The concept seems straightforward--a no brainer, take content that is used by many different organizations, and share it with others so that the overall cost is extremely low or free. Many organizations are involved with such initiatives. One of the best known is MIT's Open Courseware project. But they are not the only initiative, there is the Open High School of Utah and the Flat World Knowledge project that is focusing on creating open, low cost books and Yale Open courses offers select introductory courses online.
And the concept seems to be gaining momentum. A recently posted blog at the Huffington Post titled Are Open Educational Resources at the Tipping Point or the Tripping Point? discusses the possibility that open content can address a number of issues involved with improving (read "reducing the cost") of education. It might just be that the current economic climate is doing something that good will couldn't do...push the "open content movement" further.
A quick definition from the article:
The term "open educational resources" was first adopted at UNESCO's 2002 Forum on the Impact of Open Courseware for Higher Education in Developing Countries funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. UNESCO helped to define OER as educational materials and resources "offered freely and openly for anyone to use and under some licenses to re-mix, improve and redistribute." OERs include learning content as well as tools to create and share the content.Unfortunately, there seems to be some compelling reasons open initiatives have not taken off:
1) Corporations suffer an acute case of "Not Invented Here Syndrome." I've witnessed this with something as simple as off-the-shelf e-learning courses. I've been told by presidents of companies that they need to have "custom" training for universal topics like ethics or diversity training because their organization is "different" or because their employees won't "get it" unless they see images of their own company or the references are exactly matched to their organization. This constantly astonishes me, humans can generalize very effectively and we can learn from a variety of types of content, even if it is not totally customized to our situation. Humans are adaptable and able to focus on what is important regardless of the "trimmings." Yet, organizations and individuals continue to hold onto the notion that "Not Invented Here" means "No Learning Here." This is not the case but is an impediment to the adoption of an open courseware within the organization.
2) The second reason, which is more compelling, is that learning and education is more than just course outlines and materials. The MIT initiative for example, lacks the extra element of the actual MIT professor adding the instructional strategies to the content as she delivers it. Content devoid of instructional strategies is not effective for many learners (some can leverage the materials, many cannot). Since it is expensive and time consuming to have a person take stand up materials and design them for online delivery, that step is often not funded and the result is a library of information related to a course but not a course. Can learning occur without instructional strategies?...of course but it takes a lot more effort on the part of the learner. Effort that, in a corporate setting, that is often not undertaken due to time constraints.
Catalog of Recommended Books, Games and Gadgets
Recommended Games and Gadgets