Openness and flexibility
How open education can facilitate flexible learning
Presentation to the SAFFIRE Festival, March 18-19, 2013, University of Canberra
James T. Neill
Centre for Applied Psychology, Faculty of Health, University of Canberra
Download: Summary handout (pdf)
Openness aids flexibility - and open education can facilitate flexible learning. Ten ways in which open education helps to enable flexible learning are suggested - maximising accessibility, archiving and security, authentic advertising, agile resources, cost reduction, community service, knowledge commons, and time flexibility and efficiency.
Openness and flexibility
Openness (openism) refers to a philosophical preference for public transparency over public opaqueness or closedness. Openness is associated, but not synonymous, with freedom.
Flexibility refers to dynamism over staticism. A flexible system or process has a fluidity that allows similar processes to occur in a variety of situations and circumstances, including the unusual or unexpected. Flexibility is associated, but not synonymous with resilience.
The next section explores the relation between openness and flexibility in the context of education and learning.
Open education and flexible learning
Open education typically refers to educational programs which:
- use open educational resources and/or
- provide public access to the learning materials and activities.
Open education is an outcome of open academia. Open academia values freedom, transparency, accessibility, and re-usability and uses open processes (open access, open formats, open licenses, free software, and open management) to generate open outputs include open education, open research, and open service.
By contrast, closed education (a term not in common use, representing normative practice) refers to educational programs which:
- use copyright restricted educational resources and/or
- provide restricted access (via pay-wall and other inflexibilities) to learning materials and opportunities.
Flexible learning emphasises learner-centred design and delivery, allowing multiple pathways to maximise learning quality for a wide variety of learner needs and circumstances. Flexible learning is generally used to refer to flexibility in curriculum design and delivery, rather than to flexibility of the learner.
Inflexible learning (a term not in common use, but representing normative practice) refers to relatively restricted learning pathways with limited or no choice or options for the learner.
Ways open education can facilitate flexible learning
- Accessibility - Due to the user freedoms associated with the open licensing of open educational resources (OERs), these materials can be accessed in wide variety of ways to help provide access to learners with different needs (e.g., open text can be readily voice synthesised or made large font for people with limited hearing and visual capacities respectively or printed in hard copy). OERs can be easily modified, improved, and forked to better meet learner needs. Resources which are subject to vendor lock-in often have limited accessibility and hence also flexibility.
- Archiving and security: When educational materials are open are to the public, the materials can be more readily version-archived. Use of open materials provides greater security for the continuity of a program e.g., a textbook can't go out of print, a teacher can't leave and take all the teaching materials without leaving a copy behind (both unfortunately prevalent phenomena).
- Authentic advertising - Opening access to educational materials and activities provides exposure to large volumes of online visitors who can experience authentic advertising (WYSIWIG - what you see is what you get), along with branding and acknowledgement of the contributing institution(s). Smaller institutions can make a relatively large impact by developing open educational resources, as they can reach a wide audience, particularly if focusing on the great many topics which currently lack high quality OERs.
- Agile resources - Open educational materials are readily recyclable (e.g., re-mixed, re-packaged, re-developed) for other purposes (e.g., intensive delivery, short courses, and separate modules) because they have open licenses.
- Cost reduction - Using open educational materials is less costly for learners and institutions (e.g., textbook cost - Commercial, copyright restricted textbooks have become increasingly costly and offer limited freedoms for use/reuse and much inflexibility). Open textbooks are needed - innovation opportunity. See also: textbook agnosticism.
- Knowledge commons: Using open education materials provides educators and learners with access to the rapidly increasing knowledge commons (human knowledge in the public domain or available under open licenses). Making use of the knowledge commons in education provides teachers and learners with a wide array of flexible resources. Contributing open educational resources to the knowledge commons provides community service to the broader community. Thus, the open education can actively utilise and contribute to the knowledge commons and the common good.
- Public and peer review: When educational materials are open the public, the public and peers can provide review. When educators are aware that a wider audience may scrutinise and critique the educational materials, these materials are likely to be developed to a higher quality. A feedback stream from the public and peer communities provides rich, valuable information about how educational programs can be improved.
- Service - Open education provides community service, an ethically and morally important purpose of publically and privately-funded educational institutions. Contributing to the knowledge commons facilitates access to materials by learners and teachers with a variety of needs and interests, reducing barriers to access and engagement to educational and knowledge.
- Time efficient - Open practices (e.g., licensing, access, formats) costs time in the short-term (if the norm has been to used closed/restricted practices) and saves time in the long-term.
- Time flexible: When educational materials are open to the public, participation in learning can (at least in theory) take place at any time for any one e.g., a keen participant can start early and participants can progress at different rhythms and paces
Potential and limitations of openness
Openness is not a panacea for all educational problems, and it is no guarantor of good education. Progression towards openness can facilitate cultural, institutional, and individual changes in working practice which are consistent with achieving university's mission. For example, open practices enable greater flexibility in teaching and learning. Open academic practices has potential to transform the ways that universities and society interact and communicate. We have increasingly powerful real-time, virtual communication, but are our communication and knowledge-share practices evolving correspondingly? There is little place for ivory tower problems in a truly open university. The trends towards openness are promising, with governments and universities increasingly adopting more open practices since approximately the beginning of the 21st century, although complete openness of academic and educational practice is rare.
To understand the potential for openness in facilitating flexible learning, also considering risks and challenges, including:
- Cost/sustainability: In essence, what is the "business model"?
- How can initial cost to change from closed/inflexible educational cultural practices be obtained?
- How can sufficient income be attained from open education to pay for education institution costs? , etc. See also Notes against openness.
- Privacy: How can rights to privacy for educators and learners be provided?
- Status quo/inertia: The cultural norm in educational institutions such as universities currently favours creation and use of copyright restricted materials.
- Win-Lose Competitive Mentality: Educational institutions such as universities have a tendency to adopt win-lose (zero-sum) perspectives with regard to intellectual property e.g., due to fear of "competitor" universities being able to use material in their own teaching or research. An open approach, favours a Win-Win Cooperative Mentality, whereby sharing will benefits and in turn, the sharer.
- Related presentations
- Going naked - Openism and freedom in academia
- Flexible learning - Getting ready
- Open academia: A philosophy of open practice
- Open academia: Principles and practices
- Open education and research at the University of Canberra
- Open education with Moodle and Wikiversity
- Notes against openness (Tom Lee, 2013)