Envisioning the Future of Open Education: A Perspective from the Non-English-Speaking World

Open Education 2016

Authors: Katsusuke Shigeta, Center for Open Education, Hokkaido University, Japan and Tomohiro Nagashima, Stanford Graduate School of Education, United States

Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration. MIT OpenCourseWare’s bold idea to publish learning materials for free has become a worldwide movement, enabled by the contributions of a large number of people. Fifteen years after its launch, the achievement of Open Education is that it has become an invaluable part of the global education sector, disseminating OER both within institutions and to the public. Yet, we should admit that we have also found some limitations and challenges to scaling up. To cross this chasm, we will explore the current status of Open Education and the challenges we face, especially from the perspective of non-English-speaking countries. What is the best way to spread the great idea of openness in education?

Current Status and Challenges of Open Education in Non-English-Speaking Countries (Katsusuke)

Current Status

Though the Open Education movement emerged in the West, many non-English-speaking countries have introduced and disseminated the concept of openness in education. OpenCourseWare (OCW) was the first of its kind known in the region. A number of established universities in Asia have launched OCW projects, and regional communities have been formed (e.g., Japan OpenCourseWare Consortium and Korea OCW). Local governments and organizations have collaborated to spread the English OER which have been translated into local languages. With the aid of foundations, OER have been used as one of the main learning materials for self-learners, and open textbooks have contributed to the pursuit of equity in education. There are several distinguished projects in China, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Another tool being used to spread the Open Education idea in Asia is the MOOC movement. Some universities joined the tsunami and utilized the global MOOC providers, and many of them established their own MOOC platforms. While leveraging their knowledge and lessons learned from their own e-learning experiences, these universities recognize the MOOC model as an innovative approach in online learning. In addition, some countries, including Taiwan, are actively engaged with Open Data initiatives to solve their social problems in government and organizations. These efforts will lead to new perspectives for the Open Education movement in the near future.


We believe that Open Education is, and should be, a worldwide movement rather than being North America-centric, but there are some steps that need to be taken to achieve that goal. The biggest obstacle is the lack of OER in local languages. More translations and modifications of OER are needed. Sadly, OER are recognized but not utilized in several countries. According to a survey in Japan, 57% of universities recognize OER, but only 13% of them produce and use OER (AXIES, 2016). There are few experts who are capable of developing and adopting OER in institutions, and established practices are also lacking. Attempting to fit existing OER to local curricula usually faces difficulties in terms of how to find appropriate OER from multiple providers. The lack of standardized curricula across regions also hinders successful adoption of OER. The difficulties of adapting to the pre-existing contexts of differing education systems are another barrier to successfully using OER.


Despite these challenges, we find a variety of potential outcomes in which OER could see success in non-English-speaking countries. In Japan, a nonprofit organization called the Asuka Academy collaboratively works with volunteers in high school and educators to translate English OCW (Fukuhara and Kishida, 2016). Hokkaido University promotes strategic efforts to leverage OER and improve student outcomes on campus with distance learning and MOOCs (Shigeta et al., 2016). HU also reuses courses from Open Learning Initiative (OLI) and revises them so that they fit local contexts and the education setting of the university (Nagashima et al., 2015). There are other great practices in which the idea of Open Education is welcomed. Although instructional strategies to overcome the challenges encountered in the process of adopting the 5R Open Course Design Framework are not widely shared among practitioners, these projects would cultivate future possibilities as well as both regional and international collaboration.

Our Vision for Open Education in 2036 (Tomohiro)

Given the past history and present status of Open Education, what should we expect in the future? How can we make our future better? This is my proposal for our ideal path towards the future through three levels: policy, institution, and individual.

Policy Level

We all know that we have recently witnessed an increasing acceptance of Open Education at a national policy level. The governments of the United States and many other countries have successfully worked to develop their own open policies. This is an exciting development, as policies are a driving force that can precipitate large changes in education spaces. However, this is only the first step toward our ultimate goal. Although these policies are definitely a win for OER, many of the national policies we have reviewed contain a strong focus on licenses and promoting the use of OER. OER are not as same as Open Data or Open Access: OER are more diverse in terms of the forms, types of use, and contexts they are used in. We predict that we will see teachers and learners struggle to use OER, as they will face the obstacle of being able to effectively integrate OER into their own materials. As a result, what would be ideal is for the policies we see today to push to make OER not only accessible, but also reusable. We have a tendency to focus on ensuring access to the materials, but what makes OER valuable is its openness, namely in the form of the 5R activities. We hope that future policies would promote not only the creation of local OER but also the propagation of local knowledge about OER and their use. These policies would enable teachers, the actual users, to develop “platforms” where they could create communities and share their pedagogical knowledge. I believe that a collaboration of Creative Commons and the Open Education Consortium could work closely with national and local governments to help them form policies that fit the specific needs and context of each country and region.

Institutional Level

In many countries around the world, a lack of skilled professionals who possess expertise on Open Education makes it difficult for institutions to sustainably advance projects. To envision the future in which many local experts collaboratively promote Open Education in their own countries, institutions will need to take a leadership role in training staff and promoting Open Education. As an example, as Hokkaido University has successfully developed its Open Education projects and jointly collaborated on projects with other universities outside Japan, partnerships with institutions in other countries have helped to share our struggles. Although such struggles are often very specific to local contexts, there tends to be some overlap between those difficulties among neighboring countries. It may be further helpful to form institutional groups in each region which will hold relatively small conferences to report projects and reuse strategies, or create an online course for educators facing challenges shared by three or four countries.

Individual Level

One of the dilemmas unique to Open Education and OER is what David Wiley calls “dark reuse,” the notion that it is impossible to recognize how people are reusing OER (2009). It is problematic especially because we really need users to make the cycle of OER reuse/revision/remix work effectively. Although it is great that we have started seeing more innovative users such as teachers, librarians, and students at the Open Education Conference, we still need more of them who can speak to us about their struggles and challenges. They will also provide us with opportunities we have never thought of, especially in non-English-speaking countries where we have few experts and local OER, in spite of there being a great need for them in those regions. It is extremely important that we ensure that those voices are heard, since OER are still not widely known in many countries and it requires considerable work to adapt existing OER, which are typically in English, to local settings. I believe that in twenty years, the Open Education community will be filled with many users sharing their pedagogical knowledge. We might be able to create a certification program for OER educators so that “Certified OER Designers/Teachers” and “Distinguished OER Designers/Educators” would be able to contribute to building the knowledge of Open Education practices and sharing them widely with the rest of the world.


Creative Commons License
This work by Katsusuke Shigeta and Tomohiro Nagashima is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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