Open education is a collective term to describe institutional practices and programmatic initiatives that broaden access to the learning and training traditionally offered through formal education systems. The qualifier "open" refers to the elimination of barriers that can preclude both opportunities and recognition for participation in institution-based learning. One aspect of openness or "opening up" education is the development and adoption of open educational resources.
Institutional practices that seek to eliminate barriers to entry, for example, would not have academic admission requirements. Such universities include the Open University in Britain, and Athabasca University, Thompson Rivers University, Open Learning in Canada. Such programs are commonly (but not necessarily) distance learning programs like e-learning, MOOC and OpenCourseWare. Whereas many e-learning programs are free to follow, the costs of acquiring a certification may be a barrier. Many open education institutes offer free certification schemes accredited by organisations like UKAS in the UK and ANAB in the United States; others offer a badge.
Even before the computer was developed, researchers at public universities were working at educating citizens through informal education programs. In the early 1900s, 4-H clubs were formed which taught youth the latest in technological advances in agriculture and home economics. The success that the youth had in utilizing "new" methods of farming and home economics, caused their parents to adopt the same practices.
As the 4-H club idea was spreading across the country, Congress passed the Smith-Lever Act. which created the Cooperative Extension Service in the United States Department of Agriculture. The Cooperative Extension Service is a partnership between the USDA, land grant universities in each state, and counties throughout the United States. Through the work of the Cooperative Extension Services and 4-H, people throughout the United States have easy and inexpensive (most often free) access to the latest research done at land-grant universities without having to visit a college campus or attend college courses. The educational programs and resources offered by 4-H and the Cooperative Extension Service meet people where they are, and offer them the opportunity to learn what they want to learn, on their own schedules. In order to meet the changing needs of citizens and the use of new technology, the Cooperative Extension Service has created eXtension, which provides research based, non-biased information on a wide variety of topics to people through the use of the internet.
The ability to share resources on the web at little cost compared to the distribution of hard copies can facilitate open education. An early example of this is the opencourseware program, established in 2002 by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which was followed by more than 200 universities and organizations. Similar to the Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities from the Open Access movement, are the goals and intentions from open education specified in the Cape Town Open Education Declaration. MOOC is a more recent form of online course development getting more attention since the fall of 2011 which was followed by a number of non-certificate-granting programs, including edX, Coursera and Udacity. 
Open education is motivated by a belief that learners want to exercise agency in their studies. Specifically, people engaged in the learning process want to conduct inquiries about potential topics of study, to have a hands-on educational experience instead of a strictly textbook-focused education, to take responsibility for their educational decisions, to experience the emotional and physical side of education, to understand how education and community are related, and to have personal choice in the focus of their classroom studies.
These learners do a great deal for one another in promoting learning. Learning in a group environment or contributing to a group is beneficial to each learner. Collaborative group work has substantial benefits, such as increased participation by all group members, better understanding and retention of material, mastery of skills, and increased enthusiasm that can spur the participant on to independent learning. The philosophy of an open education centers on student learning and sees the teacher become the learning assistant. Teachers are to observe, guide, and provide materials for the learners. The teachers should facilitate, not dominate, the learning process. Open education is optimistic in the belief that the freedom of choice and student direction will promote a better quality of learning.
Available technologies for open education are important in the overall efficiency of the program. After available technologies have been found, there need to be appropriate applications on the technologies for the specific online education program.
Since open education usually occurs at a different time and different place for most individuals across the world, certain technologies need to be utilized to enhance the program. These technologies are primarily online and serve a variety of purposes. Websites and other computer-based training may be used to provide lecture notes, assessments, and other course materials. Videos are provided and feature speakers, class events, topic discussions, and faculty interviews. YouTube and iTunesU are often used for this purpose. Students may interact through computer conferencing with Skype or Google+, e-mail, online study groups, or annotations on social bookmarking sites. Other course content may be provided through tapes, print, and CDs.
There are a number of concerns regarding the implementation of open education systems, specifically for use in developing countries. These include a potential lack of administrative oversight and quality assurance systems for educators/materials in some programs, infrastructure limitations in developing countries, a lack of equal access to technologies required for students' full participation in online education initiatives, and questions regarding the use of copyrighted materials.
- Free education
- Outline of open education
- Personalized learning
- SLOOP Project
- Virginia Open Education Foundation
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