Open Education: An Uncertain Future

Open education is a term commonly used to refer to educational institutions that remove barriers to access (Wikipedia).  These courses are typically distance learning programs that can include thousands of students in a single course.  Topics range from listening to world music and songwriting to nanotechnology and medical.  It’s enough to make any lifelong learner squeal with excitement but as with any new technology it cannot promise to solve all our education woes.

One well known open course source is corsera, which includes thousands of courses from well know colleges and universities such as Berklee College of Music, Duke University, Stamford University, and Rutgers University. Very impressive indeed!  In addition some universities, such as MIT, have made much of their educational material free to the public.  These syllabi, lecture notes and videos, quizzes and video demonstrations are called open educational resources (OERs). These materials are available from MIT Open Couseware (OCW).  Other OER sources include KHANAcademy, Creative Commons, Tufts Open Courseware, and Open Yale Courses among others.

Accessibility seems to be the biggest benefit of open education.  The fact that people all over the world have access to quality educational materials for free is very promising. Bonk quotes Brain J. Ford about the importance of open education:

 “Education is the most fundamental public resource we’ve ever had. And, over the last two generations, more and more people on more and more occasions have had to pay more  and more money to get it.  And suddenly, the glacier is melting, Suddenly, the tide is  receding.  And education is being offered to larger and larger numbers of people for nothing,  for everybody” (2009, p. 140).

The opportunity to view course materials (OERs) from prestigious schools could give a student the exposure to different topics and the confidence to strive for something they might not otherwise have considered. Access to educational materials or courses for free has the possibility to make a monumental difference in a person’s life.

Accreditation is one large hurdle for open education.  Assuring the quality of an open education in difficult.  Bonk writes that, “Anyone using the Web for learning purposes recognizes that there is the pervasive issue of quality” (Bonk, 2009, p. 359). “Among the more widespread concerns is the quality of online courses and programs” (Bonk, p. 359).  Unfortunately, most accredited institutions will not grant degrees without some fee.  The issue of cheating, especially in distance learning, can be linked to that of accreditation. In order to be accredited, an institution must be able to prove that its students receive credit for their own work.  However, “Despite…methods to reduce plagiarism, as access to information and technology grows, so too do opportunities to deceive instructors and testing.  Technology has opened up not only the world of learning, but also the world of cheating” (Bonk, p. 360).
Currently, an open education, no matter the quality, will probably not have the same benefits of a paid education. In many fields, a degree is necessary in order to gain employment.  Teachers, medical professionals, lawyers and many others require formal college degrees and certification.  Informal education in such fields may do little to change a person’s socioeconomic status.  However, it may offer the possibility of acceptance into formal programs or may help someone to make their resume stand out among others when applying for a position.
The following video is a presentation that discusses the future plans for MIT’s OCW.  Education @ Google: MIT’s OCW Goal  It certainly seems that OCW is committed to making open education a more valid choice.
Although the knowledge that is acquired from open education may not translate into a degree, it might lead to other opportunities or innovations.  Bonk writes that “Idea sharing can spark still other ideas and innovations that can have educational benefits well beyond the original goals and intentions of the creators” (2009, p. 151).  This is true of all education but seems to have the possibility to affect more people when offered for free.
Although open education has several factors that make its future uncertain, it is hard to find fault with increasing the educational status of the world.  When has being more educated about anything harmed anyone?
Bonk, C. J., (2009). The world is open: How technology is revolutionizing education. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. retrieved from

One thought on “Open Education: An Uncertain Future

  1. Since I started my distance learning degree I became aware of how many of my friends have been taking advantage of the Open Education Movement. A colleague of mine graduated with a M.Ed. from Open University (UK), a close friend is taking a course through coursea for entrepreneurship and two other friends teach English online through a company called English Town. We all live in Thailand and the internet is paramount to ongoing education and work. I’m surrounded by the Open Movement!

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