Bildung as a critical foundation for Open Education

Farrow, Robert and Deimann, Markus (2012). Bildung as a critical foundation for Open Education. In: Open Education 2012: Beyond Content, 16-18 Oct 2012, University of British Columbia, Vancouver.



Despite the recent increases of interest in Open Education (notably in the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC; Fini, 2009) it has been continuously asserted that Open Education lacks a philosophical or theoretical foundation (Vandenberg, 1975). Similar accusations have been made with respect to distance education, which some have identified as being slow to engage with critical debates in theory and research (Evans & Nation, 1992). In a similar vein, Danaher, Wyer and Bartlett (1998) claim that researchers in open and distance learning tend to draw on too narrow a range of theoretical resources in their research. Given the considerable rise of Open Education over the last years, these critical appraisals urge us to expand theoretical approaches to refine our understanding of evolving pedagogical and technological relations (cf. Bell, 2011). In this paper, we contribute to debates surrounding open education and open educational resources by introducing the concept of Bildung (self-cultivation; self-realization) as a powerful reflective tool. We will elaborate on the potentials of Bildung by reviewing the history of the concept and exploring the extent to which Bildung can provide open education with a theoretical framework. Our focus here will not be exclusively on open educational resources (OER): it will be stressed that ‘openness’ in education necessarily shifts the focus from content (OER) to practices (OEP) that are necessary for the use of that content (Mackey & Jacobson, 2011, p. 62; cf. Weller, 2011).

We argue (1) that there are significant potentials to elicit or encourage Bildung through the use of OER, such as through providing open access to a rich base of materials from various cultural contexts. In this process of engaging with multiple and complex resources it can be assumed that a transformation of the way in which the individual is approaching learning is likely to happen. The reflections of these experiences are educational and a key factor for the theoretical underpinning of OER. We go on to suggest (2) that the beliefs and values associated with Bildung – including autonomy, critical reflection, inclusivity and the rejection of universal narratives – are suitable for providing a theoretical framework for OER as well as providing a critical lens through which to assess contemporary educational models in practice (e.g. Liessmann, 2006).

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