If Courses are About Content, We Have Competition…

It’s Open Education Week this week, apparently (whatever that means), although as Amber writes in her piece openedspace: “most of the definitions [of open education] are really about open educational resources. It wasn’t what I expected: surely there is a lot more to the concept of open education than that?”

Here’s Amber’s take after a bit of (open) rapid innovation around trying to map out the current situation:

@ambrouk's view #3 over openedspace

I still get confused about what Higher Ed is supposed to be about (as, I think, do HESA, given they’re not sure what they should be collecting data about, or why – HE Information Landscape Project): a 50% of the population play is not the same as a 10% population play; and the information environment we inhabit now, along with the flight (supposedly) to knowledge based working and services, is not the environment that existed even 20 years ago when the Polys decided that their branding wasn’t aspirational enough and they became Universities.

But courses still are as largely as courses were, so here are some spoilers for folk who think that open education should be just a purely academic play…

From the print version of Wired, I notice an advert for the Condé Nast College of Fashion and Design (opening 2013), which it seems will be starting out with a ten-week “Vogue Fashion Certificate” and a year-long “Vogue Fashion Foundation Diploma” (as you might (?!) expect, the website has areas such as “how to apply” and links to “download prospectus”…)

As if not to be unfair to their different offspring, Condé Nast are also setting up a consulting arm to Wired itself: Wired Consulting (I would link to a news article on this, but they all just seem to be rehashing the press release, and not doing any journalistic value add to the story at all…)

Although no-one’s really bitten on the idea of using consultations as course scaffolding, I notice that The Houses of Parliament’s Outreach Service” is to launch Open Lectures for Universities, “a series of events that form part of a new package of services aimed at universities[,] … delivered at Westminster by senior figures from within Parliament, covering a wide variety of subjects about Parliament and its work.” Although they rarely seem to be classed as OERs*, I’ve personally found Parliamentary research documents produced by the Parliamentary Library to be useful more than a few times as I try to learn about a topic that’s alien to me…which is most of them…

* because OERs tend to be teaching resources produced by academics; not things that folk, in general, can learn from. Because most folk are taught how to learn, and don’t get encouraged to learn how to learn. They get taught how to be taught. IMHO. And that may or may not even be my own opinion, really…

Wolfram don’t publish subject centred publish textbooks, as a rule, but if and when textbooks start to become electronic and interactive, maybe living out the promise that was held 15 years ago for “interactive CD-ROMs”, and if student expectations develop along that line, we may well find that Wolfram’s online tooling makes them a de facto textbook publisher via aggregations of topic related interactive exercises. (I’m thinking of the Wolfram Demonstrations project here; I haven’t got my head around how Wolfram|Alpha Pro might play out yet…)

Something else that really confuses me at the moment is where the publishing industry itself may go as publishers start to find ways of using data to extract value from the content they have access to…

PS has anyone got any updates on the sale of the College of Law [via LegalWeek] (which also appears to be in international expansionist mode?)? As the Legal Week article points out, “The College is currently structured as a charity, which has raised many questions about how a takeover would be structured.” To this extent, I wonder if any HE related unions or trade press (for such is the THES…) are maintaining a watching brief over University Council and Senate agenda items, for signs that institutions are trying to realign policies, financial structures, or even charters, as a sign that they are positioning themselves for major change…?

PPS related – a view over a chunk of the Twitterverse relating in some approximate way to folk who may be into the #opened (read: “open ed”) thing…


This map was based in part by folk commonly followed by recent users (at the time of sampling) of a couple of open education related hashtags… But I forget the actual recipe I used…

Author: Tony Hirst

I'm a Senior Lecturer at The Open University, with an interest in #opendata policy and practice, as well as general web tinkering...

10 thoughts on “If Courses are About Content, We Have Competition…”

    1. @alan I think Khan Academy becomes more interesting when folk start to look at buying into it, or entering into formal credit bearing and/or experience recognising agreements with it, and we see what sort of folk they are…

    2. Tony,

      Khan academy web application (not just the videos) is already used by some schools in California for Math instruction. It’s not higher education yet, but it’s happening.

      And, when the 10-year olds who learn Maths with Kahn Academy are old enough to go to college, I bet they (and their parents) will see it as legit as any other higher learning provider college.

  1. I’ll have to go back to your consultant post, but I was left feeling all the diagrams with the reciprocal connections between learning and providers are leaving off that area that does not involve institutions at all. I am not harping badges, but I am not seeing what describes the unstructured network learning I do on a regular basis.

    I also see a lack of looking at the course as a given structure of learning; this too feels on some ways part if the conveyer belt approach to learning described by Sir Ken. Why are we not questioning the course centric model?

    1. @alan [A v brief response because I’m in a conf session at the mo…]

      Re questioning the course centric models – agreed… I suspect most folk don’t yet understand networked ways of working and/or learning and can’t see past the idea of “courses”… I far prefer the idea of uncourses;-)

      As to the focus on diagrams that include institutions with them – that’s because folk are looking for ways of keeping instittuions in the picture, isn’t it?

  2. I think this is true. Publishing, under pressure will seek new markets. Whether those markets are sustainable is another point. The critical challenge here is content organisation. Something which has not, as yet been addressed satisfactorily. It will be though, and then the content landscape will change

  3. Kicking myself that I only just spotted this!!! Grateful for you picking this up Tony. Alan, the point about institutions is exactly my point: existing institutions are not the only providers of learning opportunities. Learning is a much bigger venn bubble than “Education”, and given that we already have very expensive formal post-compulsary education, qualification inflation (a degree is worth less in an era of 50% HE), and this thing called the web, I totally agree with you that institutions are not the only game in town.
    I’m writing for a FE/HE audience, and as I said in my post http://amberthomas.typepad.com/fragments/2012/03/openedspace.html “What is driving the interest, is it on the inside or the outside of “education”? Am I a reactionary for wanting to preserve some of the strengths of a public education system?” – your questions are my questions too.

    1. You are not a reactionary at all Amber; w/o public institutions and a mission of working towards an education society, we are left to free market profiters or the the endowed generous. Where else will open experimentation/innovation for the sake of learning (not profit) go? I would not be doing the things I get to do w/o being part of a public org.

      It’s not either/or; HE has things to learn from the stuff outside, and must not be insular either.

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