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Open education and systemic change

Stephen Marshall (Senior Lecturer in Educational Technology in the Centre for Academic Development, Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand)

On the Horizon

ISSN: 1074-8121

Article publication date: 11 May 2012




This paper seeks to consider the potential impact of new models of higher education, particularly those depending on open educational resources, using a systems thinking model to assess likely barriers and outcomes in a specific context.


The paper applies a systems thinking approach to considering the impact of open education models on higher education within the specific context of New Zealand.


The paper suggests that while open resources may be of benefit to individual learners, the complex systems of accreditation of qualifications and funding of higher education mean that substantive reductions in the cost of higher education are unlikely.

Social implications

The internet has seen significant disruption to a number of existing industries, and it seems likely that higher education will also be subject to significant change. Open education is suggested as providing a model for more equitable, cost‐effective and democratic access to higher education, this paper suggests that the real situation is more complex and requires a wider engagement with the qualification systems and institutional behaviors that maintain the existing status quo.


This paper provides a contrarian perspective on a popular idea that is receiving wide support currently, framed within a specific system of higher education that illustrates the complex nature of educational change.



Marshall, S. (2012), "Open education and systemic change", On the Horizon, Vol. 20 No. 2, pp. 110-116.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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