OER14 homeApplication › Mr Tony Coughlan

When two worlds don’t collide: the marginalisation of open educational practices outside academia

Monday 14:00-15:30 (3), Grainger Suite

Type: Short paper

Theme: Building and linking communities of open practice

#oer14 #abs87


Mr Tony Coughlan, Regional Academic, The Open University, [email protected]
Dr Leigh-Anne Perryman, Research Fellow, OER Research Hub, The Open University, [email protected]



A canyonesque gulf has long existed between open academia and many external subject communities. Since 2011, we have been developing and piloting the public open scholar role (Coughlan & Perryman 2012) - involving open academics discovering, sharing and discussing open educational resources (OER) with online communities outside formal education in order to help bridge this gulf. In 2013 we took the public open scholar into Facebook (Perryman & Coughlan, 2013) to reach an international audience of autism-focussed Facebook groups in India, Africa and Malaysia, with a combined membership of over 5000 people.


Performing the public open scholar role within Facebook led to our learning from group members about new resources produced outside formal education, for example by voluntary sector organisations, government and professional bodies. These resources are surprisingly numerous and compare favourably with those from universities. Seeking to source more such resources we conducted a systematic large scale search, recording not only the number of learning materials available but also how easy it was to find them.


We found that commercially-funded university MOOCs dominate the returned results when searching for free online resources. Consequently, resources from outside universities, while they exist, are difficult to find. Indeed, most aggregators and repositories proudly state that the free online courses they list are from 'Top Universities', appearing blind to provision from outside formal education. We extended our research to cover e-textbooks and found a similar situation, with content from universities dominating provision and collections such as the 4000 free textbooks from The National Academies Press (www.nap.edu) being practically invisible.


The prominence of university MOOCs and e-textbooks within search aggregators not only marginalises externally produced resources, relegating them to even more obscurity than has been the case thus far, but also marginalises the open educational practices that were involved in the production of these resources. We propose that the OER movement’s questions about ways of involving end-users as co-producers may be answered by looking to external communities and, accordingly, we should be supporting and learning from these communities. Additionally, our findings indicate a need for an impartial open content search facility presenting resources from within and outside formal education in order to help discoverability of the latter. The recently launched search engine http://solvonauts.org is very much a step in the right direction.

Further research might usefully investigate in more depth the open educational practices of external subject communities, who are clearly more than just passive consumers of resources and are involved in both producing and adapting OER. There are clear parallels here with research exploring the localisation of resources produced for and by people in the developing world (e.g. Wolfenden & Buckler, 2013; Ivins, 2011) and the ways in which heavily promoted content from the developed world continues to dominate, at the expense of more relevant local provision. Our study links to several other research contexts, including the recent research into the use of OER by informal learners (e.g. Law, Perryman & Law, 2013) and the growing body of research on the impact of MOOCs (as summarised by Haggard, 2013).


Coughlan, T. and Perryman, L. (2012). Reaching out with OER: the new role of public-facing open scholar. eLearning Papers, 31 article 31_1. Available from http://oro.open.ac.uk/35934/. [Accessed 20 November 2013].
Haggard, S. (2013). The maturing of the MOOC: literature review of Massive Open Online Courses and other forms of online distance learning. Department for Business Innovation & Skills. 1-123. Available from https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/240193/13-1173-maturing-of-the-mooc.pdf. [Accessed 24 November 2013]
Ivins, T.Z. (2011). Localization of open educational resources (OER) in Nepal: Strategies of Himalayan Knowledge Workers, Unpublished PhD thesis, submitted to the Brigham Young University, USA.
Law, P., Perryman, L. and Law, A. (2013). Proceedings of European Association of Distance Teaching Universities (EADTU) conference, Paris, 23-25 October 2013. pp. 204-219. Open educational resources for all? Comparing user motivations and characteristics across The Open University’s iTunes U channel and OpenLearn platform. Available from http://www.eadtu.nl/images/stories/Docs/Conference_2013/eadtu%20annual%20conference%202013%20-%20proceedings.pdf. [Accessed 20 November 2013]
Perryman, L. and Coughlan, T. (2013). Using open educational resources in online welfare communities: Facebook as an arena for open scholarship across the Commonwealth. Paper presented at 7th Pan-Commonwealth Forum on Open Learning, 2-6 December 2013, Abuja, Nigeria. Available from http://pcfpapers.colfinder.org/handle/5678/95. [Accessed 26 November 2013].


Recap recording


Further details

Keywords: oer, open educational practices, inclusion, Facebook, informal learners, online communities

Mr Tony Coughlan, Regional Academic, The Open University

Twitter: @tjcoughlan

Twitter abstract: Communities outside formal education create OER to meet their needs but heavily promoted MOOCs make them hard to find.