SAT: Can Open Education Resources pay their way? (Daniel Clark)
Cloud created by:
Dr Simon Ball
2 February 2014
The question of who pays for Open Education Resources (OER has been debated for several years. There was initial optimism that, over time, we would establish models that would make OER financially sustainable (Downes, 2006). This has not generally been achieved and most OER remain dependent on one-off grants (de Langen & Bitter-Rjkema, 2012). The organisations in the vanguard of developing a business model for OER are the MOOCs, where there seem to be two possibilities emerging. Firstly, universities are providing OER to raise awareness of their courses and build their brands, and secondly the big providers are aiming to build their market position by ultimately restricting choice, so that they may be in a stronger position to charge. These commercially-driven trends are not really considered to be in the spirit of OER and are disappointing to many of its proponents (Weller, 2013).
This paper will argue that a key reason for this predicament is that serious consideration has not been given to what we were trying to achieve with OER and the value (in the broadest sense) that they deliver. In fact, support for OER often seems to be based on an ideological position or conviction, rather than on analysis or evidence, and it has been argued that OER are not valuable, or at least the value is highly questionable (Knox, 2013). It may be that OER are provided for free only because the costs are being displaced to somewhere less visible, for example time spent by users searching for and validating content. Little research has been done on who is using OER (de Langen, 2011), let alone the benefits they are gaining. Until the value delivered is identified and understood, it will be extremely hard to establish a financial model or, perhaps, determine whether a financial model is possible.
This paper applies insights from business academics on configuring value (Stabell & Fjeldstad, 1998) to this issue.
There are considered to be three broad models by which organisations generate value – transforming inputs into outputs (value chain), solving customer problems (value shop) and linking customers (value network). The drivers of value and the way these organisations need to be configured, and think, are very different. Education is an example of a ‘value shop’, but the logic of OER is the ‘value network’, so it is little wonder that the shift in thinking is profound and difficult.
The paper will also review the emerging business models of the digital economy, such as those in the music industry which is also facing some comparable issues around value and costs. In this example, payment for music services has been linked by recent research to community participation (Oestreicher-Singer & Zalmanson, 2013) and subscription services are rising in popularity (Dean, 2013). The paper suggests that education can learn lessons from another industry undergoing a painful transition that will help in establishing sustainability.
Dean, J. (2013) ‘Let a Billion Streams Bloom’, Fast Company, November [online]. Available at http://www.fastcompany.com/3018622/let-a-billion-streams-bloom (accessed 5 January 2014).
Downes, S. (2006) ‘Models for Sustainable Open Educational Resources’, National Research Council Canada [online]. Available at http://www.oecd.org/edu/ceri/36781698.pdf (accessed 14 November 2013).
Knox, J. (2013) ‘Five critiques of the open educational resources movement’, Teaching in Higher Education, vol. 18, no. 8, 821-832.
de Langen, F. & Bitter-Rijkema, M. (2012) ‘Positioning the OER Business Model for Open Education’, European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning, 2012/I [online]. Available at http://www.eurodl.org/index.php?p=archives&year=2012&halfyear=1&article=483 (accessed 14 November 2013).
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