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Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Why Open Content is Not Yet Adopted in the Workplace

ASTD's Big Question for March is How do we leverage open content in workplace learning?

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.

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Tony Karrer said...

Good post Karl.

On challenge #2 - is it inherent in the content being provided or is it more that you have to figure out where/how to apply it?

Howard Johnson said...

It sounds like a wiki type project, and now that I think of it, I'm a little surprised that more wikipedia articles are very text dependent and do not reference more OCW media. Wikipedia is very successful, but wikiversity , p2pu, and other collaborative efforts to organize larger frameworks seems to be getting off the ground very slowly and I'm wondering why.

Karl Kapp said...

Tony, I think it is both, in many open courseware projects, the materials are all just placed on line and the learners have to figure out how apply the content. In some, like Yale's for example, the lectures are recorded so you have the benefit of the instructor but the lack the ability to ask questions or to check on the understanding of the learner.

Often learning is a two-way conversations and, in many cases, the open courseware is a one way discussion.

Not that these issues can't be addressed but right now, there is not much focus on working out these issues.

Howard, a wikipedia-type solution would help but, really, a learning community needs to develop around the subject to get it off the ground, and, most importantly, organizations are not going to move in that direction without a compelling reason and I don't see anything currently compelling enough to move organizations.

Also, many organizations believe their learning models and what they teach are competitive advantages so they don't want to share (although from what I see, most if it is shared content and not that original or strategic)

jdedden said...

Karl, in your post you mention that organizations do not like to share their "secrets". I think that this is a reaction based on fear. People are afraid of losing their jobs because someone else could possibly know what they know. For example, a college graduate being trained by a superior. I have been in situations like this myself and have asked; am I training this guy to do my job? As a reaction I believe individuals tend to only convey what is necessary in situations like this. I worked in the manufacturing industry for about 10 years and saw alot of fads roll through. Organizations were very private regarding their methods, although they were all basically doing the same thing. Now add to that the state of manufacturing in today’s current economy and that adds to the pressure to stay ahead of competitors.

On the other hand, MIT's OCW project is very interesting. I visited the site for a bit and found it very informative. As far as open content goes, I think that organizations will internally determine if data is valuable and if it could cause harm. MIT offers no degree through their content, so it is just information. In order for someone to take advantage of that they would need to offer a degree, which means accreditation and all the educational stuff. In the example above regarding the trainer and the trainee, the trainee could possibly take the trainers job. Why let go of vital information that could be a threat to an individual or an organization.

I am studying instructional design and have been following this question for only a few days and have found it to be very informative. It really has sparked my interest and I hope to continue good, educational conversations.

Justin Dedden

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