”Open” and ”free” are nice words almost everyone loves, but they are rather fluffy and ambiguous so we have to make things clearer. But first maybe a look at the context and the “zeitgeist” where the term “Open learning” may be a part.

Digitalization and a global Internet opens new possibilities and brings in new thoughts. If I have a physical book and give it to you it means that you get richer and I get poorer. If I have a text file and give a copy to you, we both get richer you of course but I get someone to discuss the text with. Digital files can be copied at a minimal cost in millions of copies and transferred around the globe and the copies are exactly identical with the original. As long as network capacity was a scarce resource people had to meet, copy files from and to magnetic tapes, floppy disks, hard drives, and compact disks. As the Internet in the nineties got more commonly available much happened.


But some things had happened long before. The word Copyleft could at least be traced back to 1976 (1) but the word got more well defined by Richard M Stallman in the GNU Manifesto


 GNU is not in the public domain. Everyone will be permitted to modify and redistribute GNU, but no distributor will be allowed to restrict its further redistribution. That is to say, proprietary modifications will not be allowed. I want to make sure that all versions of GNU remain free.” (1)


GNU is a free operative system Stallman by that time intends to create and he and his organization creates most of the parts of the operating system but not the central “brain” called a kernel.


In 1986 Stallman defines four freedoms for what he calls free software(2)

  • Freedom 0: The freedom to run the program for any purpose.
  • Freedom 1: The freedom to study how the program works, and change it to make it do what you wish.
  • Freedom 2: The freedom to redistribute and make copies so you can help your neighbour.
  • Freedom 3: The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements (and modified versions in general) to the public, so that the whole community benefits.


In 1991 Linus Torvalds releases the Linux operating system kernel.(3)(4) Together with the tools created by the GNU-project (1) and some other free software the world now has a complete free operating system. Today Linux dominates the market for supercomputers, web servers and mobile telephones, even if the market share on desktop computers is rather small.


A community

Torvalds uses the Internet not only to distribute the early versions of the Linux kernel but to create a community of developers. He releases new versions often and receives bug reports and patches with corrections and new features from people all over the world.(5)


When I as a representative for a Telecom company travelled around Sweden talking about the Internet and what people could do with it, Linux was already a main example of people could achieve with the Internet.


The moral freedom argument was not easily adopted by business. Raymond and others coined the word Open source and put more focus onto that the source code, the blueprint of the program, should be available for inspection and improvement. They compared with peer-review in the academic world and argued that access to the source code gave better code and better programs to the users. In 1998 the Open Source Initiative was founded


Open access

For publication of academic papers there has been a tradition that commercial scientific journals have received the articles for free, the research has often been financed with taxpayer’s money. Then other scientists have, with taxpayer’s money, done the peer-review and editing work. Then the universities have to put lots of taxpayer’s money into subscriptions for the journals. For the ordinary taxpayers without access to a university library access to research papers has been difficult and at high cost.


For a couple of decades there has been a movement towards Open Access publishing of scientific output(6).


Open outlaws

What we have been talking about is within the law. Using copyright for sharing and openness. There has also been a great outlaw movement ignoring copyright and other laws to make software, music, movies, scientific papers, and secret documents publicly available. There has also been a political branch of the piracy movement represented in some parliaments. I wouldn’t go further into that because that would make the introduction too long.


Open educational resources


“Open” is a beautiful but rather “fluffy” word and we need a definition. One is made by David Wiley(7):


– Retain – the right to make, own, and control copies of the content
– Reuse – the right to use the content in a wide range of ways (e.g., in a class, in a study group, on a website, in a video)
– Revise – the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself (e.g., translate the content into another language)
– Remix – the right to combine the original or revised content with other open content to create something new (e.g., incorporate the content into a mashup)
– Redistribute – the right to share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others (e.g., give a copy of the content to a friend)


Looking at it make me feel that it seems rather analogous with Stallman’s four freedoms (2)

Wiley also describes education as an act of giving but in a sense that you don’t loose your knowledge or skills by giving it to your students or others. (8)


What’s in it for me?

There is always a reason for skepticism. Why should I share the fruits of my hard work? Why should I expose myself for criticism from peers and from laymen outside my field?


There are different motivations for an open approach(9)

·      Increased audience

·      Increased reuse

·      Increased access

·      Increased experimentation

·      Increased reputation

·      Increased revenue

·      Increased participation


I also would add improved quality. Sometimes I am plain wrong, more often I have missed some aspects or there are better ways to explain. Almost always I make typos or (at least in English) use the wrong words. Getting feedback, inputs and contributions makes things better. According to Linus Law: “given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow”(5)

You give something away (red) but you also get feedback and learn (blue) and get contributions from students and peers (green).


A reputation game?

Scientist are used to publish the results of their research. The more readers and citations they get the more important are the results considered and the more such publications the better scientist according to university management.


The same should apply when scientists enter the classrooms and teach the next generation of scientists. A course using material by well-known teachers at well-known universities should be considered good and meeting those teachers IRL or at least through digital means should be even better. Being part of such a community will attract good students to the courses.


Making a better course with less effort

Making or improving course material in a community could also reduce the effort by needed from each teacher to create a new course or to keep the material up to date. Combining different skills in the team could also make the material more varied and pedagogical.


Keep it simple

Creating a MOOC (Massive Online Open Course) could a great undertaking (10)(11). You probably need a team and some great support to do that. It is not something you do today or the next day. Still an open course may not be so scary. I run a photo course in my spare time, it is not by all means massive, but it is open and online. It consists of some videos on YouTube(12) and a Facebook group(13) for discussions, assignments and collection of relevant links.


Publishing a short text, a picture, a diagram or a PowerPoint presentation or maybe a short instructional movie on an open place with an open license may be more within reach. Maybe already today. You have lots of good stuff on your hard drive already.

Making it open

Still you have to think. Let’s say you have a presentation that you will make open. Give it a careful look. Is there any stolen copyrighted material (photos, graphics, films, texts or music), that you have to take away or substitute? Have you checked licenses and given proper credits to others work? 


Making your available material open


Choose a license

Most common for the kind of material we are talking about is Creative commons, but this is a kit of building blocks that you can combine in various ways. (14)


CC BY is the basic building block and demands that you get credit for your work. Except for that people can use, share and remix

SA, share alike, requires that remixes of your material still are open and shared with the same license.

NC, non-commercial, doesn’t allow commercial use

ND, no derivatives, doesn’t allow changes

CCØ is giving up the copyright and giving the work to public domain


I think we have to also care a little about in what formats we share. What is “the source code” of your material? How do we make things easy to change and remix. What formats to use? 

What file formats and programs to use to make stuff really open?

Still scared?

Try sharing with a smaller group. Your colleges at the university, colleges you know at other universities etc. That may nor be “openness” as we think of it, but at least a step in the right direction.


Open learners and campus students

But students (or taxpayers) pay for university courses. What if learners can access the course material for free on the Internet. Well, even without OER you can buy textbooks or borrow at a library and read them on your own.


Studying at a university is another experience. First you have to get admitted. Then the experience is broader than the academic part your teachers stand for or what you can find in the university library. The university may be the place where you find the love of your life or where you start your business or get interested in a subject you haven’t even heard of before.

There are also often parts of the course that requires physical attendance. That could be excursions, study visits, lab exercises, using simulators etc. Being an admitted student also means that you can get credits and an exam.


Open learning (to the right) compared with taking an ordinary university course (left) can be two very different things.



All resources at the university cannot be open or done from home. Here some students operating a navigation simulator at the maritime academy, Linnaeus University, Kalmar. Photo: Urban Anjar


As an open learner you may not be interested in the whole course. Maybe you leave when you got the answers you were looking for.  Maybe you are shopping around for a university, a teacher or a subject that fits you. Maybe you are there more for learning then for getting academic credits. Maybe you cannot afford to go to the university, or your job and family situation creates barriers.


Also, competition between different universities can still exist even with common open courseware. Universities are different. They have different faculties, different equipment, different traditions, different activities for students etc. The textbooks and slides don’t make a university.

Competition and openness are compatible      


1.   Copyleft. I: Wikipedia [Internet]. 2020 [citerad 18 oktober 2020]. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Copyleft&oldid=980794227

2.   Free software. I: Wikipedia [Internet]. 2020 [citerad 18 oktober 2020]. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Free_software&oldid=983107874

3.   Linux. I: Wikipedia [Internet]. 2020 [citerad 18 oktober 2020]. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Linux&oldid=984186818

4.   Torvalds L, Diamond D, Torvalds S. Just for fun: mannen bakom Linux. Stockholm: Alfabeta; 2001.

5.   Raymond ES. The cathedral & the bazaar: musings on Linux and open source by an accidental revolutionary. 1st ed. Beijing ; Cambridge, Mass: O’Reilly; 1999. 268 p.

6.   Open access. I: Wikipedia [Internet]. 2020 [citerad 18 oktober 2020]. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Open_access&oldid=983546920

7.   The Access Compromise and the 5th R – iterating toward openness [Internet]. [citerad 22 oktober 2020]. Available at: https://opencontent.org/blog/archives/3221

8.   TEDxNYED – David Wiley – 03/06/10 [Internet]. 2010 [citerad 14 oktober 2020]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rb0syrgsH6M

9.   Weller M. The Battle for Open [Internet]. Ubiquity Press. Ubiquity Press; 2014 [citerad 14 oktober 2020]. Available at: https://www.ubiquitypress.com/site/books/m/10.5334/bam/

10. What is a MOOC? [Internet]. 2010 [citerad 14 oktober 2020]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eW3gMGqcZQc

11. MOOCs: knowledge at your fingertips | Sophie Dandache | TEDxUCLouvain [Internet]. 2010 [citerad 21 oktober 2020]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MnFg7cGYFrk

12. Anjar, U – YouTube [Internet]. [citerad 21 oktober 2020]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/user/urbananjar

13. Fotografins grunder HT20 | Facebook [Internet]. [citerad 21 oktober 2020]. Available at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/999362803825274

14. Creative Commons licences explained [Internet]. 2011 [citerad 14 oktober 2020]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ZvJGV6YF6Y


Being open (Topic 2)