Rethinking OER and their use: open education as Bildung

Farrow, Robert and Deimann, Markus (2013). Rethinking OER and their use: open education as Bildung. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 14(3) pp. 344–360.



Despite the recent increases of interest in Open Education – notably in the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs; Fini, 2009) - it has been continuously asserted that this form of social knowledge production 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 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 open education as well as providing a critical lens through which to assess contemporary educational models in practice (e.g. Liessmann, 2006).

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