The idea of building relationship with learners wherever they are via OER was discussed in the Introduction to OER and Open Practices, a session hosted by the Higher Education Academy on the first day of OER13. According to the presenter, Tony Coughlan, the current evolution of OER and technology provides educators with the opportunity to expand relationship beyond the traditional teacher-students relationship. He highlighted that using the communication media preferred by the audience is a good strategy to impact them.
Is reaching learners wherever they are feasible?
This initiative is probably not within the traditional education paradigm in which students have to move to educational institutions. However, the UK Open University’s principle has been bringing the university to people rather than bringing people to the university. The Open University has done a good job in bringing education to learners but it has not addressed all barrier to education to find all learners in need. Practices in the recent MOOC movement reflect a step forward in bringing education to learners and building relation with them from their locations. With MOOCs, many barriers that exclude learners from education are indeed removed. For instance, the price barrier highlighted in the Budapest Open Access Initiative does not apply in the course aspect of MOOCs. Equally, the language test score barrier which is exclusive to many non native speakers is not an issue in MOOCs. Language test score barrier and cost barrier are to certain extent related in that language tests are quite expensive. Learners join MOOCs without paying any fee, neither for the course perse nor for a pre-course selective test. The MOOC experience is demonstrating that learning is indeed not linear and weaknesses on one side can be compensated by strength on the other. For example, more time commitment can enable learners with language difficulty to successfully complete the number of activities as proficient learners. More specific to xMOOC, their strength lie in their structure that can keep inexperienced learners who are really willing to learn. Of course, fast quitters do not benefit but those who persevere do. xMOOCs allow learners to go back to the course materials and repeat them in order to improve grades they had in quizzes. These courses have been criticized to go back to the behaviourist approach because of this aspect (Daniel, 2012, Bates, 2012). Arguably, learners improve their understanding of the course materials (and language abilities if they are not native speakers) as they keep engaged with the materials in order to make another attempt on quizzes. By spending 10 hours a week, an inexperienced learner or a learner with language difficulties might probably learn as much as an experienced leaner who spent three hours a week to learn the same materials. In this way, the two learners play different cards to reach the same goal in the learning game. The problem in selective education is the tendency to impose a single learning game card to all learners.
More importantly, inexperienced learners might improve their abilities even if they do not learn as much as experienced ones. The most important contribution of MOOCs is not a comparison between learners, but the provision of opportunities for every learner’s self-improvement. Certainly, denying access to learners because of their financial, geographical, linguistic and other limitations does not provide such opportunity. On the contrary, everyone can enroll in a MOOC and quit whenever they want. Everyone learns through their personal experience. In this way, MOOC providers do not show themselves as too good for some learners by rejecting their application, which might lead to their social disempowerment (Lane, 2009). Moreover, the open licensing of MOOCs facilitates their translations in various languages which enables learners who have limited or no proficiency of the original course language to learn the content.
Have MOOCs enabled reaching learners wherever they are?
While MOOCs have considerably improved the reach of learners, a yes answer to this question would be too simplistic. The signatories of the Cape Town Open Education Declaration acknowledge that the majority of the world does not yet have access to computers and internet networks. Although the declaration was issued about six years ago, statistics from Miniwatts Marketing Group indicate that the lack of access to Internet connectivity is still the case to the majority of the globe population. To increase the access to learners wherever they are, the diversification is not only needed in the learning game cards, but also in the MOOC transportation channels. Hence, there is more job to be done in the open education endeavour.