OER, Capability, and Opportunity

Stephen makes a great point in today’s OLDaily that I want to amplify and expand briefly here.

Many of us believe that education is an incredibly powerful tool in the fight to increase equity, and this is a primary motivation for our participation in the open education movement. The shared core of the work we do in open education is increasing access to educational opportunity – with the long-term goal of making access to that opportunity truly universal – by licensing educational resources in ways that make them free and 5R-able. That is, by creating, sharing, and improving OER.


Providing people with access to opportunity does not magically make them capable of taking advantage of that opportunity. When you work three jobs and still fail to make ends meet, there is little time or energy left in your day to take advantage of educational opportunities – even when they are free and appropriately localized. When you are chronically ill and don’t have access to healthcare, there is little strength or energy left in your day to take advantage of educational opportunities – even when they are free and appropriately localized.

In general, without a stable basic needs floor to stand on you aren’t capable of benefitting from access to educational opportunity – including those opportunities made possible by our collective efforts in open education. And unfortunately, as long as basic needs problems persist, those whose basic needs are not being met will be essentially incapable of taking advantage of the opportunities created by OER, while those whose basic needs are being met will be capable of taking advantage of those opportunities. Consequently, while basic needs issues persist, OER will likely expand some of the gaps we intend for it to shrink. 

Does this mean we should stop working in open education? No! It means we need to work harder! But it also means that those of us whose work in open education is motivated by a desire to increase equity have common cause with those working on problems relating to homelessness, hunger, healthcare, and other basic needs issues. It means the people focused on basic needs issues are, among other things, working to increase people’s capacity to take advantage of the very opportunities we are working to create with OER. It means that when given the opportunity, we should support their work at the local, state, federal, and international levels. It means that we should also expect their support for our work when they have the opportunity to provide it. It means our community is much larger than we generally realize. It means that we’re in this together – and that “we” is many more hands and hearts and minds than we often appreciate. That’s a happy thought.

In 2018, as we continue the difficult but rewarding work of learning how to work together (“you can’t walk arm in arm without occasionally stepping on each others’ toes”), I look forward to strengthening existing friendships, making new friends, and making more progress toward our shared goals. I hope you do, too.