Recent years have witnessed ground-breaking developments in the field of education and training. As society and its dynamics are becoming increasingly complex and as great amounts of information is generated, it seems the traditional education systems can no longer keep up.
New forms of education are being created as we are witnessing a tremendous increase in the number of educational programs and online resources that are either available for free or chargeable. Knowledge is also increasingly available to all, everywhere, all the time. Education is thus becoming increasingly "open" and connected with other governmental areas and society. Open learning or open education is a complementary system that builds on traditional education with a greater degree of flexibility. It includes everything from technology, content and methods to law, legal aspects and motivational elements.
It is beginning to include all current buzz words such as open science, open data, open design, open source and conceptually can be broaden to citizen science, participatory experiments, grassroots activities and collective intelligence. But this seems all to complex again, and so it seems that only a holistic approach can lead to qualitative changes needed, but we will come to this later.
In 2001, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), in an unprecedented move, announced the release of nearly all its courses on the internet for free access. The idea was simple: to publish all of MITs course materials online and make them widely available to everyone. As the number of institutions offering free or open courseware increased, UNESCO adopted the term Open Educational Resources (OER) in 2002. Since then this paradigm was accepted by hundreds of faculty members who decided to licence their materials with Creative Commons licences giving others the possibility of reuse. The efforts initially started in the US with the Hewlett Foundation’s Education Program and its philanthropic investments to help integrate OER into mainstream education and transforming teaching and learning by shifting OER from a small-scale movement to standard education practice.
In their report the Hewlett Foundation identifies that the need and demand in the United States and the world for high quality education has never been greater. Apparently by 2025 there will be 263 million students who will be eligible for higher education. In order to accommodate this demand, at least 4 universities of 30,000 students would need to open every week for the next 15 years. Clearly, traditional avenues to quality education are not meeting this demand. Therefore open education and work in the field can play an important role in meeting this need and ensuring equal access to knowledge for teachers and students around the globe. Even though the first Open Courseware project began in Germany, the biggest shifts are taking place in the USA.
The early adopters of OER believed that education is a public good and that openness, embedded as an essential element of the teaching and learning process, can have a strong, positive effect in education. The goal is to achieve a state where teaching and learning experience can be improved. These efforts were mainly concentrated on creating and collecting content in higher education institutions and as content grew (800 million OERs), the field evolved and became much more policy and government based and computer and data driven, a good example would be MOOCs i.e. massive online open courses which are pedagogical mechanisms for education but in fact big data systems created by machine learning researchers.
The EU realised it is lagging behind other regions of the world and realised the USA and some Asian countries are investing in ICT-based strategies to reshape education and training also via open education. The European Commission made a decisive step in 2013 when it released its communication “Opening up Education - Innovative teaching and learning for all through new Technologies and Open Educational Resources” citing technology and OER as opportunities to reshape EU education. The EU concerted efforts to seize the opportunities of the digital revolution by giving its member states incentives for partnerships for infrastructures, new products and services, and interoperability, create open learning environments and identify them as opportunities to innovate for organisations, teachers and learners by using OER for better quality and access.
This milestone required an elaborate funding schema for projects to be funded via H2020 and Erasmus+ mechanisms. But what is the benefit of funding scattered one-off projects if they do not have a wider connected picture behind them?