What is Open Education? #OpenEdMooc #OpenPL #OpenEdMoocCanada

neon sign with the word open
Neon open sign Public Domain CC0

As a long-time admirer of open education and the use of open educational resources (OER), I like to begin conversations about openness by probing whether the person I’m talking with has defined open education for themselves, or heard it defined by others. I am always curious to know what it means for them. Open education is an amazing and chaotic concept. Like all movements, practices, frameworks, philosophies, disciplines, etc., there are many different aspects to open education that are always “open” for interpretation and expression. The diversity of what open education means for people is one of my favourite things about it!

For me, open education is a practice that involves critical reflection about who creates knowledge, and who controls its dissemination in traditional, closed, and system-constrained methods of education. My open education practice also includes deep considerations about how digital, Internet-enabled, community-based, equitable, inclusive, diverse, and unconstrained (or at least less constrained) forms of human learning take place. Open education in my world is a near constant internal and external dialogue about how I might simultaneously learn, share, and support the learning of others. I spend a lot of time observing systems, educators, and learners to better understand the subtleties of “education” as a social construct. Open education can be as complex for me as reading and discussing decades of learning theory, and as simple as finding and sharing an image with an open license.

A boatload of what open education means for me stems from my privilege as an employed person living and studying in North America. I acknowledge and respect the far more pressing need for open educational practices to create equitable access to learning in marginalized and severely under-supported systems around the world. I both hope, and check in, about whether or not what I’m doing in open education is useful where the need is greatest. What I don’t know about this need could fill volumes. I keep listening and learning.

There are two hashtags in my title for this post. I’m taking the Introduction to Open Education edX course as a community member in two different communities. The first, #OpenEdMoocCanada is related to my connection to a Canadian higher education community of practice called the Open Rangers (yes it is extremely awesome and fun). The second #OpenPL is related to research I’m conducting with Kristina Peters, one of the leaders of the U.S. GoOpen movement, and Rebecca Heiser an online instructional design practitioner-researcher. We’re interested to learn more about what open education means for PK-12 educators, and whether or not the format of an open course (the edX MOOC) is an effective place to engage in professional learning about the use of OER in primary and secondary school contexts. Welcome to open education! It can be everything all at once.

For those that are just beginning to explore what open education means for them, there is usually a driver. A common driver at the moment is a personal or institutional wish to embrace open educational resources (OER) such as open textbooks, as a cost savings for learners (or in the case of PK-12, the driver is often cost savings for districts). Another common driver for explorations of open education is empowerment. This can be the personal empowerment of a learner to explore, learn, and share learning about what interests them, and also the power of an educator to revise and remix learning resources to align with local contexts and needs. These are all great reasons to start thinking about open education!

There are a few webpages that I like to use to introduce Open Education, they are easy reads. If open education is somewhat new for you, I encourage you to explore these and the many Internet places that talk about open education. If you haven’t done it before, start to form an idea of what open education means in your personal and professional contexts. I’d love to hear how you describe what you discover.

Capetown Open Education Declaration +10

SPARC (the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition): Open Education

Open Education Consortium: Open Education Information Centre

United States Department of Education #GoOpen: Open Education


    1. What are the comparisons? I’m always interested to hear about the ways we’re (hopefully) evolving in open course design and resources related to open education. It’s certainly an evolving and constantly emerging field.

  1. Thanks for writing Jenni. I too am in the edX version of this course and look forward to the learning. I’ll have to get my blog post out here soon, perhaps today as I don’t have class sessions here on campus on Wednesdays.

    I too agree that first listening to each other’s definition of “open” is key. We’ve seen so much #openWashing (nod to Sheila MacNeill and her #OER15 talk, linking here https://howsheilaseesit.blog/2015/04/16/the-aired-washing-from-oer15/)

    I think it is important as well to focus on what Open is instead of “attacking” closed and defining it in the opposite.

    I look forward to more conversation here, on Twitter and in the course discussion space on the edX platform.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *