"Crucially, the field has lacked coherent definitions of ‘open’, and too often tended towards optimism, advocacy, and conviction, rather than a critical understanding of what openness might mean for education. Moreover, it is the vagaries of the term itself that have allowed it to be attached to other ideas so readily: to notions of self-directed learning and cohesive community interaction; and to technology and the presumed capacities of the digital networks that enable educational activity to take place. In these ways, ‘open’ has too often accounted for the assumed ease with which educational hierarchies can be horizontalised, and economic and geographic barriers can be dissolved. But more than this, openness has too often assumed that institutional structures, financial constraints, and distance are the only issues preventing the instinctive and effortless uptake of self-directed learning. It is precisely in this way that an uncritical championing of openness fails to adequately analyse educational closures.
Many approaches to open education have been guided by the assumption that students fall into a universal category of rational, self-directing, and highly motivated individuals. Much less common is the acknowledgement that openness reconfigures or maintains particular notions of learning, teaching, and human being; that it is involved in the production of our contemporary understanding of ourselves as educated and educating beings. Part of the appeal of openness has derived from its association with a broader restructuring of education around the idea of the ‘learner’. This ‘learnification’ (Biesta 2010) has tended to assume autonomous students, whose independent activity requires educational opportunity with instantly and universally accessible material, anytime admittance, and teachers who merely ‘facilitate’ the process. The assumption is that ‘we’ are naturally open, and for all this time it has been the institution that has disciplined us into being closed. However, this idea of openness relies too heavily on the logic of self-direction, and fails to engage with the de-emphasis of teacher contact, problematic forms of student isolation, the appropriation of academic labour, and a neglect of the social and political dimensions of an education that surfaces in globalised classrooms. Such openness is only a solution for the imagined autonomous subject, and is only imaginable where education is divorced from the complexities of culture, sociality, and the power of the political. Furthermore, the restructuring of the role of the teacher and the implicit de-professionalisation of teaching is overlooked in this drive for openness. The open education movement can at times seem worryingly amenable to forces of neoliberalism within the university."
Open education: the need for a critical approach. (2015) Learning, Media and Technology 40(3) doi: 10.1080/17439884.2015.1065272