Education is essential to advancing society. It’s how we pass down the wealth of human knowledge and equip the next generation of leaders, innovators and productive members of society. Our educational systems are built to provide every person the opportunity to build a better life—by turning children into citizens, learners into teachers, laborers into skilled workers.
Expanding educational opportunities is more possible now than it has ever been before. Through the Internet, learners can find information instantly on virtually any topic, teachers can share their knowledge with students on another continent almost as easily as in their own classroom, and educational materials can be disseminated to a worldwide audience at virtually no marginal cost.
However, our systems for sharing information in education have not caught up with the potential of 21st century technology. Instead, the educational materials market is held captive by legacy publishing models that actively restrict the dissemination and innovative use of resources in a world that craves educational opportunities. Textbook prices have continued to rise rapidly, leaving too many students without access to their required materials. Digital offerings from traditional publishers come laced with access restrictions and expiration dates with little savings in return, and print editions are too often out of date by the time they hit the shelves.
For too long, our educational systems have operated with a fundamental disconnect between practices left over from the analog world, and the vast potential of technology and the Internet to support more affordable, effective teaching and learning. The movement for Open Education seeks to close this gap.
Open Education encompasses resources, tools and practices that are free of legal, financial and technical barriers and can be fully used, shared and adapted in the digital environment.
The foundation of Open Education is Open Educational Resources (OER), which are teaching, learning, and research resources that are free of cost and access barriers, and which also carry legal permission for open use. Generally, this permission is granted by use of an open license (for example, Creative Commons licenses) which allows anyone to freely use, adapt and share the resource—anytime, anywhere. “Open” permissions are typically defined in terms of the “5R’s”: users are free to Retain, Reuse, Revise, Remix and Redistribute these educational materials.
Textbook costs should not be a barrier to education. The price of textbooks has skyrocketed more than three times the rate of inflation for decades. College students face steep price tags that can top $200 per book, and K-12 schools use books many years out of date because they are too expensive to replace. Using OER solves this problem because the material is free online, affordable in print, and can be saved forever. Resources that would otherwise go to purchasing textbooks can be redirected toward technology, improving instruction, or reducing debt.
Students learn more when they have access to quality materials. The rapidly rising cost of textbooks in higher education has left many students without access to the materials they need to succeed. Studies show that 93% of students who use OER do as well or better than those using traditional materials, since they have easy access to the content starting day one of the course.
Technology holds boundless potential to improve teaching and learning. Open Education ensures that teachers, learners and institutions can fully explore this potential. Imagine an American History textbook with the latest news from the 2016 election, or a math tutorial that incorporates local landmarks into word problems. Imagine a lecture attended by hundreds of thousands of people across the globe, or a peer-to-peer exchange between Canadian students learning Mandarin with Chinese students learning English. All of this and more is possible when the pathways for technology in education are fully open.
Better education means a better future. Education is the key to advancing society’s greatest goals, from a building a strong economy to leading healthy lives. By increasing access to education and creating a platform for more effective teaching and learning, Open Education benefits us all.