Openness and Education: Volume 1


Table of contents

(17 chapters)

For an extended period of time education was mainly formal, that is a system with clear roles, goals and responsibilities. Education resembled an immutable and closed system with few, if any, connections to other parts of society. However, during the last century significant changes occurred in many areas of society, culminating in global reform movements to democratise education and to increase participation by opening up education. A current and prominent example of such a movement is Open Educational Resources (OER), which is a global attempt to facilitate the flow of knowledge, reduce the costs of education, and establish an educational system based on humanistic and moral values (i.e. sharing). Yet, recent developments are progressing at such an accelerated speed that it is hard to predict the ‘real’ value of OERs for educational purposes. Also, within OER little reference has been made to previous forms of Open Education, such as Open Classroom/Open Learning in the 1960s and 1970s or to the even older German progressive education (Reformpädagogik). Current OE forms can be characterised as a mixture of economical (‘education as a commodity’), moral (‘education as a common good’) and social (‘education as a shared enterprise’) claims, each of which contribute to the emergence of Open Education. This introductory chapter attempts to set the stage for a sound engagement with openness in education. It provides a conceptual framework that discusses major developments throughout the history of Open Education from a philosophical standpoint. Special attention will be paid to the concept of Bildung (self-realisation, self-cultivation) as an in-depth theory that can not only inform what happens when learners utilise OER but also allows one to reflect on the impact of OER on society. Selected cases of Open Education will be reviewed and then framed with the theory of Bildung. Eventually, this will lead to a set of lessons learned that are aimed at guiding current debates on Open Education.


This chapter makes the case that school-related material and informally used content need to be considered equally important as complete, higher education (HE)-level courses when exploring how open education (OE) is used in practice. It provides a brief overview of several key HE and school-related OE projects, what they offer, their approximate reach and the significance of established brands, with short case studies of TES Connect, Khan Academy and TESSA. It also examines the evidence of impact on students, and how some of the projects counter criticism that they promote ‘closed’ forms of traditional, instructor-led education through blended and flipped teaching approaches or peer-led learning.

The purpose of the chapter is to explore how OE sites are used in practice by examining some of the key projects that provide free materials to students and teachers.

This chapter provides an overview of some of the biggest OE providers online, drawing particular attention to those that provide school-level material instead of just HE-level resources. It examines the motives of open education resources (OER) users, and provides mini case studies of a selection of HE-level and school-level projects. It also explores the reach and impact of the schemes, the significance of brand and the criticism that they simply provide a new form of ‘closed’ education. This provides a handy overview of key OE projects and an introduction to the significance of school-related projects. It should be a source of material of special interest to those involved in teacher training or development, or in OE from either a school or a university.

This chapter makes an original case for school teachers to have greater recognition in the discussion about OE, and reveals a finding from an international poll of more than a quarter of million teachers who use OE resources with their students.

Findings of this chapter indicate that the significance of school-level OE has been underestimated, given the extent of user-generated teaching material available and teachers’ powers to multiply the reach of a single downloaded resource to several classes of students.

The overview however is not exhaustive, and the author stresses the problematic nature of attempting to compare projects that deliver different kinds of content for different contexts.


This chapter features a number of case studies that illustrate the variety of shades and formats of open education (OE). The unbundling and institutional detachment of the traditional formal education package provides the opportunity to develop services around the respective component parts of a larger curriculum, such as ‘Open Content’, ‘Open Degrees’, ‘Open Assessment’, ‘Open Learning’, ‘Open Tutoring’, ‘Open Technology’ and ‘Open Communities’. Each of such component parts potentially in turn allows for the development and provision of services that might be provided not only to the learner, but also to education providers, as depicted in Fig. 1.


Open Courseware, in many ways, was the starting point towards mainstream discussion and adoption of open learning, particularly in higher education. In its first iteration, the concept specifically excluded assessment recognition, and credentialisation, which aims to ‘liberate’ knowledge without shattering the designing, teaching and awarding processes traditional education has relied upon for decades, if not centuries.


Whilst previous chapters have considered the nature and benefits of open education (OE) initiatives, a fundamental question remains as to the sustainability and viability of such practices over the medium to long term.

The existing literature suggests a considerable diversity of models of OE in organisational and funding terms, and there is the need to gain a better understanding of the distinctive pathways to sustainability that are linked to specific organising and funding logics.

However, this very diversity and the insufficiently developed notion of sustainability in this context hamper the efforts aimed at categorising and comparing different models, and this chapter considers these questions in more depth.

To this aim, we analyse and categorise the main funding arrangements by first identifying the key components of each distinctive OE system in the Section ‘System Elements’, whilst reflecting in parallel on the notion of sustainability.

In the Section ‘System Configurations’, we offer a detailed description and analysis of the most prominent funding models of OE to illustrate the diversity of funding arrangements and distinctive organisational logics underpinning them. We explore the logic of these business models by unpacking each distinctive form of organising around four key aspects: customer offer, value chain configuration, funding and profit formula, and strategic positioning.

In the Section ‘Sustainability’, we seek to refine our understanding of the concept of sustainability in the context of OE, giving due consideration to non-economic definitions of this concept and to some of the core objectives attached to OE. We suggest that sustainability can be ultimately apprehended and defined through a number of key variables.

The section ‘Open Education: Motives and Implications’ examines the motives behind the OE movement, its wide-ranging implications, and considers how OE fits in with the trends in the higher education (HE) sector as a whole. We discuss the future for this radical innovation, emphasising the central role of communities of practice and the need for institutional support. We argue that the development of sustainable communities is the fundamental basis of any OE model and that reflexivity is required in order to ensure the sustainability of this innovative practice. Similarly, the systematic development of collaborative practices and networks between the main actors at community, institutional and national levels is considered key to the development and embedding of OE initiatives within the overall educational sector.

The concluding section brings together the various strands of our argument on the nature and characteristics of the various OE business models, their sustainability and the way forward.


This chapter outlines some theoretical, historical and analytical themes covering national, trans-national and international trends in open education. It starts by looking at the social, economic and political drivers for education systems in general, and how openness has been used to widen access through attacking the iron triangle of education: access, quality and cost (open as a door). It then looks at the more recent technological and ideological developments that have aided openness (open as a book); including the central role that open licensing of digital materials (open as a right) has played in changing the social and economic drivers of education and in particular open educational resources. Next, it looks at the importance of open innovation, social innovation and communities of practice for open education (open as a relationship) and includes a comparison between the development of open source software and the development of open educational resources. It goes on to consider the impacts of all these on national and international policy (open as a border) before reviewing the social and economic role of open education from the perspectives of lifelong learners, students, educational institutions and educational publishers (open for business in the future). The chapter concludes by forecasting possible trends in open education for the next 15 years.

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Book series
Advances in Digital Education and Lifelong Learning
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
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