26. The future is Yours
Despite all the hoopla around MOOCs, they are essentially a dead end with regard to providing learners who do not have adequate access to education with what they want: high quality qualifications. The main barrier to education is not lack of cheap content but lack of access to programs leading to credentials, either because such programs are too expensive, or because there are not enough qualified teachers, or both. Making content free is not a waste of time (if it is properly designed for secondary use), but it still needs a lot of time and effort to integrate it properly within a learning framework.
Open educational resources do have an important role to play in online education, but they need to be properly designed and developed within a broader learning context that includes the critical activities needed to support learning, such as opportunities for student-instructor and peer interaction, and within a culture of sharing, such as consortia of equal partners and other frameworks that provide a context that encourages and supports sharing. In other words, OER need skill and hard work to make them useful and selling them as a panacea for education does more harm than good.
Although open and flexible learning and distance education and online learning mean different things, the one thing they all have in common is an attempt to provide alternative means of high-quality education or training for those who either cannot take conventional, campus-based programs, or choose not to.
Lastly, there are no insurmountable legal or technical barriers now to making educational material free. The successful use of OER does though require a particular mindset among both copyright holders – the creators of materials – and users – teachers and instructors who could use this material in their teaching. Thus, the main challenge is one of cultural change.
In the end, a well-funded public higher education system remains the best way to assure access to higher education for the majority of the population. Having said that, there is enormous scope for improvements within that system. Open education and its tools offer a most promising way to bring about some much-needed improvements.
This is just my interpretation of how approaches to ‘open’ content and resources could radically change the way we teach and how students will learn in the future. At the beginning of this lesson, there is a scenario I created which suggests how this might play out in one particular program.
More importantly, there is not just one future scenario, but many. The future will be determined by a host of factors, many outside the control of teachers and instructors. But the strongest weapon we have as teachers is our own imagination and vision. Open content and open learning reflect a particular philosophy of equality and opportunity created through education. There are many different ways in which we as teachers, and even more our learners, can decide to apply that philosophy. However, technology now offers us many more choices in making these decisions. Thus, there is scope for many more scenarios that aim to extend access and educational opportunities.