Openness in the Information Economy

This thought first came up in a keynote at OpenEd 2008…and I didn’t make time to blog it.

Then it came up in David’s New Media, Social Media and Learning course last semester…and I didn’t make time to blog it.

Then it came up in a discussion in Cape Town with Mark Horner about his Siyavula project…and I didn’t make time to blog it.

Yesterday, it came up again…alright, alright, I’ll blog it!

Having come into this sort of second-generation of open education, I’ve heard a lot about sustainability. I’ve heard about the challenges of incentivizing quality content creation within the reward structures of schools and universities…and the headaches of license incompatibility…and the looming funding crisis. But so far, it seems like we’ve been diagnosing and treating an assortment of these micro-issues–symptoms of our larger, deeper sustainability issues–without doing as much to address the root requirements of sustainability.

Whereas traditional commercial ventures are forced to face the sustainability question from their inception, non-profit/NGO/academic ventures start life in a kind of artificial reality–grants and donors (never expecting to be repaid) offer their support based on the theoretical merit of the idea, the reputation of the players, and the warmth points or positive PR they receive in return. Most such projects are never required to articulate a value proposition or hash out their competitive advantage.

What is it, really, that open education offers the educational community with all its idiosyncratic (but very real) economic, social and political pressures that would make it worth the massive outlay of time, talent, resources and–perhaps most significantly–change required to sustain it?

Unless we can answer that question concretely, consistantly, compellingly…and soon, we might not be fretting about license compatibility for long.

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