The relationship between formal education, open educational resources (OER) and open educational practices (OEP) has been variously researched. In the UK, Author2 and Author1 (2017) studied the impact of The Open University’s OpenLearn platform in bridging formal and informal learning through OER by functioning as a shop window and taster for formal provision, and by widening access to education. This paper builds on that research, and on research (e.g. Author1 and De los Arcos, 2016) into how openness might help remove unfreedoms (Sen, 1999) limiting people’s participation in the world.
The paper reports a case study evaluating the varieties and impact of openness in The Open University’s Masters in Online and Distance Education (MAODE) programme, and the implications for educational inclusion. A mixed methods study comprising institutional data, together with interview, survey and focus group feedback from tutors, students and other stakeholders, identified varieties of openness in the MAODE, including:
Openness within paid-for modules, e.g. openly licensed images, audio and video resources, and open access journal articles, which can reduce module production costs and enrich the learning experience. Their use also models OEP which MAODE students (typically educators) may then apply in their work to increase access to learning. The use of open resources also supports cascaded knowledge-sharing between students and their non-studying colleagues, especially in the developing world. For example, Commonwealth Distance Learning Scholarship students studying the MAODE have held local training sessions, sharing their newly acquired knowledge and skills, and related open resources, with colleagues, thereby increasing capacity-building.
Open content related to formal learning, for example badged open courses (BOCs) and MOOCs – fulfilling the multiple functions identified by Author2 and Author1 (2017) and widening access to postgraduate education for people unable to pay for it.
A culture of openness, whereby students study alongside open academics (e.g. tutors and module team members). Again, this can inform students’ professional practices, encouraging them to be more open, increasing educational inclusion.
Support for the development of communities of open practice spanning formal and informal learning – for example around Twitter hashtags and blog post comments. Such communities support formal learning while also extending the benefits of formal education to those unable to access it.
The study of openness in the MAODE has informed the development of a model for evaluating the forms, function and impact of openness within paid-for curricula, offering a framework within which education providers might evaluate openness within their programmes and identify areas for future development that may help extend the affordances of quality education to people excluded from it.
Author2 and Author1 (2017). How OpenLearn supports a business model for OER. Distance Education, 38(1) pp. 5–22. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/01587919.2017.1299558
Author1 and De los Arcos, B. (2016) Women’s empowerment through openness: OER, OEP and the Sustainable Development Goals. Open Praxis, 8(2) pp. 163–180. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5944/openpraxis.8.2.289
Sen, A. (1999) Development as Freedom. Oxford: Oxford University Press.