensuring maximum openness and bringing in the required funding to sustain and develop the course, very good!


  2. Hej Patrik,
    very good summary of the most important aspects of last weeks’ topic. I agree that the open learning initiatives are very important to meet the demand of life-long learning. I just have sometimes the feeling that these initiatives have to be better implemented in institutional structures so that teaching resources are not misused and also that quality of education (if completion rate can be seen as a quality indicator) is assured.
    Regarding creative commons, I have a question about your title pic. As I understand it, the license on the pic indicates that the creator has to be attributed, which I would even recommend if this is your own picture (to facilitate attribution for those, who want to share it), or how do you understand that?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Sebastian,
      I appreciate your question regarding my use of the illustration at the beginning of this blog post. It illustrates my ignorance to the use of others resources. I thought it was good enough that the illustration had the icons for the type of CC license that it was published under, but as you rightfully pointed out, that is not enough. I have now added an acknowledgement to the creator of the illustration, so now I think it is all correct…?


      1. Lotta Fröjdfeldt

        Yes, you are correct. The BY and SA states that you may use the image, but you have to ackredit the creator (BY), and you also have to share it in the same way yourself (SA=Share Alike).


  3. Sounds interesting: “combining research, teaching and public outreach in a single activity”! Perhaps some parts of a course may be open, for example on a blog. And if it is possible to comment and exchange views on the blog, learning is facilitated.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Kent,
      The use of a Blog as part of a course is a very interesting suggestion. Maybe it would be a good platform for students and teachers on a course to conduct an on-line, open discussion about an interesting topic, e.g. how we can address issues related to climate change or something like that?
      Interesting. Something I will look into and see if we can test in on of our on-line distance courses.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Tore Nilsson

    Very interesting reflections on several important issues. One thing that comes to my mind is why we (as universities or educational/research institutions) offer courses, and why people take courses. Some reasons are obvious (degree work, continuous developments in the research fields and recruiting new researchers) but how do we address the needs of a wider outreach without risking too much financial strain? Another thought that springs to mind is collaborative education and research, for instance in my own field – language education – where collaboration between schools for in-service training and universities for research purposes is a sadly underdeveloped area. By developing ideas on open learning (from both sides) we could make great progress.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Lotta Fröjdfeldt

    Thank you for openly sharing your insights in this subject. 😉 You have discussed about “open lerning” and “closed learning”. That was an interesting thought! But can learning really be closed? I’ll try this thought. It is good to compare the two I think. Maybe it makes the concept of “open” clearer? You define open education as free and online, and you see benefits of making education open. Maybe also improving the education? I would agree. If we all really could be a part of a big online community of teachers, wouldn’t be all be benefitted? You also think about the drawbacks of going open with your courses: How do we get paid? Many students don’t take the whole course; Is this really a problem? I thousands are taking it, and about 30 making it? And you also reason about how I can control my material. You discuss the CC licensing as a possibility. But you are not sure. How can we be surer do you think?
    – And yes, it was worth the effort! Thank you! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

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