To be open or closed?

To be open or closed?

When we think about the words ‘open’ and ‘closed’, we can already feel that the former has positive associations while the latter has negative. A closed-minded person is unreceptive to new ideas; a closed shopping mall feels empty and sad. Consequently, when we come to consider open-learning as compared to its closed counterpart, most of us have an inbuilt bias towards the open, just because of the connotations of the word. Open learning promises inclusivity, while closed learning is exclusive, hidden behind entrance exams and tuition fees.

Nevertheless, are we really ready to embrace the kind of paradigm shift that truly open education would require? Many of us are deeply invested in the closed system: we fought hard to gain study places in prestigious universities; we made financial sacrifices, too, in order to be there. As a reward, we were given access to exclusive knowledge from the top academics in the field. Should this knowledge now be given for free to any Tom, Dick or Harry? That seems unfair; it feels like all our efforts have been for nothing.

Not only did we shed blood, sweat and tears for our access to exclusive knowledge; our exclusive study places also gave us privileged access to the jobs market. We have used that advantage to gain work in universities ourselves, and so the wheel turns. Access to and success within closed education is therefore about more than just learning and knowledge. In fact, one could argue that its core function is something completely different: it acts as a sorting house where the successful are streamed towards the best jobs, allowing them to enjoy the highest financial and social rewards. In this light, open learning is a subversive, anarchistic force. It threatens the foundations of the very system that pays for our expensive foreign holidays and upholds our social status.

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