Importance of Open Education

The history of learning suggests that a new technology can lead to a philosophy that produces awesome changes in how people learn.

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Examples from History

The creation of the printing press (a technology) allowed for a Lutheran belief that people should directly read the bible (a philosophy), which in turn led to reading becoming more accessible (the awesome change) (Gawthrop & Strauss, 1984).

The industrial revolution of the early 19th century (a technology) created a need for citizens to adapt to new military, economic and political norms. This need led to the Prussian model of schooling and the belief that all people need an education (a philosophy), which then led to more people going to school than ever before (the awesome change) (Ramirez & Boli, 1987).

In the Midst of Change

We are now in the midst of a similar monumental change to how people learn. The technologies initiating this most recent change are information and communication technology. Mankind has historically unprecedented computational power in ever decreasing cost and size, interconnected by a global network that facilitates information change. The philosophy that has emerged from this technology is the open source movement.

Advocates for open source software, digital media and hardware believe that technological advancement is best created by providing access to all. Open source software, such as Linux, Firefox and Apache, is the backbone of what allows computers and the Internet to function. Open source media, such as that licensed by the Creative Commons, has spurred on the creation of new art and entertainment. More recently, open source hardware has led to technological advancements like 3D printers being more accessible and low cost computers available for all (e.g., Raspberry PI).

Just like other examples where technology drove a philosophy that then changed how people learn, we are now experiencing how computing technology drives an open source philosophy that is changing how people learn. Advocates of open education believe that, in addition to having access to open software, media and hardware, everyone should also have access to knowledge (Iiyoshi & Kumar, 2008). These advocates believe that open source software, media and hardware can facilitate universal access to learning, enabling an open education movement that provides opportunities to learn that were heretofore impossible (Brown & Adler, 2008). Open Education is our most recent awesome change to how people learn — a technology-enabled democratization of learning.

Impact on Modern Learning

There are already a number of examples where open education and its accompanied philosophies are having a meaningful impact on modern learning.

Open Educational Resources (OERs) have begun to deconstruct how educators and learners acquire and use learning material (textbooks, software) by providing free versions of what used to be only available from specific publishers (Caswell, Henson, Jensen, & Wiley, 2008).

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) allow formal schooling to be delivered to unprecedented numbers of people by taking what was once only available in the classroom and transforming it into something that anyone can experience online (Waldrop, 2013).

Academic journals have noticed the increased educational reach of open-access articles (Björk & Solomon, 2012). Even assessment and credentialing systems are not immune; open digital badges allow anyone to create a digital record of knowledge or mastery of a skill (Gibson, Ostashewski, Flintoff, Grant, & Knight, 2013).