Date: August 10, 2009

Author: JT

Tags: , , ,


Believing in Open Education

Perhaps a good place to start is to use a baseline definition for Open Education. Wikipedia defines open education as a collective term referring to forms of education in which knowledge, ideas, or important aspects of teaching methodology or infrastructure, are freely shared over the internet. From my perspective we need to clear up a misnomer or two. All too often when we see open, we think free. And when we see freely share, we’re thinking free for all.

With open education, the key focus needs to be improved accessibility (i.e. freely share) at a significantly lower cost (i.e. compared to conventional places of higher education). Employing contemporary technologies along with a new way of thinking, we might also see improved flexibility in education.

I strongly believe in the concept of open education as we move forward. As a nation, we must find new ways of educating a higher percentage of our youth, and at a dramatically lower cost. This is less a philosophical issue than one of practicality. To be globally successful, our children need higher education than primary and secondary school provides. Yet, with three of my own children, it is hard to fathom being able to pay for nearly $700K in higher education costs (e.g. an MIT degree can cost $189K, $190K for MSU). And, even as children (mine or yours) contemplate taking on student loans, can a 17 or 18 year old truly understand what it means to carry a $250K debt so early in life?

The topic of open education is gaining visibility. Today alone, I came across three articles on, or related, to open education. The best is Fast Company’s, “How Web-Savvy Edupunks Are Transforming American Higher Education.” The second article in the Wall Street Journal is, “Textbooks Offered for iPod, iPhones.” In Fast Company, Anya Kamenetz does a good job providing a primer to the topic, discussing the key attributes of cost, accessibility, content, and flexibility. The WSJ article discusses how e-textbooks are becoming more broadly available, in this case on the iPhone/iPod devices.

My own MBA was earned using an early form of online education from the University of Phoenix. My employer at the time was willing to cover all my educational expenses, bar none. So money was not an issue. The key was accessibility. Online degrees were just getting their feet in the water by the late 90s. As someone who traveled 80% of the time, I needed to be able to participate in a highly fluid form. Today, I eagerly look forward to my next opportunity to undertake a longer-term education process (I like learning). The richness of students and instructors (from around the world) is far richer than typically experienced in a fixed location.

Moving forward, whether for myself or my children, it is going to be important for schools to evolve. We need improved accessibility, lower costs, and education more tightly tied to current market demands. If you haven’t already, go take a look at the articles I mentioned. They’re well worth the time.

Let me ask: What do you think? Do you agree with my thoughts or do you see going to conventionally formed universities well into the future?

5 Responses to “Believing in Open Education”

  • bill farren August 10, 2009 at 11:02 pm

    I have to agree. Access is the key. Today’s enabling technologies will become a serious disruptive factor for traditional schools. Yes, something is lost in online situations compared to F2F, but for many, the losses pale in comparison to the advantages.

  • Steve August 18, 2009 at 3:42 pm

    JT great article and I totally agree. In my own life everything I read and everyone I talk to is a part of my education. I’m a lifelong learner and I see the value in it for continued self improvement. As a parent I’m looking at the opportunities my children will have for education, careers, and marketability. Online guided education at a reasonable cost will have to prevail.

    • JT August 24, 2009 at 8:42 am

      Hello Steve,

      Appreciate your comment. We share some of the same viewpoints. Learning is a lifelong activity; there’s rarely a day there isn’t something new I’ve learned. And, yes, online education is likely to play a role in my childrens’ education where it didn’t even exist for us.


  • JT August 24, 2009 at 8:53 am

    Hello Terry,

    Very good question. When I took my MBA it was completely online. The university had a conventional ‘ground’ school but had not yet developed its curriculum to support a ‘mix’ of ground and online courses in their program.

    As noted, accessibility dramatically improves the ability for mobile and/or remote students to even attend school. But in giving up the bricks ‘n mortar, you also give up things like commute time, parking space and fees, and all the detrimental aspects of ‘going’ to school.

    What I did miss was the ability to physically interact with an instructor and students. I would have liked to do perhaps 1/8 to 1/4 of my courses in a conventional setting. As a mature adult taking a graduate degree, it wasn’t too big a deal. But I would imagine for young students just getting started, it may be a challenge. For instance, professors/instructors spend a fair amount of energy at the start of each year impressing upon their new charges what is expected of them (e.g. timeliness, regular attendance, quality of work, etc.).

    From a text-book perspective, I don’t think you lose much in an online course. But you do lose out on more ‘real world’ items, such as physical and social interaction, as well as spontaneous ‘tangent’ discussions.

    There is one last aspect that bears mentioning. Online courses work very well for -certain- types of education. Accounting, finance, philosphical, managerial, etc. But for things that require hands-on interaction, like chemistry, physicals, medical, or similar, I really think physical presence is required. Perhaps in 25 years you’ll go to a regional ‘chemistry lab’ for specific courses, but today those don’t exist.


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