The social impact of open education

Jul 28 2014, 01:32 IST
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SummaryThe internet opened up knowledge like no other medium had done before. And if knowledge did open up...

The internet opened up knowledge like no other medium had done before. And if knowledge did open up, education as an organised discipline had no other choice but to follow suit. After all, organised education or academia used to have a dominant control over the dissemination of knowledge. But the role of education is not just about the dissemination, it is also about inviting local communities from across the globe to participate in challenging established knowledge, creating new knowledge and interacting with diverse groups of learners.

Education is essentially dialogic in nature, a constant engagement with general and specialised disciplines and with researchers, practitioners and amateurs. That said, open education today is still largely about access to quality resources, which is only the first step, but a crucial one, in reaching these resources to millions in underdeveloped parts of the world.

Today, we are witnessing a further opening up of open education itself. For example, the massive open online courses (MOOCs) offered by universities like Stanford, MIT and the University of Edinburgh on platforms such as Coursera, EdX and Future Learn are distinctly different from our own certified open courses offered by the National Institute of Open Schooling and IGNOU. MOOCs allow anyone from any part of the world to register for any course free of charge. These are UG level short modular courses, typically in the range of 6-12 weeks. Although there is a paid option for those interested in certification through a closely monitored process, what makes these courses different is their invitation to anyone who is passionate about learning anything—no prior qualification, no age barrier, no geographical barrier, no class barrier.

But what is so radical about open education if the internet had already managed to reach quality content? Because a chaotic world of multiple knowledge resources is not the same as knowledge organised by subject experts and educationists. Where you start from the simple and move towards the complex. Where you break down complex information into logical chunks, with examples, stories and multimedia representations. Where you pose a question and allow learners to reflect on what they learned. Where you relate what you learn to how they matter in life, practically or aesthetically.

So, as learners, we now have the opportunity to engage with real experts and multicultural peer groups as opposed to interacting with static unverified content—an opportunity that is open to both the privileged and the less privileged.

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