Open or closed? If your content is not open it had better be valuable.

Perhaps there is something of a hippy lurking inside…I seem to have a tendency to prefer openness. I don’t mean that open is always best or that everything should always be open. That decision, as usual, would depend on many factors and an inevitable act of faith somewhere along the line. I mean that my preference is for openness. The possibilities of making the most of resources and connections are greater when circumstances around them are open. More connections, more content = greater potential. Simple, no?

On arriving in the learning world from the world of search I was a strong proponent of openness of learning content (which could be any content in many ways). The open access to knowledge seemed to take care of everything at that time. From my current vantage, I see things slightly differently. Probably.

Good learning products will add value to the content they present to learners. This may be achieved by aiding discovery, organisation, context, recommendation or re-use. It is no longer enough to assume that, in the act of producing content, my organisation (whichever it is) has made it valuable. A good commissioning test for all of our content is to see what you can find via Google on the same topic before you start. Assuming  that you can, the next question to ask is whether it is being made more valuable in any of those ways listed above. The curation argument alone is insufficient now, I think. (Unless your curation is better than Google, that is).

When content cannot be accessed without access to your product, that product experience had better be good enough to warrant the restriction.

When content cannot be accessed without access to your product, that product had better be good enough to warrant that restriction. The enduring example of the Kahn Academy is instructive here. Built on YouTube videos, in the main, there is no controlled access to the individual films. These are freely available (openly, if you must). The value of using them in the Kahn ecosystem is from various points: the context of the levels they are presented in, the signal of quality and relevance of that context, the feedback of the tutors, the scaffolding of the self-paced learning and so on…The curious among us can still view the Beauty of Algebra if we are so moved. Freely and openly, in fact.

The social age we are now creating has added a level of sophistication to this in recent years. The social value – the value of connectedness – that we can add to content is also quite freely available in a number of dramatically successful platforms. Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Tumblr etc. all offer us access to expertise, peer comment and authority in a very direct way. They can add social signals of value to all of that freely available content. The bar for value of the learning content in our own products is raised even further as a result.

Why I have stepped back from a diet of total freedom is the effort it can place on the leaner to find everything and and make sense of it. That can be a demanding pressure for busy folks who are not always confident of their subject expertise. The access to that expertise on social channels is keeping my mind open though. There may still be a little bit of hippy lurking…

More on this topic after the CIPD show I suspect.





Leave a Reply