OER14 homeApplication › Prof Andy Lane

Squaring the open circle: resolving the iron triangle and the interaction equivalence theorem

Tuesday 13:00-14:30 (11), Mezzanine Balcony

Type: Poster

Theme: Open policy, research, scholarship and access

#oer14 #abs34


Prof Andy Lane, Professor of Environmental Systems, The Open University, [email protected]



A number of visual models have been proposed to help explain the interplay and interactions between specified components of higher education systems at different levels and to take account of emerging trends towards open education systems. At sector and institutional levels the notion of an iron triangle has been posited linking firstly access, quality and cost and latterly accessibility, quality and efficiency in order to suggest means for widening access to higher education for the same or lower cost without compromising outcomes (Daniel and Uvalic-Trumbic, 2011; Mulder, 2013). At the level of teaching and learning an interaction equivalence theorem was developed to explain the relative contributions to successful study of teachers, students and educational content in formal settings and which has recently been extended to informal settings using OER and MOOCs, with passing mention of links to the original iron triangle model (Miyazoe and Anderson, 2013). However both models deal mainly with the supply side of the educational systems they attempt to represent, namely impacts of the availability and accessibility to more people of the elements in the models, and largely ignore the demand side in terms of the affordability and acceptability of the available and accessible provision to students and learners alike.


Ways of describing the opening up of education through diagrammatic means (e.g. Lane, 2008) are briefly reviewed to help define the boundaries of the systems being invesdtigated. Then the existing models of the iron triangle and interaction equivalence theorem are extended both visually and conceptually by adding in, for contrast, the perspective of the prospective learner or student in respect to the time costs they have to invest, the levels of confidence and/or preparedness that they hold and their motivations for undertaking those studies. This new triangle therefore captures and adds in key aspects of the learners’ or students’ own context.


The extended models provide a new framework with which to examine the capacity of more open education systems at the national, institutional and individual learner level to be expanded effectively and equitably. They also indicate that such models need to be evaluated against the particular contexts to which they might be applied.


This paper argues that neither the iron triangle of interaction equivalence theorem model adequately reflects the influence that learners’ personal attributes and circumstances have on the phenomena that they are trying to account for. It also argues that to support and increase the level of successful engagement and attainment by less privileged learners requires the use of a combined visual model that resolves many of the tensions and opposing forces inherent in these two models.


Daniel, J. and Uvalic-Trumbic, S. (2011). The impact of new business models for higher education on student financing, Financing Higher Education in Developing Countries Think Tank, Bellagio Conference Centre, Las Vegas, 8-12 August, 2011. Available from http://www.col.org/resources/speeches/2011presentation/Pages/2011-08-08.aspx. [Accessed 26 November 2013].
Lane, A. (2008). Widening participation in education through open educational resources, In Eds. Ilyoshi, T. and Vijay Kumar, M.S., Opening Up Education: The Collective Advancement of Education through Open Technology, Open Content, and Open Knowledge, pp 149-163. MIT Press, ISBN 0-262-03371-2.
Miyazoe, D. and Anderson, T. (2013). Interaction equivalency in an OER, MOOCS and Informal Learning Era, JIME, 2013/09, 15 pp.
Mulder, F. (2013) The LOGIC of National Policies and Strategies for Open Educational Resources, IRRODL, 14 (2), p 96-104.

There is a link to a video of the presentation of the poster by Andy at OER14: https://vimeo.com/93891551


Further details

Keywords: pen educational resources, iron triangle, interaction equivalence theorem, diagrams

Prof Andy Lane, Professor of Environmental Systems, The Open University

Twitter abstract: Extending the iron triangle and interaction equivalence theorem models can help inform policies on widening access to op