The word open prefixes many things these days—used to identify goods that have been put out into the world for free public use, sharing, and modifying. While for-profit companies have learned to adopt and benefit from some of the products that have emerged from this open ‘economy’—open source software, for example—other products have left business leaders scratching their heads, wondering how they can benefit from something that is free but doesn’t offer obvious use to how they do business.
Open education resources—openly licensed documents and media used for teaching, learning and assessment—are just such a product. In the last five years, open content and courses have ushered in a new age of low-cost learning, led by academic institutions and embraced by individual learners. But for-profit companies have not yet embraced the learning resources being made freely available for anyone to use. What is holding them back?
Open content benefits basic skills training
Business leaders often consider training needs from an inward-looking perspective. They see specific needs for their specific circumstances. Open content, by its very nature, is generic. Designed by someone else, for an unknown (and usually a very broad) audience. Given this, most organizations dismiss open educational resources as not being relevant. Their training must specifically address the challenges faced by employees. Corporate training programs must be targeted and efficient, or risk being ineffective.
But reality is not quite so black and white, and organizations do not exist in a vacuum. Corporate training often does need to address generic skills: time management, communication skills, common software applications (e.g. Microsoft Office), and even financial compliance. These skills form a basic requirement in many workplaces, and are subject to broadly-accepted best practices. A curriculum for these basic skills could be addressed without developing any new content—using open educational resources. This would be significantly easier than developing new content, saving both time and money—plug and play, so to speak.
An open content starting point for advanced course development
More specialized or organization-specific training might very well require in-house development. But with all this freely-available pre-existing content available, developing your advanced training program from scratch begs the question: are you trying to reinvent the wheel?
Regardless of an organization’s very specific needs and circumstances, they do not operate in a total vacuum. A plethora of good core content exists, freely available, for just about any type of advanced learning program. Rather than developing this training completely from scratch, open content can be the starting point for more custom content, like a template.
This is not unlike how developers use the code base of open source software as a starting place to build specific, customized applications. Open educational resources can jump-start the course development process, allowing course designers to leapfrog over the one of the toughest and most time-consuming phases of course development. In short, again there is an opportunity for open educational resources to save time and lower the setup cost.
Easier to keep training up-to-date
An additional benefit of using openly-available training content is that keeping courses up-to-date is easier. All users—not just one organization—are vested in maintaining the content, and anyone can share updates and changes they’ve made. Again, this unburdens training administrators from holding sole responsibility for the courses they manage.
Like with any paradigm shift in the business environment, open educational resources require a change in thinking before the benefit can be seen. Freely available content can both negate the need to develop basic training content at all, or it can offer a more cost-effective place to start for advanced, organization-specific courses. The content is there to be used, and it can save time, effort, and money.