The open education movement: What does it mean for your institution?

Image source:

I came across a nice post (via @catspyjamasnz) today that gathers together some of the themes I have been blogging about in recent weeks. Roland Sussex succinctly defines ‘open education’ and then goes on to contextualise what this now means in the wake of the new models of delivery that have been attracting a lot of attention of late. He refers, for example, to the founding of Udacity following the successful trial of a course in artificial intelligence delivered completely free online:

The course attracted 160,000 enrolments (roughly the total enrolment of the UK Open University) from 190 countries, and 23,000 completed it. It provided frequent feedback and tests, with two examinations (mid-semester and end-semester), all handled by software. Students who passed the course received a letter of completion. And all this was totally cost-free to the student.

The students also provided creative input. They established two large Facebook pages for course discussion and interaction, and nearly 2,000 of them translated the course materials into 44 languages. And the solutions to the very frequent quizzes, now on Youtube, provided feedback and commentary. The course designers implemented a version of problem-based learning and made it work online.

As Sussex goes on to point out, Udacity is an extension of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), where a university course is made available online to anyone free of charge, but only the paying students get feedback on assessment and certification.

The key question is whether a point will be reached where the monopoly power of formal education will be broken up because the market value of a course completed with the likes of Udacity will be equal (or close) to the value of a traditionally certified programme. As outrageous as this might sound to some, the longer educational institutions continue to resist change, the more likely it is that their service will become increasingly less valuable.

At the very least, I anticipate that some institutions will start reconsidering their business models along the lines of a ‘study now, pay later’ approach, offering MOOCs with fees being paid at the end of the course by students wishing to exercise the option of certification (assuming they believe it constitutes value for money).

The MITs of this world can continue to potter around experimenting without worrying too much about how it might impact on their ‘core business’. The same cannot be said, however, for those institutions facing competitive pressure because of funding cuts, the economic downturn, and dissatisfied clients.