Equity and Access as Keys for Opening Open Learning: The Case for Virtually Facilitated Work-Based Learning

Equity and Access as Keys for Opening Open Learning: The Case for Virtually Facilitated Work-Based Learning

Luke van der Laan (University of Southern Queensland, Australia) and Liz Neary (University of Southern Queensland, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8856-8.ch014
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This chapter adopts a critical perspective of how open education (OE), based on the principles of equity and access, aligns with the mega-drivers of contemporary higher education. These include key drivers of OE such as lifelong learning, self-directed career development and credentialing. The process of synthesising learning, work and transition within what is described as the ‘conceptual age' of work, is daunting to the majority of members of the workforce globally. A combination of regulation, academic dogma underpinning traditional university models and rigid assumptions as to the nature of knowledge frustrate the promotion of OE. This case study explores a work-based learning (WBL) university program designed to broaden access and equity to universities within the context of mega-drivers shaping higher education demand. The model complements rather than competes with traditional university offerings and represents a pragmatic response to the barriers to participation and OE principles.
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Open education (OE) is fundamentally based on the principle of broadening participation in and liberating the practice of education. This is driven by the assumption that knowledge is a public concern and, indeed, asset and not the exclusive domain or proprietary property of a privileged few1 or the state.

The evolution of the OE movement since the 1970s is traceable but varied in its definition. More recently coinciding with access to the internet and affordable technological devices, OE is concerned with the democratisation of knowledge through broad-based accessibility, use and reuse of knowledge (Baraniuk, 2007). It is related to but distinct from the open educational resources (OER) movement. A stream in the literature suggests that OE is not based on a narrow definition related to access to artefacts (or resources) but is rather described in terms of a systemic perspective where access to the flow of information, matter and energy of educational systems should be co-creative and accessible to all (Moore & Kearsley, 2011). OE is closely associated with the neoclassical model, which assumes universally available knowledge, capacities to apply existing technologies and transparent access to all market information (Tabb, 2003).

For the purposes of this chapter OE is defined in terms of enabling an aspirational educational system where knowledge is shared, and the desire to learn is not limited by demographic, economic, and geographical constraints (Yuan & Powell, 2013). It is in terms of this definition that obvious concerns arise related to the notion of ‘enabling’ as opposed to ‘disabling’ such systems. It relates to how OE is enabled to meet the rights and learning aspirations of individuals and society. It also points directly toward the role of government in terms of policy (macro and micro) and the role of educational institutions. It is argued in this chapter that the attitudes and worldviews of leaders and professionals in the political and institutional decision-making domains are critical to the notions of enabling or disabling such systems. It is suggested that the combined effect of small initiatives, such as the example presented in this chapter, are able to promote the principles of OE in educational systems despite fundamentally disabling policy and institutional paradigms.

Dominant worldviews and ideologies play an important part in exploring the question of enablement as it relates to government policy and, by extension, the decisions of higher educational leaders. As a core proposition, the chapter rejects the notion that OE is positively associated with neoliberal economic policy. To recognise that such an association directs decision making would primarily equate educational outcomes with productivity metrics and economic performance indicators rather than social developmental outcomes and civic rights. At a definitional level, the relationship between neoliberalism and OE is problematic; indeed the concepts are mutually exclusive if one is to accept that “neoliberalism stresses the privatization of the public provision of goods and services … giving greater scope to the single-minded pursuit of profit and showing significantly less regard for the need to limit social costs or for redistribution based on nonmarket criteria” (Tabb, 2002).

This proposition is raised to illustrate that, more so than any other single factor, a national policy that embeds neoliberal marketisation, deregulation and proprietary interest in its education system, is by definition at odds with the fundamental principles of OE. The chapter does not contest that there could be better, more effective and efficient ways of delivering educational services. Rather, it suggests that the point of departure for governments serious about preserving social democratic principles, by definition, cannot formulate policy based on neoliberal perspectives as this suggests a conflict of interests.

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