QUESTIONS: What will the future of higher education look like? What impact will the open education movement have? How will we get there from here? What will be the effects of open education movement upon K-12 education? (alessandro giorni)

First, thanks to Alex for the addition of the question about K-12.

I’ve given this question a lot of thought and don’t have a clear vision. I can think of many idealistic scenarios I wish would come true (open resources change the face of education; mass collaboration triumphs; transparency and competency-based education leads to a wholesale turnover in teaching practice; educational publishers are forced to change completely or die; students learn more as a result of all this) and a few nightmarish scenarios I fear could happen (the engineers and technocrats continue dominate OER discussions; instructors don’t embrace it; the whole thing implodes in a cloud of PDFs, license debates, and system specifications).

What will really happen? Unfortunately, education, both K-12 and higher ed, is a vastly bureaucratic and slow moving beast. The industrial-education complex, as I like to call it, resists change like no other institutional group I know. Most likely, OER will have no noticeable impact on formal education.

However, the realm of informal education is another matter entirely.

Informal education in the United States is alive and well. There are many educational opportunities available for lifelong learners, including state- or other agency-provided resources, libraries, and perhaps most importantly, the Internet. OER presents the opportunity to increase dramatically all of these resources, both in terms of quantity and quality.

Even if the “formal” OER community (higher ed courseware projects, Hewlett funded projects, etc.) implode under their own weight, there are a number of other open efforts that cannot be stopped. These include Wikipedia and all of its associated projects (Wikibooks, Wikiversity, etc.); other wikis such as Wikispaces, WikiEducator, etc.; user-generated content sites like YouTube, TeacherTube, MySpace, Facebook, and countless others; and a plethora of other brilliant web sites. These sites will continue to multiply, build strong communities, and improve in quality. This will be a huge boon for lifelong learners.

One question I have is whether all of these resources and the learning opportunities they present will at some point decrease the value of a traditional higher education degree? Especially as formal education gets even more removed from truly relevant content (critical thinking, collaborative skills, higher order thinking), will industry realize that a solid informal education and demonstration of real-world competencies outweighs a piece of paper from a university? I’d be interested in others’ thoughts on this.

In the developing world, the situation is different. Currently, informal educational opportunities are much more limited. This is the case for a number of reasons, including low literacy, low primary and secondary education rates, and low access to Internet connectivity. Current circumstances and OER together offer an opportunity to change all of this.

Foremost, Internet connectivity will dramatically increase in the developing world. Most likely, this will happen through mobile devices not desktops or laptops. And when the content flood starts, learning opportunities will explode. (A critical presupposition here is that early learning resources will be available, increasing literacy rates to be almost universal. Technology will bypass government bureacracies and other obstacles. I believe this will happen. It’s too important not to, and it isn’t that difficult especially with a open model.) Then will follow the dramatic expansion of user-generated content. What an empowered Africa and Asia will contribute to the world will make MySpace and Wikipedia look like baby steps.

There are many more people in the developing world than in the developed world, and those trends are accelerating. It is essential to the future peace and prosperity of the world that learning opportunities be expanded and that we finally achieve the long-espoused goal of universal education. Fortunately, it’s not necessary that this be done through formal educational institutions since they’ve proven unable to accomplish much. The wave of connectivity and informal learning won’t be stopped by anything, and the world will benefit as a result.

So I guess I have an optimistic outlook after all. :)

OpenEd-Week 13-The Future of Open Education
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5 thoughts on “OpenEd-Week 13-The Future of Open Education

  • November 30, 2007 at 12:04 am
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    Soon many disempowered populations will have better internet access than we have here in the states, and that won’t be difficult to do, given the poor distribution we have right now. We’ll be playing catchup soon.

    Teachertube looks great. I had never seen that site before. I’ll have to spend some more time looking around there, um, after the semester is over in a couple weeks.

  • November 30, 2007 at 3:49 pm
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    I agree with you. I too envision OER much more useful for informal learning…. until the distinction between formal and informal will be alive, as you are suggesting ;-). However, I guess we are talking about adult learning. I (and you too, I think…) don’t see a “deschooling option” for K-12. On the contrary, basic schools should provide a strong “digital competence” to children… if we want adults capable to make use of all those valuable OER out there :-)

  • December 2, 2007 at 2:03 am
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    I read an article in a popular cultural/scientific Italian magazine some time ago that showed that our k-12 school is so far from the real world and full of notionism that our students learn more from informal educational resources than from formal ones, ICT and Internet literacy are typical examples.This is also the reason why our school has lost its social prestige and the Italian students are generally de-motivated in their study, far from their teachers who are not recognised as educational models any more, they often feel that what they are learning is useless because it is far from reality, they just want to pass and get the diploma, considered a necessary “piece of paper” to find a job or go on to university.

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  • December 2, 2007 at 9:38 pm
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    “One question I have is whether all of these resources and the learning opportunities they present will at some point decrease the value of a traditional higher education degree? Especially as formal education gets even more removed from truly relevant content (critical thinking, collaborative skills, higher order thinking), will industry realize that a solid informal education and demonstration of real-world competencies outweighs a piece of paper from a university? I’d be interested in others’ thoughts on this.”

    I completely agree, in theory. I think that competency based skills are far more important then the piece of paper from a university; however, I think that instead of decreasing the value of the paper, universities will be forced to adapt or perish. I graduated from a program that doesn’t stress the learning of skills, but rather the learning of learning. How to think critically, how to break tasks into subtasks and organize them properly, How to demonstrate ideas and concepts to others in a logical way; this is what made up my piece of paper. The IST program at Penn State doesn’t seek to prepare people to be “really good programmers” or “really good consultants”, It prepares people to be able to think critically in the work place. It’s not a philosophy that I bought into while going through the program, but I know see how it’d benefited me on a near daily basis. I know many others are skeptical because they say “well, what skills to the students learn” and there’s no definitive answer like “php” or “sql”. You don’t learn any one “thing”, you learn how to process and construct all topics of a related field.

    Universities need to stop thinking that students are there to learn facts. The internet has allowed information to pass seamlessly from one area of the world to another. We’re no longer going to college to get facts stored in textbooks that you wouldn’t have learned otherwise; we are attending college to go through the process of thinking critically and then be able to apply it in the real world. We live in an information society / economy; it’s about time educators start acting like it!


    “It is essential to the future peace and prosperity of the world that learning opportunities be expanded and that we finally achieve the long-espoused goal of universal education.”

    I’ll agree slightly with this as well. I unfortunately think their are some (too many) rooted in tradition and ignorance who don’t care that the knowledge / thinking is out there contrary to their own beliefs. I’m not talking religious believes or political believes; i’m talking about denial of facts that many people in the developed world understand. Traditions like predigest and hate, concepts preached in some cultures where the word of the elders / those in power is fact. Places where information is regulated and the truth distorted. It is CRITICAL that we get OER and other diverse, factual publications pushed out to the developing world to help battle the world’s number one killer: ignorance.

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