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Patrick Blessinger and TJ Bliss

© Patrick Blessinger and TJ Bliss, CC BY 4.0

The Book

Higher education systems around the world are experiencing great change brought about by the global demand for tertiary education, which is at an all-time high. Open education (e.g., open educational resources, open courseware, open textbooks, massive online open courses) provide a means by which society can help meet this growing demand. Within this context, this volume examines the research literature on this topic and it explores, via cases studies, how higher education systems are changing structurally as a result of the open education movement. Open education is part of the wider movement to democratize tertiary education, and to treat lifelong learning as a human right (Altbach, Gumport and Berdahl, 2011; Blessinger and Anchan, 2015; Burke, 2012; Iiyoshi and Kumar, 2008; Kovbasyuk and Blessinger, 2013; Palfreyman and Tapper, 2009; Trow and Burrage, 2010).


The main purpose of this volume is to examine the emerging trends and common themes taking place in open education around the world and to provide education professionals, policymakers and interested readers with a global overview of the open education movement. Each chapter investigates a different aspect of open education within a different cultural and institutional context. Using case study data, this volume addresses the following questions: What are the global macro pressures impacting open education? What are the more granular micro pressures underlying the emerging trends in open education? What are the major changes occurring in tertiary education as a result of these pressures? How can we best interpret and explain these trends and themes to develop a plausible theory of open education?

Understanding open education within the broader context of the changing landscape of higher education is important because it allows practitioners to reflect on specific changes taking place. While some educational models today focus on disruptive technological innovations as a catalyst for change, a central theme in this volume is to analyse changes in tertiary education through the lens of democratization and human rights.

In the past higher education was mainly the domain of a few. In recent decades, however, it has gradually become more accessible to larger segments of society — a phenomenon that is currently concerning a growing number of countries. These developments not only reflect the growing democratization of society and the increasing emphasis on human rights around the world but also the rising demand for a diversified and flexible system of higher learning to meet the increasingly complex needs of global societies.

For the purposes of this book, a broad definition of open education is used. More specifically, this book uses the definition of open educational resources (OER) used by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation: “teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others”.1


The main thesis of this book is that open education provides a viable means by which anyone can pursue lifelong learning though access to free, openly licensed, high quality educational resources. Open education, and OER in particular, is in the early stages of its development. The typical diffusion cycle for new products, services, and innovations consists of stages for introduction, adoption, growth, and maturity. In the early stages of the cycle, basic models, concepts and standards are defined. In the adoption stage, more and more people and organizations begin to use and find new applications for these products, services, and innovations. For instance, as the idea of OER began to spread in the late twentieth century and early twenty-first century, MIT began to post its courses on the internet. This radical idea, known as the MIT OpenCourseWare project, now has over 2000 courses available to the public for free. Other universities have followed MIT’s example.

As with the broader movement to democratize education at all levels, the common underlying force driving these changes — irrespective of national geography or technological innovation — is the on-going development of democratically oriented societies (e.g., public policy reforms, rising global demand for higher education and lifelong learning opportunities). Within the last few decades we have seen an explosion of new ways, such as OER, massive open online courses and online universities, as a way to broaden access to higher education courses.

In this volume, the chapter authors provide their unique perspectives and their own interpretations of open education providing a multi-disciplinary, interdisciplinary, and global perspective on the major changes and challenges facing open education today. Although every country is different in terms of cultural and historical development the chapter authors focus on the most salient features of the open education movement as a whole, such as access, agency, participation, quality education and mass learning.

By looking at whether democratic ideals are adequately reflected in open education this book also touches upon wider issues concerning higher education today, such as diversity, inclusion, affordability, justice and human rights.

Chapter Overviews

Chapter 1, “Introduction to Open Education: Towards a Human Rights Theory” by the volumes’ editors and Chapter 2, “Emancipation through Open Education: Rhetoric or Reality?” by Andy Lane are cases in point of the wider issues emerging from an analysis of the ideals and aspirations of open education. Whilst Chapter 1 introduces the concept of open education in the context of learning understood as a basic human right, Chapter 2 further explores its impact on the democratization of higher education. Lane examines the potential freedoms that open education can bring to both learners and teachers in the future whilst acknowledging that open education’s impact on society vis-à-vis the existing modes of closed education (formal, non-formal and informal) is still low. In order for education to be truly open to all the prevailing social, cultural and economic norms that still privilege an education acquired through the existing physical, political and legal infrastructures need a complete re-think.

In Chapter 3, Phil Barker and Lorna M. Campbell address the issue of “Technology Strategies for Open Educational Resource Dissemination” by looking at a range of digital content hosted by institutions in websites, specific topic repositories, sites for sharing specific types of content (e.g., video, images, and ebooks), general topic repositories, and sites that aggregate content from a range of collections. The authors examine the technologies used, and the way content is promoted, and supported for users, financed and presented. A correct and exhaustive description of digital resources is particularly important to ensure content retrieval and reuse; for this reason, librarians should be involved in the process because the description of resources should not be seen as a purely technical activity.

Chapter 4, “Identifying Categories of Open Education Resource Users”, by Martin Weller, Beatriz de los Arcos, Rob Farrow, Rebecca Pitt and Patrick McAndrew, describes the measure of success of the OER movement in disseminating high-quality learning material and in influencing policy. Yet the OER movement stands at the cusp of mainstream adoption, which in order to be fully achieved requires reaching out and actively involving additional audiences. The key to this process is the future ability of OER advocates to cater for the main types of OER users — active users, facilitators and consumers — and their ability to devise new strategies to ensure that the diverse needs of existing OER users are met.

In Chapter 5, “Situated Learning in Open Communities: the TED Open Translation Project”, by Lidia Cámara de la Fuente and Anna Comas-Quinn, discusses the TED Open Translation Project (TED OTP), an online community of volunteers involved in the crowd-sourced translation of audiovisual open content. TED OTP provides students with concrete linguistic tasks whilst contributing to a wider dissemination of ideas across languages and cultures. The authors explore student experiences at the intersection of learning in formal and informal contexts experienced at TED OTP and assess the value added by this type of translation practice and the type of learning skills gained by participants.

Chapter 6, “Educational Policy to Support the Open Educational Practice: Charting the Australian Higher Education Landscape”, by Adrian Stagg and Carina Bossu, explores how open education policy has gained greater attention by governments, primarily as a way to reduce total educational costs for taxpayers. These policy reforms run parallel to the social inclusion movement which aims at broadening participation in higher education especially for students of low socio-economic backgrounds. However, the authors identify two major issues in these policy reforms: the flawed metrics often used by policy-makers, and a widespread lack of understanding of the dynamics of both social inclusion and open education. The authors explore how open education can benefit from social inclusion arguing that an integrated approach to educational policy will be more beneficial to the broader educational ecosystem.

In Chapter 7, “The Identified Informal Learner: Recognising Assessed Learning in the Open”, Patrina Law discusses the development of badged open courses (BOCs) launched by the Open University (OU) in the UK in 2015. Law analyses the results of the OpenLearn, a study which looked at the impact in terms of outreach of the badged open courses and the employability of tis students. Law’s analysis concluded that the awarding of branded badges for courses attended, together with students’ assessment and feedback mechanisms, motivate and reward informal learners. Moreover, badges also provided a click-through mechanism for participants to enrol in a formal course at the Open University, thus opening the way for further educational opportunities.

Chapter 8, “Transformation of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education towards Open Learning Arenas: A Question of Quality”, by Ebba Ossiannilsson, Zehra Altinay, and Fahriye Altinay, examines the changing contours of the academic debate on learning and teaching as the increased digitization of education continues to impact society. Widening access in higher education is at the top of the global agenda as governments see lifelong education as a means to improved employment, entrepreneurship, and innovation in the labour market. The authors focus on the role of open educational practice and open educational culture.

In Chapter 9, “Three Approaches to Open Textbook Development”, Rajiv S. Jhangiani, Arthur G. Green and John D. Belshaw outline the three main approaches currently underlying the development of open textbooks: creation and adaptation projects, individual and collaborative efforts, traditional timeline and compressed timeline models. The authors discuss the similarities and differences of these approaches and the way particular educational disciplines and philosophies influence the development of open textbooks.

In Chapter 10, “What Does It Mean to Open Education? Perspectives on Using Open Educational Resources at a US Public University”, by Linda Vanasupa, Amy Wiley, Lizabeth Schlemer, Dana Ospina, Peter Schwartz, Deborah Wilhelm, Catherine Waitinas, and Kellie Hall, the authors discuss OER as a disruptive innovation. Whilst at a basic level OER may be viewed as a simply replacing a traditional text with an OER resource, the process of adopting and adapting OER unearths a host of fundamental questions about the value of education, the meaning of authority and credibility, the risks associated with change, whilst at an individual level challenging our own identities as participants in higher education.

Chapter 11, “Expanding Access to Science Field-Based Research Techniques for Students at a Distance through Open Educational Resources”, by Audeliz Matias, Kevin Woo, and Nathan Whitley-Grassi, argues that the adoption of OERs by the STEM community has yet to become an integral part of classroom education in these disciplines. They argue that many STEM faculty have been reluctant to adopt OER because locating and integrating these resources into courses is often fraught with problems and time-consuming. To help ameliorate these issues the authors devised a process to helps generating OERs for STEM related topics focusing on three specific areas — microscopy, interpretation of geologic history, and biodiversity.

In Chapter 12, “A Practitioner’s Guide to Open Educational Resources: A Case Study”, Howard Miller discusses the practical issues facing OER provision, such as the need to minimize the cost of expensive textbooks and provide greater opportunities for access to higher education. The author examines the issues arising when a textbook-dependent lecture series becomes an OER course, especially when the OER is adopted by an institution that does not have an OER-supportive infrastructure — for instance where there are no experienced OER users to serve as models and mentors, where the librarians are not well-versed in identifying and accessing OER, or where there are no course designers able to provide assistance. Based on the experience of one college professor’s journey to OER, amidst these challenges this contribution provides a model of an OER-based course for instructors interested in adopting OER.

Chapter 13, “Open Assessment Resources for Deeper Learning”, by David Gibson, Dirk Ifenthaler, and Davor Orlic, outlines the design of a global open assessment resources (OAR) item bank. This bank includes automated feedback and scoring tools for OER that supports a wide range of assessment applications, e.g., quizzes, tests, virtual performance assessments, and game-based learning. The aims of OAR centre on authentic assessment, reusability, modularity and automated assembly and presentation of assessment items. The authors discuss assessment structure, assessment processes, quality issues, and the alignment of OER to a global technology infrastructure and the six core services for delivery — content, interaction, assessment, credentialing, support and technology.

In Chapter 14, “Promoting Open Science and Research in Higher Education: A Finnish Perspective” Ilkka Väänänen and Kati Peltonen discusse the drive towards a wider availability of open research information embodied by the Open Science and Research Initiative for 2014–17. Through this programme Finland aims to become the leading country for open science and research by enabling a more effective utilization of research results for the benefit of society. The authors examine Lahti University of Applied Sciences as a case study of the challenges and opportunities arising from the implementation of the open science and research framework.

In Chapter 15, “Credentials for Open Learning: Scalability and Validity”, Mika Hoffman and Ruth Olmsted discuss the challenge of aligning OER with standardized exams and of achieving consensus among educational institutions on the value and type of academic accrediting. The authors describe the process for creating exams and then define a method for building the bridge between OER and the exam. Finally, the authors advocate separating credentialing from the learning process as a means to greater scalability of OER.

In Chapter 16, “Open Education Practice at the University of Southern Queensland” by Ken Udas, Helen Partridge and Adrian Stagg, the authors discuss the social justice ethos informing the University of Southern Queensland in its effort to re-position and re-vision itself as a university grounded in the principles of open education. The authors describe how USQ is striving to create a culture of openness and justice and how implementing open education practices are helping with this effort. The authors explore the key issues confronting USQ such as barriers, challenges, and opportunities in implementing open education practices.


This volume provides a snapshot of the emerging phenomenon of open education around the world and of the increasing impact of OERs on all levels of education, particularly on higher education. It also investigates open education’s current trajectory and deep transformations at work providing an analysis of principles, themes, trends and mechanisms underlying these changes, and projecting possible scenarios of what higher education will look like in the coming decades.

This book also explores the ideals informing the OE movement, in particular the democratic and human rights ideals concerning the values of diversity, inclusion, equality, equity, and justice; how these values contribute to the expansion of open education resources; and the shock waves they are sending through global higher education as a result of the shifting tectonic plates in the educational landscape. The editors hope that this collection of case studies will be useful not just to those interested in OE, but more generally to those concerned with the future higher education. Thus, this volume is meant not only for faculty, students, and course designers but it is also meant to provide insights into the emerging trends in global higher education for politicians, higher education policymakers and for anyone interested in the emerging directions in higher education and lifelong learning.


Altbach, P. G., Gumport, P. J., and Berdahl, R. O. (Eds.) (2011), American Higher Education in the Twenty-Frist Century: Social, Political, and Economic Challenges, Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Blessinger, P. and Anchan, J. P. (Eds.) (2015), Democratizing Higher Education: International Comparative Perspectives, New York: Routledge.

Burke, P. J. (2012), The Right to Higher Education: Beyond Widening Participation, Abingdon: Routledge.

Iiyoshi, T., and Kumar, M. S. V. (Eds.) (2008), Opening Up Education: The Collective Advancement of Education through Open Technology, Open Content, and Open Knowledge, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Kirby, D. (2009), Widening Access: Making the Transition from Mass to Universal Post-Secondary Education in Canada. Journal of Applied Research on Learning. Vol. 2, Special Issue, Article 3,

Kovbasyuk, O., Blessinger, P. (Eds.) (2013), Meaning-centered Education: International Perspectives and Explorations in Higher Education, New York: Routledge.

Palfreyman, D., and Tapper, T. (Eds.) (2009), Structuring Mass Higher Education: The Role of Elite Institutions, New York: Routledge.

Trow, M., and Burrage, M. (2010), Twentieth-Century Higher Education: Elite to Mass to Universal, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.