On April 28th 2013 the outcomes of OER4Adults provided policy makers within the European Commission with evidence on how to incorporate the use of OER into a Vision for Adult and Lifelong Learning to 2030. This Vision was drafted with the help of a group of over 20 experts from more than 10 countries who met at IPTS in Seville to discuss, debate and advise on the Vision. Our goal was to provide the EC with evidence of existing initiatives and practices to enable them to optimise the socio economic impact of OER.
In the OER4Adults survey, we identified over 170 OER Initiatives across Europe and other countries (mainly the US). Many of these initiatives – those who provide OER for adult and lifelong learning – are from the higher education, vocational and school sectors. These initiatives assume that the primary users of OER are teachers and registered students, but the might not necessarily think about ‘nonformal’ learners.
Many examples of open learning are within open fora (eg discussion groups around health or hobby areas). These groups are seldom recognised as having an explicit remit for learning. Also they are not associated with the sorts of formal institutions that MOOCs tend to be associated with (eg think about EdX, Coursera, Futurelearn and so on).
From the OER4Adults survey we know that little is known about what lifelong learners are doing with OER resources. Even the leaders of the major OER initiatives know little about the use of the OERs outside their immediate communities. Yet this knowledge is critical to planning future directions in open education, open learning, OER and MOOC.
We carried out a SWOT analysis (analysis of Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats, see http://oer4adults.org/highlights-of-the-oer4adults-swot-survey/) of OER and identified a number of tensions in the following areas:
OER Resources – We recognised a tension between open versus free resources. Use of the term ‘Open’ in MOOC is blurring the distinction between what is ‘free’ and what is ‘open’. While many MOOCs are free of charge, the resources within these courses are not always ‘open’. Will mass participation push forward on this area? In other words, will the large numbers of people involved in MOOCs make it irrelevant that the resources in a MOOC are not open?
Learning – The OER4Adults SWOT survey identified a tension between conventional pedagogy (largely teacher led) versus appreciation that learners should be able to take control of their own learning. Do resources have learner intentionality? Most don’t. OER tends to be viewed as a resource with a specific learning outcome. There are examples of ‘dynamic’ resources that evolve as learners use them. However, these resources don’t readily ‘fit’ with educational technical infrastructure (eg quality policy etc). In many aspects of society organisational infrastructures are becoming rapidly outdated, thus inhibiting progress – and this is one example. The tension between pedagogy versus appreciation is exemplified in the papers for the EC Vision for Adult and Lifelong Learning in 2030 where none of the visions view teachers as having a traditional role in the future (the papers are at http://blogs.ec.europa.eu/openeducation2030/files/2013/04/OE2030_LLL_Booklet.pdf).
Motivations for releasing OER The SWOT survey surfaced a tension between two key motivations to release OER: altruism versus marketization, where ‘altruism’ is the desire to openly share resources and ‘marketisation’ is where institutions and individuals want to build a ‘brand’. Marketisation examples include EdX, Futurelearn, Khan Academy. Its possible that organisations pitch ‘marketisation’ to governments to gain funding, but, at the same time, institutions sometimes state altruistic motivations (such as sharing knowledge freely).
A previous study by Falconer, Littlejohn, McGill and Beetham (2012) https://oersynth.pbworks.com/w/page/63710786/Motives%20and%20tensions%20in%20the%20release%20of%20Open%20Educational%20Resources identified that the stated motivations to release OER may be different from the real, underlying motivations. Real and stated motivations are complex and blurred. During the workshop discussions we found examples of complex/mixed motivations.
Workshop participants agreed that the focus of the vision for lifelong learning to 2030 should be on the socio cultural impact rather than on motivations to release OER. Yet they recognised that motivations ultimately determine peoples’ actions. Much of the focus of OER release has been on ‘introductory level learning’, rather than more specialist areas, and there has been lots of duplication. How do we create resources that are ‘done’ and translated – particularly in the introductory areas (for example look at alison.com which has been translated by volunteers).
Capacity building – There is an inherent tension between ‘community’ versus ‘openness’. During the workshop we had extensive discussion about ‘communities’ and how capacity it built. ALISON provides an excellent and relatively unique model where volunteers contribute their time to translate resources for adult and lifelong learning. Community building requires engendered trust – for example within the ALISON community there is a level of trust that spending time translating resources will not be exploited.
The workshop participants noted that ‘nothing is for free’. Voluntary action is funded, though the funding is from individuals, rather than governments and organisations.
Openness – A previous study (UKOER) we identified a tension between communities (which are important for capacity building) and openness (See http://www.slideshare.net/loumcgill/openedweek2013). This tension also emerged during the OER4Adults SWOT analysis. An effective way to develop resources is within a trusted and bounded community. The effort required to translate the resources for use within another community cannot be underestimated, however we found examples (from Athabasca University) where people overestimated the amount of time required to readapt a resource for reuse (eg teachers thought they had to change every detail within a resource, rather than using resources as they exist).
Numbers of learners – Organisational controls and norms break down in circumstances of mass participation. There is a tension between mass participation versus quality. Where large numbers of people learn, it is more difficult to retain ‘control’ around quality. Recommender systems don’t always help – a ‘massive stamp of approval’ doesn’t always signal quality. Lifelong learners don’t always understand how to assess or evaluate the quality of resources and tend to rely on ‘trusting’ the source. Learners were more inclined to use resources from another “trusted organisation” than “from a university”. This finding raises questions around current quality systems. Should we change the current validation systems or should we try to ensure that learners have better developed digital literacies so they can evaluate quality? These questions are complicated by the fact that quality shifts as we move across disciplinary and cultural boundaries.
Sustainability – Another tension was around add-on versus embedded funding models. Most of the OER initiatives we identified were funded through governments or institutions. The adult and lifelong learning community are less concerned (than Higher Education groups) that government or institutional funding may diminish. These groups are more focussed on sustainable models, including ‘freemium’ models.
Key findings and questions:
1 Many examples of open learning are not recognised as learning.
Idea 1: change public perception of what they recognise as learning.
2 To move forward with lifelong learning, we need a fundamental shift in the way society perceives peoples’ roles (eg learners, teachers, others, etc) and organisations’ roles (eg HES, companies, publishers, etc).
Idea 2: change public perception of the roles of learners and teachers – and of organisations more broadly.
3 Within the OER arena, there is little focus on the bigger societal issues. For example the tension between the public and private sectors which have different values and norms. We don’t have a clear idea of the outcome when these values and norms come into conflict.
Idea 3: consider the longterm impact of vested interests of various stakeholders in different sectors.
4 Little is known about what lifelong learners actually do with OER. OER initiatives have little concern about this and don’t view it as significant.
Idea 4: investigate how learners use OER to learn.
5 The focus of attention could shift from open resources (OER) or open courses (MOOC) to the ability of people/learners to learn in open environments.
Idea 5: change the focus of attention from OER or MOOC to learners