Written by:

Holly Macdonald


March 7, 2010

Over on the learning circuits blog, this month’s Big Question is…

How do we leverage Open Content in Workplace Learning?

It’s hard to say that open/free is bad in most situations, but I’m going to distill this down to “how can OER deliver value”?

The sources identified in the original blog post are more academically targeted, I typically share: Slideshare, TED talks, youtube. edu, iTunesU, etc with my clients, if they are looking for open content as the applicability factor is higher (less wading) for a d-i-y search.

Here’s my top 5 conditions (not 3, but 5!) for success:

  1. Gotta be generic – most of the OER that I suggest are targeting fairly generic skills/knowledge – management is management, project planning, presentation skills, etc.  Most organizations want to customize information to fit their culture/operations/brand messaging, etc.  In fact, it is crucial that they do!
  2. Reusable Learning Object (RLO) – or chunking, or modularizing, or…whatever you want to call it – need to have resources that are available as a whole or broken down into parts to really be of value, and strip-able of style elements (leads back to #1).
  3. Get on the radar! – most in organizational learning roles are so inundated with training demands, they are often fighting the battle of whether or not something is a training problem, and don’t even know resources like these exist.
  4. Improved Search-ability – if it isn’t easy to find these resources it may end up being just as fast/easy to do-it-yourself than use a database of other ones.  Tags and rating systems can help here, but something more descriptive would be better.  For example, I did a search for “project management” on one site and came up with a large number of resources, in a variety of formats, most of which barely had anything to do with project management.  Sometimes tags don’t help, and they don’t really narrow things down.  I don’t really know what would though.  Maybe it is my searching skill or the need for a curator?   Where is Dewey when you need him?
  5. Targeted interfaces or groups/communities – when looking at some of the resources, it is easy to become immediately overwhelmed, and hit the back button.  I don’t know how that would be done technically, or even what it would look like, but I think that set-ups like vimeo and odijoo are more targeted in terms of categorizing.

Ultimately, I think that the notion of putting stuff online and making it available and accessible is noble, but a bit flawed.  Everything is contextual, and while I may be able to get all the MIT course materials I want, I still have to make it fit to the circumstances I need.

The cynic in me thinks that these open and “free” resources are just noise or even worse, they are a solution in search of a problem, while the optimist in me thinks that the openness and collaborative nature of these resources fits well with most learning professional’s style and that pragmatism will prevail.   The realist in me thinks that in theory these are great resources, but very few people have the time to wade through nor the luxury to allow for serendipity to happen, and if they do most aren’t going to want to say “Yeah, it was a great course, but I didn’t actually create it myself, I just used a freebie”, because that won’t really get them noticed (it may even send the message that “I’m replaceable by a free web service, why are you paying me in the first place?!).