I've been thinking about openness in education a lot recently (my plan is to write a book on this, more on that later). And I've slowly, probably years after everyone else, come to the conclusion that it's a mistake to talk about openness as if it's one thing. There may have been a time when it was, when all the forms of openness blended easily into one indistinguishable lump, but that's not the case now. Not only are there different aspects of openness, but I'm beginning to feel that some may be mutually exclusive with others, or at least prioritising some means less emphasis on others.
What do I mean by this? Well I could list the different types of openness in education: OERs, MOOCs, open access, open scholarship, etc. But instead it's more useful to consider the motivation for openness, why has someone adopted an open approach in the first place? Here are some possibilities:
Increased audience – you want as many people as possible to be able get at your resource, be it an article, book, course, video or presentation. The main aim here is to remove barriers to people accessing it. This means it has to be free, easily shareable, online, and with easy rights.
Increased reuse – related to the above, but slightly different, you want people to take what you have created and combine it with other elements, adapt it and republish. The same considerations are required as above, but with an extra emphasis on minimal rights and also creating the resource in convenient chunks that can be adapted. Whereas the first motivation might mean releasing your song online, the second motivation might lead you to sharing each of the tracks that constitute the song separately under a CC-BY licence.
Increased access – this is different from the first motivation in that you want to reach particular groups who may be disadvantaged. You have open access in that you do not require formal entry qualifications. You may decide that free is also the best way to gain increased access, but that may not follow. If you want to work with learners who often fail in formal education then simply making a resource free doesn't really help. What they need is material aimed at this audience and specific support. Open access is not just about price.
Increased experimentation – one of the reasons many people adopt open approaches is that it allows them to do different things. Whether that's use different media, create a different identity, or experiment with approach that wouldn't fit within the normal constraints of work, an open method allows this. If this is your goal, then the emphasis is on getting an audience that will feedback on this and maybe participate in this experimentation.
Increased reputation – being networked and online can help improve your, or your institution's, profile. Openness here allows more people to see what you do (the motivation of increased audience) but your main aim is to enhance your reputation. If you were an academic who really wanted to be on the keynote circuit then operating in the open, publishing openly, creating online resources, being active in social media and establishing an online identity might be a good way to achieve this. Here openness is a method by which you realise a different goal, but it could be anything. The emphasis here then will be on networking and using openness to establish identity.
Increased revenue – while we may have suspicions about open washing and using openness as a route to commercial success, it's true that an open, or part-open model can be an effective business model. The freemium approach works this way, where a service is open to a large extent, but some users pay for additional services. If this is the goal then openness works by creating a significant demand for the product.
Increased participation – you may need input from an audience, but can't pay to access them. This could be crowdsourcing in research, or getting feedback on a book or research proposal. Being open allows others to access it and then provide the input you require. Openness here can be quite targeted, you want to reach a particular audience and get them involved, not necessarily as large an audience as possible.
Let's take an example in education and consider it from these different motivations. Let's imagine your university (or a university you know) wants to create a MOOC. They've heard all about them and think they should be doing something in this area (this actually covers about 90% of university's approach to MOOCs). They seek your advice, so you go around to a bunch of different stakeholders and you ask them "what is the aim of the MOOC? What do you want from it?"
Now, the person from marketing says they want to increase the university's online profile and reputation. From this perspective you propose a MOOC in a big hitting subject, featuring a big name academic. The subject will be "Life on Mars". It'll be expensive, high end production, acting as a showcase for the university and getting it in the press.
When you speak to the Dean of the Science faculty they say they are concerned about student recruitment on their post grad course. They want it to bring in high fee paying overseas students. The model that might work here is one that makes the first 6 weeks open, and target a specific audience, who can then sign up. You suggest offering badges and allowing people to build up to taking the full masters.
You then speak to an academic who is really keen to try a student-led approach. They feel frustrated by the customer-led focus of conventional teaching and see in MOOCs an opportunity to try some more radical pedagogic approaches that they have been blocked from implementing. They don't see it as particularly massive in terms of audience, but it will be a rich learning experience for those who do it, as they will be creating the curriculum. You propose a MOOC based in WordPress, and featuring a range of technologies with learners co-creating the content.
Later you have a conversation with a funding council who want to bring under-represented groups into science. They will need a lot of support, but they are willing to fund the provision of mentors and support groups in the community. You suggest a MOOC based on adapting existing materials, with carefully targeted support and minimal technical barriers.
And so on – you can see that from each of these perspectives the resultant MOOC would be a very different beast. It would be open in each of these scenarios, but with a different emphasis on the form that openness should take.
So, now that openness has to a large extent won out as an approach, the question is no longer 'do you want to be open?' but rather 'what sort of open do you want?'.