Before understanding the development of open online courses, it is important first to understand the development of open content collectively known as OER (Open Educational Resources). The development of such resources became parallel to the development of open licences and software, such as Creative Commons, Open Source Initiative (OSI) and Open Source Software, allowing content to be built on the ideals of open and sharing.
There have been a range of open education projects over the years; Internet Archive, Connexions, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, MIT OpenCourseWare, WikiEducator, and OpenLearn to name but a few. Each of these initiatives are different in the content that they host and but their principle ideas for open education remain the same. The sustainability of OER has been called into question with Downes (2006) citing a range of possible options for models to ensure the longevity of open education; Membership, Endowment, Conversion, Donations, Contributor-Pay, Institutional, Sponsorship, Governmental and Partnerships and Exchanges.
The models primarily used by The Open University are; Endowment, Conversion, Sponsorship, Institutional, Governmental, and Partnerships and Exchanges. The use of such models has allowed for the development of OpenLearn, OpenLearnWorks, SocialLearn, and the foundations of the partner model of FutureLearn. This model has then expanded to include the hosting of its content through its channels on third party platforms such as iTunes U, YouTube, Google Play, Audioboom, Bibblio, SlideShare, Faculti, and Amazon.
The Open University produces and releases OER through the social mission outlined in its Royal Charter and through the development of OpenLearn hosts in access of 800 open online courses including BOCs (Badged Open Courses) and MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). BOCs have been based on the principles of MOOCs but with the awarding of a digital badge at the centre of its recognition proposition.
The history of MOOCs is one of rapid evolution in a short timescale and noted as still evolving (Mackness, Mak, and Williams 2010). In 2008, Stephen Downes (2011) and George Siemens (2005) launched “Connectivism and Connective Knowledge/2008” (CCK8), a for-credit course at the University of Manitoba, Canada. The course pushed the boundaries of connectivism (‘knowledge distributed across a network of connections’ (Downes, 2007) with a larger learner cohort with Siemens and Downes (2011) utilising a range of platforms from blogs, forums, and wikis to Facebook groups. With over 2,200 registrations, this allowed learners to be part of a large, organic but interconnected learner community, while independently maintaining their own personal learning environments (PLEs) (Siemens 2013).
In response to this event, Dave Cormier (University of Prince Edward Island) and Bryan Alexander (National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education) coined the term “MOOC” or Massive Open Online Course (Daniel, 2012). In principle, they consider a MOOC denoted as:
- Massive: as registration is not capped (with enrolment of some courses exceeding 100,000 students)
- Open: to take advantage of widely available OER and open registration (though some MOOCs have pre-requisites, and for-fee registrations, examinations, or certificate costs associated)
- Online: with no requirement for face-to-face attendance, and
- Course: the concept of a pedagogically designed learning journey.
In addition to MOOCs, open online courses in a perpetual context will be considered as variations of the MOOC/open online course model. These have a plethora of acronyms associated with them, however for the purposes of this research these courses will be collectively known as open online courses (OOCs) as the commonality of such courses is that they are open (in various forms), online and maintain a course structure. As there has been a great academic interest in MOOCs a range of papers have been published analysing different elements of the courses. It is from these papers that literature has been reviewed primarily due to the range in subject and research methodology used and statistics collated.
As the engagement of learners on this open online courses will be the focus of this research the next section will identify what is meant by engaging in informal learning, the literature currently available and how this then leads onto the impact on learning design of the open online courses as a result of the research.