So What is Open Education?

by Joe Wilson, Head of New Ventures at the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA). This is the second guest blog in our series featuring Informed Scotland subscribers writing on the theme Making connections across the learning & skills landscape.

There is a dramatic change happening in learning, assessment and certification around the world. In some countries this is being driven by the high cost of formal learning, in others by beliefs in greater access and equity and anchored by an understanding of education as a social good.

Loosely, many of these developments can be grouped under the banner of open education.

Open learning opportunities have been available since the advent of the internet; in the UK with Open University programmes on TV and radio you could argue before the internet. But Khan Academy and ALISON began structuring learning into recognisable, outcome based chunks for people who want to learn maths or workplace based skills respectively about six years ago, and they make the whole programme free.

In more unstructured ways, YouTube, SlideShare and other social platforms increasingly contain learner ready learning materials, while iTunes U has built up an amazing collection of lessons from institutions around the world that learners can dip into.

These materials are available to be included in both informal and formal learning.

The new wave of ‘open’ takes things on further. In some countries these developments manifest themselves as open textbook initiatives: teachers getting together, their efforts funded by charitable endowments, to create freely available textbooks meaning that learners no longer have to pay the high prices for standard academic textbooks. This to support learners studying with an institution.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have been the headline grabbers for open education – though it can be argued, at least in terms of their content, that they are not really that open. Have a look at the offerings from Coursera, MITx and the edX platform and from the UK’s own FutureLearn. Suddenly it is possible to access chunks of university courses free from anywhere in the world. The numbers engaging with some of these programmes run into hundreds of thousands from all around the world. These developments are part funded by charitable endowments and host institutions, and in some cases by venture capitalists intent on disrupting traditional programme delivery.

At the heart of a lot of this is simply a move to open up learning materials to a wider audience and to encourage a sharing culture among institutions and teachers. This has been driven by UNESCO since 2002 and the UNESCO Open Learning Declaration.

The Declaration encourages countries to change their practices around publically created Open Educational Resources (OERs). This includes any type of educational materials in the public domain or introduced with an open license. The nature of these open materials means that anyone can legally and freely copy, use, adapt and re-share them. OERs range from textbooks to curricula, syllabi, lecture notes, assignments, tests, projects, audio, video and animation.

In Wales the university system has already signed up to a Wales Open Education Declaration which will mean, as with publically funded research, universities will share publically funded learning materials. There are a number of countries around the world making similar commitments to open up learning materials from their schools, further (FE) and higher education (HE) sectors with appropriate licensing, normally creative commons, which will allow a global sharing culture to develop.

In the UK many of the platforms needed for a more open system are in place already. Jorum provides UK HE and FE institutions with an open sharing platform for learning content, and in Scotland, College Development Network’s Re:Source is the open sharing platform for college learning materials. SQA has committed to moving any learning materials we have out from the secure area which was accessible only to SQA centres and onto Re:Source with an appropriate creative commons license.

There are also grassroots organisations showcasing open initiatives in Scotland, encouraging institutions to think about moving towards a national open policy along the lines of the UNESCO declaration. The Open Scotland initiative picks up a range of open practice.

On another front, Mozilla has developed Open Badges. It is free software and an open technical standard that allows any organisation to create, issue and verify digital badges – so in effect a new way of credentialing learning.

Greater openness can only be good for formal and informal learners. While some may see open educational resources as being part of the education sector’s fetish with content, or open badges as a challenge to more formal forms of certification, in fact both are complementary to lifelong learning.

The SQA is continually looking at ways to embed the best of open educational practice in Scottish education for the benefit of our learners.

For further information contact Joe Wilson at the SQA on Joe.Wilson@sqa.org.uk 

Also read our first guest blog: UKCES makes connections between disparate ideas

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