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Should Learning be Free and Open?
Saturday, July 04, 2009
My last post had many text articles related to online learning and open education. This time, I will focus on videos and free education as well as two possible articles to read. Seems to be so much content flying in the air this week related to the concept of freeness as well as open education.

Video #1: Last night I watched this excellent TED talk that Clay Shirky gave on "How social media can make history." This TED talk video was posted in June 2009. Shirky shows how innovation is happening all over the world through social media. As many people have noted, people are producers as well as consumers. He rightfully argues that this is a huge transformation. As Shirky says, "the moment we're living through, the moment our historical generation is living through is the largest increase in expressive capability in human history. Now that's a big claim." Yes it is! He emphasizes that media is increasingly global as well as social, ubiquitous, and inexpensive. As a result, media shifts from being about crafting messages for individuals to consume to one of creating environments for people to convene and conduct group-related activities. As such, in my mind, I think the world of media moves a tad closer to the world of education as well as work. Media supports people to create and share knowledge as well as learn from it. At the end of the video, Shirky poses the question of how we make best use of this media even while it is changes the very role of media.

Video #2: Chris Anderson, Wired Magazine editor, discusses free books or book content wrapped around paid books. It links to his new book called Free: The Future of a Radical Price. This book is scheduled to be available from Amazon on July 7, 2009. That is 3 days from now.

As Anderson points out, there are many ways to offer free materials while still making money. There are now free e-books that come with a printed book you pay for, free e-book excerpts, and free e-books before the release of a book or months after it. There are also free audio files of a book, either the abriged or unabridged versions. He recommends giving away the unabridged versions since people are busy and will more likely listen to the abridged version since they have minimial time. He poses many delightful ideas about what free actually means, especially in relationship to the music and publishing industries.

Cool ideas. I may need to rethink how I will market the free e-book extension of my The World is Open book when it comes out in a month or two. The hardcover will be out in a couple of weeks.

Video #3: There is an earlier 3 minute video from Chris Anderson is embedded in an article in Wired Magazine from last year. It is quite thought provoking and captivating. He points out that technology is becoming increasingly cheap and in many cases, free. What happens when technology is free or nearly so? Anderson discusses the ramifications of this.

I would like to know what happens when educational contents that can be put in such free devices are also free? Might we all become perpetually learning human beings?

Chris Anderson, ‘‘Free! Why $0.00 Is the Future of Business,’’ Wired (Feb. 25,

Cool stuff!!! I discuss Anderson's ideas at the beginning of Chapter 4 of my The World is Open book. I had briefly interviewed him for the book.

In addition to these videos, there is a review of Anderson's book in the New Yorker by Malcolm Gladwell, July 6, 2009, Priced to Sell: Is free the future?. Gladwell poses some insightful questions about this notion of freeness. When you read the review or Anderson's book, think about open education and ideas related to it becoming increasingly free. Perhaps not.

Finally, this morning my friend, Dr. Abtar Kaur at the Open University of Malaysia sent me this short and interesting article on open education from Marshall (Mike) Smith, formerly of the Hewlett Foundation and now Senior Council to the Secretary of Education. This article provides a splendid history to the open educational resources (OER) field.

Marshall S. Smith, Opening Education, Science 2 January 2009: Vol. 323. no. 5910, pp. 89 – 93.

So should learng be free and open? Can it be? I am not so sure after watching these videos and reading these articles. Yet, I remain a tad hopeful that it can be more accessible and affordable by millions who do not currently have much in the way of educational opportunities.

Happy 4th of July to my American friends. Happy Canada Day to those north of us (I know I am 3 days late). And Happy Happy Days to everyone else. And for those still grumpy, HAPPY, HAPPY, HAPPY days to you!!!!!!!
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  posted by Curt Bonk @ 4:43 PM  
  • At 10:23 PM, Blogger Alan said…

    Sweet irony. The link to the Science Article on "Opening Education" is behind a locked door of subscription.

    Kind of like being sort of pregnant.

    Learning *can* be free and open; I see it happen daily- it is Learning institutions that are having the challenges.

  • At 10:30 PM, Blogger Curt Bonk said…

    I thought so. Write to me, Alan, and I will try to send you a copy. cjbonk at indiana dot edu.

  • At 10:50 PM, Blogger jun asis said…

    me too pls

  • At 11:26 PM, Blogger Jenifer said…

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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About Me

Name: Curt Bonk
Home: Bloomington, Indiana, United States
About Me: I am a former accountant and CPA and a former educational psychologist. I am now Professor of IST at Indiana University and also adjunct in the School of Informatics. I founded and later sold SurveyShare. As president of CourseShare, LLC, I run around the world training instructors to teach online and give motivational talks about emerging learning technologies. I also write and edit books related to e-learning and blended learning. See bio and vita.

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Click here for information about my recent book, The World is Open: How Web Technology Is Revolutionizing Education.

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