Open educational practices as a double-edged sword

Open educational practices and resources seem to provide both opportunities for social justice but also challenges for teachers, students, and organizations. I feel somewhat divided about open education: while it certainly has potential in improving equity and it should used in providing education for those who are disadvantaged in accessing education, it can also drain educational resources without making systemic improvements.

OEP can provide several benefits for making education more accessible to people from different backgrounds (Bali et al. 2020). There is potential to reach students who are disadvantaged due to a variety of reasons, and open education can reach students irrespective of their physical location. An example that came up in our group’s discussions was that the travel to the place of education might pose substantial risks to the learners, and hence openly accessible studies could alleviate such risks. There are limits, however. The accessibility of technical equipment, for example, might be limited for just those groups who are in a disadvantaged position. Moreover, it is not only about the necessary equipment, but also the lack of time, other commitments, and attitudes that might limit how students take up possibilities of open education.

As for teachers, open educational practices might provide inputs for professional development but also take up a lot of resources without proper organizational support. An example mentioned in our group discussions pointed out how openly accessible teaching materials can invite comments from a variety of people, and this feedback can be useful in developing the materials. On the other hand, OEP is also somewhat intimidating in terms of opening up with own materials, methods to a broader audience.

In the case of educational organizations such as universities, it seems that open learning might be equal to a guide somewhere deep in the university’s website, but it is not really utilized in teaching. While there are examples of free MOOCs they feel a bit like ways to profile universities on surface level. However, I do understand why openness can be a challenge in the current education system (in probably most western countries), as Universities compete with one another to get students, and freely available materials and courses challenge this to some extent. Of course, such materials can also work as advertisements for the universities.

Perhaps one of the takeaways is that the expectations regarding open educations should be at realistic level: the ideal of making education accessible for everyone is commendable, but this ideal should not set up teachers and learners for a let-down. One way of making sure that OEP is made useful is to consider how it can be seen through the frame of constructive alignment (Paskevicius 2017). Figuring out how OEP can affect the learning outcomes, resources, teaching and learning methods, and assessment might help in designing OEP for the better.

Bali, M., Cronin, C., & Jhangiani, R. S. (2020).Framing Open Educational Practices from a Social Justice Perspective. Journal of Interactive Media in Education.

Paskevicius, M. (2017). Conceptualizing open educational practices through the lens of constructive alignment. Open Praxis, 9(2), 125-140.


Hi Visa,
I like your reflection about the down side that openess can have if it does not lead anywhere. I guess openess alone is not enought, but an important step. However, I was thinking now that openess may widen the divide and only rich and wealthy countries and communities will use that free available information to reduce the number of teachers, do not pay for designer, etc. While the potential to really help the poor may be very limited if other type of support such as access to computers and internet is not available.
Thanks for doing so much work for our group!
Ana Maria

Dear Ana Maria,

thank you for the great comment! There definitely needs to be a critical perspective on OEP to avoid widening the gap between those who have access and those who don’t. Perhaps development studies could provide some insight into how education can be supported in poorer contexts.

Anita Toh says:

Hi Visa. I like your point about how OEP may affect a university’s competitive advantage in the face of stiff competition for students, although at the same time, it elevates the university’s branding.

We talked about this in our PBL group as well and realized that contributing to OEP may be more relevant to public institutions than private ones because public universities receive public funding and have the responsibility to provide access and equity to education, whereas private universities are governed by market forces and must wield competitive advantage in order to be sustainable.

OEP is certainly very complex and there’s much to think about in terms of aligning it realistically with the institution’s needs and role. Thank you so much for sharing and for sparking more thought in this area 🙂

Dear Anita,

thank you for the insightful comment! The public/private divide can certainly be of importance for OEP. On one hand public institutions might be more interested in OE, however, at least in Finland the public funding is to a great extent based on the number of graduates from the Universities. In such cases there might not be incentives for OE if it is directed to non-degree students. Maybe there needs to be a constructive alignment of financial incentives and open education?

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