Open Educational Resources: The future of learning?

Open Educational Resources: The future of learning?

Have you ever thought of attending a seminar at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.), in the United States but are afraid of flying? Do you want to enrol in an MBA programme, but are worried about being able to finance it? How about learning more about Marketing (or Finance, or Human Resources…), but not wanting to spend a whole day in a Business School?

Well, it seems that nowadays, you can get (almost) all of this at the click of your mouse or swipe of your iPad! Just Google ‘OER in management’ and the chances are, you will find everything that you need to know.

OER stands for Open Educational Resources and covers a wide range of educational material, freely accessible for use and reuse. The OER movement has experienced rapid development over the past few years, fuelled by advances in technology and highly visible initiatives, such as the decision by MIT to allow free online access to its course materials. Other initiatives have followed and users can now access more than 350 million OER sources.

Everything you always wanted to know about management but were afraid to ask…

In practice, Open Resources in Management now cover a very wide range of materials, from short definitions of the main management concepts to whole lectures, complete with slides, exam questions and answers to these questions. The range of suppliers is wide, encompassing both world-class experts and obscure professors of management. Providers range from the most prestigious universities like the Ivy League to virtually unknown institutions in far-off countries around the globe.

In a nutshell, everything can be found and accessed, the only common characteristic between these materials is that they are equally free to use and reuse. A quick look at the domain shows an extreme fragmentation on offer. Everybody is aware of the MIT initiative that demonstrates very impressive figures (1 million visits every month, from virtually all countries in the world with 95 million visitors in total), but the reality also includes a myriad of much smaller initiatives, with local and regional institutions deciding to join forces to allow access to some of their courses, materials and resources. Over the past few years, though, the biggest area of growth for OER has come from individuals sharing items they produced. It coincided with the emergence of social networking platforms that facilitate the exchange of educational content, eg SlideShare, YouTube, etc.

But… OER cannot be mistaken with Open Education

It is easy to mistake OER in management for open education in management and consider OER as a substitute (even an imperfect one) to traditional management education. While these two terms are sound similar, OER cannot be considered as an equivalent. Even if the resources are in fact the same (after all, some of the courses of MIT are broadcasted live), it differs fundamentally from the education delivered in Business Schools and Universities.

While the users can access the resources (partly or fully), they cannot interact with the faculty nor validate their learning by earning credits that can eventually leading to a degree. This policy of ‘no credit, no instructor, no charge’ is always clearly stated by the providers. OER cannot provide any formal recognition of these informal studies, however the next step of MIT’s initiative, MITx, aims to provide ‘a certificate of completion’ for students who demonstrated their mastery. The value and the recognition of such a certificate still remains to be evaluated, however.

The other fundamental distinction is the absence of pedagogical engineering in the use of OER. Business schools and universities create curricula and organise the pedagogical progression, requesting a sequence in the courses. This aspect is totally absent in the OER landscape where anybody can access the course of his/her choice, whatever his/her former knowledge in the field. Some OER portals try to provide guidance and recommendation for selecting the best-adapted materials, but this offer remains patchy and the quality of the recommendation is often questionable.

While no substitute, OER can still provide a precious complement to education and training in Management by allowing access to a wide array of material to supplement and enrich the knowledge gathered in business schools, universities or training centres. As previously underlined, there are many advantages for using OER, including flexible access to a huge variety of free or low-cost materials, instant availability and personally chosen resources to suit your own needs and constraints.

The OpenScout portal

This EU funded project aims at providing easy access to open education resources in Management. It also provides a wide portfolio of tools to make the most of these materials and a gateway to a vibrant community of professors, trainers, managers and students. More than 60 000 resources, whether management lectures, case studies, videos and articles are at your fingertips.

So, next time you want to attend a management lecture without having to suffer the jet lag… just visit!

If you are interested in reading more about OER, a new publication was released in June 2012 entitled Perspectives on Open and Distance Learning: Open Educational Resources and Change in Higher Education: Reflections from Practice. This publication contains case studies and reflections which cover OER practice and policy in a diverse range of contexts, with a strong focus on events in developing countries.