Lesson 5.1 The Concept of Open Educational Practices (OEP)

The Implications of ‘open’ for course and program design: towards a paradigm shift

Although in recent years MOOCs have been receiving significantmedia attention, we believe that developments in Open Educational Resources (OER), Open Textbooks, Open Research and Open Data will be far more important than MOOCs and far more revolutionary. Here are some reasons why:


Nearly all content will be free and open.

Eventually most academic content will be easily accessible and freely available through the internet – for anyone. This could result ina shift of power from teachers/instructors to students. Students will no longer be as dependent on instructors as their primary source of content. Already some students are skipping lectures at their local institution because the teaching of the topic is better and clearer from accessing resources such as OpenCourseWare, MOOCs or content from the Khan Academy. If students can access the best lectures or learning materials for free from anywhere in the world, including the leading Ivy League universities, why would they want to get content from a middling instructor at their university? What is the added value that this instructor is providing for their students? There are good answers to this question, but it means considering very carefully how content will be presented and shaped by a teacher or instructor including how that makes it uniquely different from what students can access elsewhere. For research professors, this may include access to their latest, as yet unpublished, research; for other instructors, it may be their unique perspective on a particular topic, and for others, a unique mix of topics to provide an integrated, inter-disciplinary approach. What will not be acceptable to most students is repackaging of ‘standard’ content that can easily be found elsewhere on the internet and at a higher quality.

Furthermore, if we look at knowledge management as one of the key skills needed in a digital age, it may be better to enable students to find, analyse, evaluate and apply content than for instructors to do it for them. If most content is available elsewhere, what students will look for increasingly from their local institutions is support with their learning, rather than the delivery of content. This means directing them to appropriate sources of content, helping when students are struggling with concepts, and providing opportunities for students to apply their knowledge and to develop and practice skills. It means giving prompt and relevant feedback as and when students need it. Above all, it means creating a rich learning environment in which students can study. It means moving teaching from information transmission to knowledge management, from selecting, structuring and delivering content to learner support.

Thus, for most students within their university or college (with the possible exception of the most advanced research universities) the quality of the learning support provided will eventually matter more than the quality of content delivery, which they can get from anywhere. This is a major challenge for instructors who see themselves primarily as content experts.



The creation ofOER, either as small learning objects, but increasingly as short ‘modules’ of teaching, from anywhere between five minutes to one hour of material, coupled with the increasing diversification of markets, is resulting in two of the key principles of the 5R permissions of OER being applied, re-used and re-mixed. In other words, the same content, available in an openly accessible digital form, may be integrated into a range of different applications, and/or combined with other OER to create a single teaching module, course or programme.

The Ontario government, through its online course development fund, is encouraging institutions to create OER. As a result, several universities have brought together faculty within their own institution, albeitworking in different departments, that teach the same area of content (for example, statistics) to develop ‘core’ OER that can be shared between departments. The logical next step would be for statistics faculty across the Ontario system to get together and develop an integrated set of OER modules on statistics that would cover substantial parts of the statistics curriculum.

Working together has the following benefits:

a) higher quality content through the pooling of resources (two subject experts are better than one, combined with support from instructional designers and web producers)

b) greater amounts of OER can be produced than any one instructor or institution can develop

c) subject coherence and duplication issues can be avoided

d) more likelihood of faculty in one institution using materials created in another if they have had input to the selection and design of the OER from other institutions

As the range and quality of OER increases, instructors (and students) will be able to build curriculum through a set of OER ‘building blocks’. The aim here, will be to reduce instructor time in creating materials (for example, by focusing on creation of  their own OER in subject-specific areas  or related to specific research expertise), and using their time more in supporting student learning than in delivering content.


Disaggregating of services

Open Education and digitisation enable what has tended to be offered by institutions as a complete bundle of services to be split out and offered separately, depending on the market for education and the unique needs of individual learners. Learners will select and use those modules or services that best fit their needs. This is likely to be the pattern for lifelong learners in particular. Some early indications of this process are already occurring, although most of the really significant changes are yet to come.


Learner support

Students may have already determined what they want to study through the internet, such as a MOOC. What they are looking for is help with their studies: how to write assignments, where to look for information, feedback on their work and thinking. They are not necessarily looking for a credit, degree or other qualification, but if they are, they will pay for assessment separately. Currently, students pay private tutors for this service. However, it is feasible that institutions could also provide this service, provided that a suitable business model can be developed.


About Open Course Design

The increasing availability of high quality open content is likely to facilitate the shift from information transmission by the instructor to knowledge management by the learner. Also, in a digital age, there is a need for greater focus on skills development embedded within a subject domain than on the memorisation of content.

The use of OER could enable these developments in a number of ways, such as: