The inherent freedom of knowledge was one of the principles of the Early Internet. The education field harnessed these ideals when coining the Open Education concept. It started as an attempt to democratize knowledge through digital technologies by creating self-sustained cooperative learning opportunities available for everyone, anywhere, at any time. A still surviving example is Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia anyone could edit. However, the evolution of open education has changed significantly over the years.

“Proponents of open education believe everyone in the world should have access to high-quality educational experiences and resources, and they work to eliminate barriers to this goal. Such barriers might include high monetary costs, outdated or obsolete materials, and legal mechanisms that prevent collaboration among scholars and educators.” (

Open Education started as a movement that aimed to provide free access to educational resources and knowledge to anyone who desired it. The idea was to eliminate the barriers to education and make it accessible to all, irrespective of their socio-economic background or geographical location. The concept of Open Education was driven by the belief that institutional boundaries should not restrict knowledge. Instead, it reflected the principles of sharing and collaboration.

As with other principles of the Internet we left behind, like net neutrality, the freedom of knowledge is now vanishing. Open Education was, and still is, a powerful tool for democratizing education. It has enabled millions of learners worldwide to access quality educational resources, regardless of their financial or geographic limitations. However, the emergence of micro-credentials and subscription models has changed the nature of Open Education.

Open education today has become a gateway for paid courses. These education initiatives are “open” in the same way that Spotify has a free version: To lure users into premium paid content. This business model is called “freemium.”

One example is Code-In-Place by Standford University. This Open Education initiative is a free introduction to coding, which is appreciated. However, more courses in learning platforms, like this one, offer a free version, but the one with a certificate has a price tag.

Several organizations announce open education initiatives but only the basic version of the course is open. The one with the degree or the micro-credential is pricey. This shift from open to freemium has led to a dilution of the original ideal regarding the freedom of knowledge.

The emergence of micro-credentials and subscription models has made education more affordable and accessible for learners. However, it has also hindered the early ideals of the Internet about democratizing knowledge. However, open education still holds the potential to democratize education and provide learners worldwide access to quality educational resources as long as it does not become synonymous with the freemium business model.

Open Education: When “open” really means “freemium”