In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Open Education

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works
  • Articles and Blogs
  • OER Organizations and Consortiums
  • Open Access Journal Repositories

Education Open Education
Mary Hricko
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 August 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 August 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0284


Open education expands access to learning resources, tools, and research through collaboration and connection in a flexible learning framework that removes technical, legal, and financial barriers so that learners can share and adapt content to build upon existing knowledge. The foundation of “open education” first emerged in England when the Oxford Extension Movement was established in 1878 to provide education to the general masses. Following the success of these extension centers, the US Congress passed the Smith-Lever Act in 1914 to create a system of cooperative extension services connected to land grant universities. These extension cooperatives provided courses in agriculture, administrative policy, economics, and other subjects at little or no cost. Participants were given flexibility to direct their own learning by accessing instructional materials as they needed. In the late 1960s, theories regarding the value of this self-directed learning began to transform traditional classroom practice and again, interest in open learning gained popularity. By 1969, Prime Minister Harold Wilson garnered support to establish the British Open University, which globalized education through television and radio instruction. During the 1970s, even though open learning practices were favored in K-12 schools, ongoing criticism redirected educators back to standardized teaching methods. In the 1980s, the invention of the Wide World Web (1989) led to the creation of applications and networks that could deliver web-based education. The development of online “social” networks fostered the expansion of collaborative projects such as Wikipedia (2001) and the Budapest Open Access Initiative (2001), which broadened the educational landscape to support barrier-free learning. The emergence of online participatory platforms enabled several leading academic institutions who had been using web-based applications to curate and share their learning materials. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) created the MIT Open Courseware Project (2002), which led to the creation of massive open online courses (MOOCs). As educators worked together on the development of open educational content, the Cape Town Open Education Declaration (2009) was written as a statement to promote the use of open resources and open teaching practices in education. This declaration catalyzed further emphasis of Open Educational Resources (OERs), which included freely adaptable textbooks, journals, and open data projects. To share these resources, instructional repositories such as MERLOT and the OER Commons evolved. Open repositories enable educators to find instructional materials they can adopt, adapt, and create without financial or legal constraints. In some cases, OER projects focus on a disciplinary area such as digital humanities, open science, and open courses. To protect the rights of content creators, Creative Commons licenses assist with the attribution of these resources. The expansion of the open education movement has also prompted new explorations into open educational practices (OEP) to include mobile learning, personalized learning, and other open pedagogies. In 2012, the World OER Congress published the UNESCO OER Declaration, which states that “everyone has the right to education.” This statement reflects the foundation of open education.

General Overview

Silberman 1970 denounces traditional schooling and makes the call for open education. Historical overviews of the early “open education” movement can be found in Illich 1971 and Easthope 1975. Stephens 1974 offers examples of open teaching principles that can be linked to modern-day open pedological practices, whereas Resnick 1972 fosters the concept of personalized and participatory learning. After the 1980s, online open education studies examine the use of technological innovations to develop open education platforms. Kamenetz 2010 furthers the argument by discussing the need for higher education to support open education development, whereas Bonk 2009 identifies how emerging technologies are changing the barriers to open education. Weller 2014 examines the challenges of open access, massive open online courses (MOOCs), open educational resources, and open scholarship as the four key areas in open education.

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