When we started dealing with open learning, I had to find a definition to know what we would talk about. I started with the Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning, which provides a comprehensive but broad explanation of open learning:
”open learning” describes learning situations in which learners have the flexibility to choose from a variety of options about the time, place, instructional methods, modes of access, and other factors related to their learning processes. It should be understood from this perspective that a learning situation or process should be open to everyone, under any circumstances, at any place and at any time. In many situations, the term open learning is used interchangeably to refer to e-learning, flexible learning, and distance learning.
I believed that, in general, European higher education is open learning in essence, it is available and accessible to everyone, regardless of state affiliation or economic opportunities. However, the quoted definition confirmed that openness is not meant in this sense, and European education is a very closed system. In the framework of our discussion, I was particularly interested in the attitude of the educational institution itself to the openness of its knowledge for the general public.
If I focus on the broadest possible form of open learning, the courses should be available to everyone. Therefore the materials the teacher creates should be freely available to everyone and everywhere. For this reason, I do not consider e-learning in my contribution to meet this standard. Because e-learning is accessible only to students enrolled in that given course. The question is, why does the university not support accessibility for everyone? Is it because the university wants to have exclusivity in the possibility of teaching this knowledge? Or because it considers materials used for education (such as presentations) to be the university’s intellectual property? And what about the teacher himself? What are his rights to his teaching materials?
Already in 1997, Australian scientists reasoned that the introduction of open learning would require a great deal of effort on the part of the institution itself:
(…) adopting such a philosophy requires commitment, motivation and flexibility at all university levels.
A significant inspiration for me was two British projects, the OTTER project from 2009 at the University of Leicester and the much older British project OpenLearn of 1969. These projects were supposed to help bring university knowledge to students who are located anywhere and do not have the opportunity to attend a classical study. At the same time, they were supposed to contribute to innovations. Both needed help with the issue of copyright to the provided study materials. This issue was resolved in the case of university teachers by declaring that they waived their rights in favour of the university because they are its employees. Such a step is clearly in favour of open learning. However, is it correct that teachers leave all rights to their materials to the university? After all, the university also pays research workers, but they keep their rights to their academic articles. Should this issue be different in the selection of teaching materials? It is fitting that the teachers gave up these rights to spread knowledge to the public. Our mission as teachers are to educate. The general public pays us; therefore, we should provide services not only to selected students but to everyone who wants an education.
The problem of universities lies in the fact that some teaching materials contain copyrights of people who are not employees. These parts must either be deleted, or it is necessary to negotiate with the authors and pay them the corresponding financial compensation. This process is lengthy, laborious and financially demanding, thus not advantageous for the university. If the university does not want to publish its study materials for these reasons, it should at least create a compromise. It should create special courses for the public, designed so that only university teachers participate in them and convey knowledge from their field. The university has a public mission paid for by everyone’s taxes, so everyone should access at least part of the knowledge.
Caliskan H., Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning, (2012). ISBN : 978-1-4419-1427-9.
Fraser S., Deane E.M., Why Open Learning. The Australian Universities’ review,( 1997 ). ISSN: 0818-8068.
Hawkridge, D., Armellini, A., Nikoi, S. et al. Curriculum, intellectual property rights and open educational resources in British universities—and beyond. J Comput High Educ 22, 162–176 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12528-010-9036-1.