Topic 2: Open Learning – Sharing and Openness

Part I: Is Open Education “real” education?

I remember the first time I encountered a MOOC, way back in 2009, when I was starting my bachelor’s degree. It was Michael Sandel’s Justice: What’s The Right Thing To Do?. Not only was the course fantastic, but the idea that I could watch a class from Harvard University while sitting in my bedroom in the middle of nowhere Brazil, without paying a dime, was just… mindblowing. The possibilities seemed endless then.

I followed a few of those courses on platforms like Coursera. It was possible to pay for a certificate, but I never did. Even if I had the money to pay for it (which I didn’t), it wouldn’t have counted for anything. My university didn’t accept it for credits, and since the content was very theoretical, future employees didn’t seem to care about it much either. That never mattered much to me; I took those courses to learn new things. It was just so exciting to have access to materials produced by fancy US schools!

Fast forward a few years, to when I started working. I needed more practical content; shorter, focused courses, not the long, slow-paced university material. Bye, bye, Coursera. Hello, Udemy. The happy exploration of theories was over. I paid for the certificates, got my credentials to do grown-up things, and that was it.

When I moved to Finland and started my Master’s degree, it was shocking to find out that my university had us take MOOCs. My initial reaction was that it felt cheap, like a shortcut because they didn’t want to put in the work of teaching us for real. Later they explained that the content part of the MOOC was available for anyone to take, but that for us to receive credits for it, we still had to do assignments that would be graded by our teachers.

After thinking about my reaction, I realized that, despite my early optimism about Open Education, I somehow didn’t see it as “real” education. Yes, it was good enough to learn from, but perhaps not good enough to be counted as “official” learning by the university. It can be jarring to confront your own short-sightedness and prejudices. There I was, Miss Let’s Open Up This Education Stuff, looking down on the MOOCs I had praised now that I had finally made it to a good European school.

The joke’s on me, though, as Hanken’s MOOCs are very well-regarded. All three of its courses on sustainability, for example, are part of UNESCO’s collection of Global Network of Learning Cities.

Part II: Updating the discussion

I see distinct phases in my online journey – from the internet being a not-so-useful novelty to the years of optimism, to the current process of enshittification, as coined by the brilliant Cory Doctorow. I find it useful to refer to these phases here because I believe many of us still talk about Open Learning as we did during the early 20o0s, which might be a mistake.

In those early days, the discussion centered on how the Internet had made it possible to access resources from all over the world. It had an optimistic, and perhaps even naive view. Universities such as Harvard would record classes and upload them for people to watch for free – exactly as I did on the first MOOC I took.

Still, as we discussed in our PBL group, we recognize now that access to materials and resources is not enough. Open Scientific Knowledge is only one of four components of Open Science, which also includes open science infrastructures, open dialogue with other knowledge systems, and open engagement of societal actors (UNESCO, 2021, p. 11). We have to ask critical questions about who produces the content and how it is shared. Is that content only being produced in the Global North, with the South being relegated to a passive consumer? If the content is mostly produced in the North, what happens to the specific knowledge created in the South? Is it seen as less relevant? Power relations are present and should be considered when talking about OE. I won’t repeat the entire argument here, but you can read it in the amazing flipbook that our group produced.

The recommended reading by Costello et al. (2019) is a good resource in this discussion. As they argue, we can mean different things by open when we talk about open education. Are we talking about open as freely available, open as produced democratically, or open as a specific tech setting? Unless we update our view of Open Education to the reality we live in 2024, we won’t be able to find the answers we need.

Making sense of the world in 2024 is no easy task, however. With the proliferation of technological tools and the increasing marketization of education, figuring out how to work with OE becomes more challenging. As an example, AI has made the question of copyright much more complicated, as the data used to train LLMs is scrapped from the Internet in a way that ignores copyright. It is also unclear how the outputs of generative AI can be copyrighted. How should we deal with that? Will people use AI tools to create garbage content to be used for educational purposes? How will we be able to control that, especially as there are strong incentives for companies to make money?

Questions, questions, questions.

You know, the usual.



Costello, Huijser & Marshall. (2019). Education’s many “opens”.

UNESCO (2021). UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science. Available from:


Katie Kenny says:

I really enjoyed reading your thoughtful reflections and commentary on what is deemed legitimate knowledge. I study supply chains where it inevitably always goes back to colonialism, and education does follow the same patterns as any other type of resource. I was just in Rio for an academic conference and there was a talk on post-colonial effects on education within Brazil as well. It is such a deep and complicated issue which is beyond this course, but I really appreciated you getting at the core issue of who decides what is ‘legitimate’ content in the first place.

Leave a Reply