1 Visualizing open education: A conceptual aid

Eric Werth and Katherine Williams


The concept of “open” in relation to teaching and learning is not novel. While many trace the idea of openness in higher education to the 1960’s and 1970’s (Cronin & MacLaren, 2018; Lane, 2009) others have argued that it may have come into educational vernacular as early as the late 1940’s (Bozkurt, Koseoglu, & Singh, 2019).

Since its first articulation, the educational concepts outlined using the term “open” have increased exponentially. These include, but are not limited to, open practice, open educator, open education, open institutions/universities/educational systems, open educational practices, open pedagogy, open educational resources, open content, open access, open collaboration, open courses, open recognition, open research, open scholarship, and open teaching (Anderson, 2009; Andrade et al., 2011; Beetham, et al., 2012; Bologna Open Recognition Declaration, 2016; Bozkurt, Koseoglu & Singh, 2019;  Coffey, 1977; Cormier & Siemens, 2010; Cronin, 2017; Cronin & MacLaren, 2018; Couros & Hildenbrandt, 2016; dos Santos, Punie & Castaño-Muñoz, 2009; DeRosa & Jhangiani, n.d.; DeRosa & Robison, 2017; DeVries, 2019; Ehlers & Conole, 2010; Geser, 2007; Hegarty, 2015; Hodgkinson-Williams & Gray, 2009; OECD, 2007; McGill, 2013;  Naidu, 2016; Nascimbeni & Burgos, 2016; Paskevicius, 2017; Stagg, 2014; Stagg & Bossu, 2016; UNESCO, 2012; Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2012a; Weller, 2013; Wiley, 2013)

Although a plethora of papers address openness and related terms, there is a general consensus that definitions are elusive, evolving, and at times contradictory (Baker, 2017; Bozkurt, Koseoglu, & Singh, 2019; Cronin & MacLaren, 2018; dos Santos, Punie & Castaño-Muñoz, 2016). While expansive umbrella terminology and broad conceptualizations permit flexibility as the field continues to mature while also avoiding the appearance of dichotomizing practices better described as an openness spectrum (Lane, 2009), the lack of clear definitions is problematic. Terminology surrounding open education has been credited with confusion that may negatively impact adoption efforts, miscommunication leading to ineffective discussions, and as being detrimental to the ability to build collaboration (dos Santos, Punie & Castaño-Muñoz, 2016; Lane, 2009; McGill, 2013). Wiley and Hilton (2018) note, for open pedagogy specifically, that confusion in nomenclature may lead to problems with practical conceptualization for teaching and learning as well as ineffective research efforts due to the inability to specify what is being evaluated. The same could easily be said for many terms utilizing “open”.

There are a number of definitions and conceptualizations of the terms mentioned above.  Commonly, when numerous studies have been conducted on a topic and researchers wish to evaluate data for underlying patterns, relations and disagreements, a meta-analysis is employed. The purpose of this paper is to conduct a meta-conceptualization of sorts, reviewing existing conceptualizations and frameworks of the most commonly used educational terms touted as “open”. The goal is not to describe anew the various existing conceptualizations, as this has been recently completed (Bozkurt, Koseoglu, & Singh, 2019; Cronin & MacLaren, 2018), but to integrate these with one another, identify and reconcile locations of contradiction, and simplify when possible definitions that frequently overlap and at times diverge from one another. The value in such an effort is to provide a more holistic view of the field, produce a tool for training educational constituents on the various components of open education, and begin to address the identified concerns with existing multivalent definitions. Doing so will enhance communication and provide a platform for bringing those not familiar with the myriad and nuanced definitions a more concrete resource for entry into the field.


Publications were collected through databases and open web searches using terminology commonly associated with open education. These databases included EBSCOhost, ProQuest, and Google Scholar.  From these papers, conceptualizations of open terms were mapped visually using a virtual white board to identify themes and locations of divergence. This process continued until new themes could not be identified, similar to inductive thematic saturation (Saunders et al., 2018). Web-based searches were similarly conducted to identify information sources such as blogs and websites not referenced in other literature.

After visual mapping of open educational terminology, definitions and conceptualizations were categorized as to whether they represented philosophic descriptions of terms or delineated parent/umbrella concepts and related child elements. Definitions outlining dimensions of any related term were subsequently categorized as to whether those dimensions described open processes/practices or open products such as resources. Where possible, information outlined in multiple publications were combined in ways that maintained the intent of the original conceptualizations. When differences existed in various publications, these were resolved by assessing the most frequent way a term is utilized in recent works.

Evaluation of existing articles pointed to a characteristic of research in the field that has likely facilitated the proliferation of associated terminology; philosophic and process-focused versus component definitions of concepts. In describing the OpenEDU study, for example, dos Santos, Punie and Castaño-Muñoz (2016) defined “open education” as,

A way of carrying out education, often using digital technologies. Its aim is to widen access and participation to everyone by removing barriers and making learning accessible, abundant, and customisable for all. It offers multiple ways of teaching and learning, building and sharing knowledge. It also provides a variety of access routes to formal and non-formal education, and connects the two (p. 10).

This definition is more philosophic and process-focused than the definition from the Open Education Consortium (n.d.), “Open education encompasses resources, tools and practices that employ a framework of open sharing to improve educational access and effectiveness worldwide.”, which is itself less component focused than that found in the Cape Town Open Education Declaration (2008),

Open education is not limited to just open educational resources. It also draws upon open technologies that facilitate collaborative, flexible learning and the open sharing of teaching practices that empower educators to benefit from the best ideas of their colleagues. It may also grow to include new approaches to assessment, accreditation and collaborative learning.

In such instances, definitions were evaluated for component characteristics and included in mapping exercises.

The meta-conceptualization that emerged (see Figure 1) begins with “Open Educational Practice” as a primary umbrella. Three parent terms exist as shoots from this root, “Open Content”, “Open Pedagogy”, and “Open Educational System”. Two of these, Open Pedagogy and Open Educational System are classified as processes, while Open Content a product. In the sections that follow, the rationale for this structure will be explained including child elements of the three parent terms and how these relate to existing literature within the field.

Figure 1

Visualization of Open Education Terminology: The VOET Taxonomy


Open Educational Practice- An Umbrella Term

If clarity is a detractor from stakeholders moving towards openness in education (consider the work of Nascimbeni and Burgos, 2016), then outlining clearly and succinctly the component parts that comprise a system represents a solution to create buy-in both at an individual and institutional level as this is likely a necessary first-step to any meaningful change. To identify the most logical primary umbrella term under which all other concepts could be located for developing a single taxonomy, open education and open educational practices (OEP) were evaluated as these are broadly defined (Cronin, 2017; Cronin & MacLaren, 2018; Koseoglu & Bozkurt, 2018) but not so expansive as to include concepts unrelated to educational endeavors,as might be imagined under a term like “openness”. Open education and open educational practices are frequently conflated with one another as well as other terms in the literature.  Cronin and MacLaren (2018) astutely note, “An abiding theme throughout the history of open education, however, has been the difficulty in precisely defining the concept. Even at its earliest stages, the definition was difficult to pin down” (p. 127).

Although the use of the term open education predates that of open educational practice (Cronin & MacLaren, 2018) it is evident from current literature that the two are used synonymously. Lane (2009) describes open education as resources, tools, and processes to enhance educational effectiveness, access, and equity, while the Cape Town Open Educational Declaration (McGill, 2013) defined it as OER, assessment, accreditation, and collaborative learning.  Similarly, the framework which stemmed from the OpenEdu Project (dos Santos, Punie & Castaño-Muñoz, 2016) conceptualizes open education as including the dimensions of access, research, content, pedagogy, recognition, and collaboration while Naidu (2016) describes open access, open scholarship, and open learning as being key attributes of the term.

In analyzing the UKOER project outcomes, however, Beetham et al. (2012) states that open educational practices are comprised of OER, open/public pedagogies, open learning, open scholarship, and open sharing (of teaching practices). Similarly, Paskevicius (2017) describes OEP as teaching and learning practices including course design, assessment, co-creation of OER, open licensing, peer-to-peer learning, and student self-directed learning.

Although many other authors have written about OEP, the examples above highlight the trend to use open education and open educational practices to describe the same concept.  While perhaps not perfectly aligned, it is difficult to envision someone using “open education” and “open educational practice” and be speaking of different concepts. Thus, in creating a taxonomic structure, the authors of this paper believe the most appropriate primary umbrella term is Open Educational Practice as it is comprehensive enough to adequately capture the concepts described above while recognizing that open education as it was originally envisioned may include approaches that are student-centered (Cronin & MacLaren, 2018) but not necessarily aligned with the current, colloquial use of “open”. This approach also provides a clear avenue for those seeking to transition instructors into the use of Open Educational Practices (as defined through the VOET taxonomy) by creating a more concrete, praxis-oriented entry into the field.

Differentiating Process from Product

When considering how to approach meta-conceptualizing Open Educational Practice, it became clear that differentiation of product (digital or physical artifacts) and process (structural systems, practices, or policies) was beneficial. This served a dual-purpose of creating an easily-followed structure that differentiates product from process, while also separating the primary umbrella term from subsequent parent-child tree.

Identifying products and processes is not a new approach. Knox (2013), Ehlers (2011), and Andrade, et al. (2011) have all considered the role of either products, processes, or both, in open education. Confounding this effort, however, was the realization that what is considered a product and a process is somewhat fluid as every “product” is produced by some “process”. An automobile, for example, would be considered a product although the manufacture of that vehicle is a process. So as to avoid listing items multiple times, such as OER as a product and creation of OER as a process, the authors differentiated the two by determining whether the purpose of an activity was the development of an artifact or a process itself, such as learning.  In this manner, an automobile would be listed only as a product even though a process is used to create it, since the primary aim of the manufacturing process is the development of an object.  Similarly, in the outlined taxonomy, items like Open Access Publishing and Open Research are classified as products as their purpose is to develop an artifact (resources, data, articles, research, etc.) even though they involve activities. Other terms such as Open Courses and OER-Enabled Pedagogy are considered processes even though major elements of a course are tangible items because their purpose is a process, namely learning.

Primary Components of Open Educational Practices

More challenging than identifying Open Education Practice as the main umbrella was determining from the remaining terminology what fit together most logically. While the definition of OER is probably the most widely accepted (Cronin & MacLaren, 2018), it is the exception rather than the rule. For example, Havemann (2016) notes for open educational practice,  “ . . . this new concept is perhaps even more slippery than OER to define, as OEP gives rise to the same issues with the polyvalence of the term open, only more so.” (p.6). Similar sentiments could be expressed for many of the terms claiming to embody openness. Additionally, with the most recent UNESCO recommendation on open educational resources, even the definition of OER may come under new scrutiny, particularly as it relates to whether one must be able to “retain” OER or just have “rights to access” (Wiley, 2019).

Through mapping of various definitions and frameworks Open Content, Open Pedagogy, and Open Educational Systems emerged as the best choice for parent terms beneath OEP. In this approach, Open Pedagogy and Open Educational Systems mirror the roles of instructor, learner and institution within the educational process. Each of these branches and the elements belonging to each are described below.

Open Content

Content of some type is a major component of openness in the educational field. All major conceptualizations of terms such as open education and open educational practice discuss content or educational materials (Beetham et al., 2012; Cronin & MacLaren, 2018; dos Santos, Punie & Castaño-Muñoz, 2016; Ehlers & Conole, 2016; Lane, 2009; Paskevicius, 2017). Open Content is a term first used by David Wiley in late 1990s and was defined as copyrightable works that are provided perpetually free to retain, reuse, revise, remix, and redistribute– known within the field as the 5Rs of open (Wiley, 2014). While open educational resources are probably the most recognizable example of an open “product”, other concepts within the literature have been proposed to belong to this family as well.

Open content has been described as:

A broad term that covers a wider range of resources and materials made available openly on the web. It implies open licencing to enable re-use, revise, remix and re-distribute (the 4Rs). Open content is not defined by its intended use and covers raw data, research materials, learning and teaching materials and informational resources (McGill, 2013).

This definition includes OER, but also what could be considered products of open scholarship and open pedagogy. Dos Santos, Punie and Castaño-Muñoz (2016) describe open content as, “. . . materials for teaching and learning, and research outputs, which are free of charge and available to all” (p.25). Here again open content is envisioned to include not only teaching and learning items, but also the products of scholarly endeavors namely data, research materials, and research outputs. David Wiley (n.d.) defines open content and open educational resources synonymously, indicating that both are copyrightable items that are either released in the public domain or licensed in such a way that one can retain, reuse, revise, remix, and redistribute them freely and perpetually.

Open scholarship itself has been described as including open data, open research, and connections (Anderson, 2009  in Cronin & MacLaren, 2018), open access, open education including OER and open teaching, and networked participatory scholarship (Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2012a in Cronin & MacLaren, 2018) and involving open access publishing, open science, and open research (Beetham et al., 2012). McKiernan (2017), in describing openness within a university setting, indicates that open scholarship may be a more inclusive term than either open science or open research which both have been used to describe similar conceptualizations.  According to McKiernan, open scholarship entails, “sharing of research and nonresearch products, such as those arising from educational and outreach activities.”(2017, p.2).

Within the presented framework, Open Educational Resources follow the definition provided by David Wiley above, but Open Scholarship (development and sharing of research and non-research products) was considered a separate element with OER under Open Content. Open Scholarship is further described as including, Open Data, Open Research, Open Access Publishing, and Networked Participatory Scholarship.  Open Data, while itself possessing multiple definitions (“Open Data in a Nutshell”, n.d.) can be practically described as follows, “Open data is data anyone can use and share. It has an open licence, is openly accessible and is both human-readable and machine-readable.” (“What is Open Data”, 2019). Open Research, compared to Open Data, has been defined more broadly as making data and research outputs more available and increasing participation in research (dos Santos,Punie, Castaño- Muñoz, 2016), increasing transparency and efficiency through collaboration (“What is Open Research?”, n.d.) and sharing both methodology and research results freely (“Open Research”, n.d.).

Synthesizing existing literature related to publishing and Networked Participatory Scholarship is beyond the scope of this article. In a subsequent section, the conflation of concepts related to open access and publishing licenses will be briefly discussed. As used here, Open Access Publishing refers to one of several models of publishing in which articles are provided to users in accordance with the principles found in the Budapest Open Access Initiative (2002), although the researcher or institution may pay a fee these freedoms (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_access and Suarez & McGlynn, 2017). Networked Participatory Scholarship (NPS) is a relatively new concept, but one growing in prominence.  NPS has been defined as, “use of participatory technologies and online social networks to share, reflect upon, critique, improve, validate, and further their scholarship” (p. 768, Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2012b).

The resulting framework of Open Content is found in Figure 2. The largest difference between some existing definitions and the meta-conceptualization presented here comes in the separation of OER and open education/open teaching from Open Scholarship. This stems from viewing Open Educational Practice in terms of products or processes as discussed earlier, and helps avoid the creation (verb) versus creation (noun) issue that would exist if nearly every product (resource, course, data, etc.) needed to be accounted for a second time in a conceptualization as the process by which it came to exist. Considering that Open Data and Open Research might be considered OER, connections were drawn between not only these items and Open Scholarship but also Open Educational Resources. The argument could be made that creation of OER is itself a form of Open Scholarship. While philosophically one may agree with this statement, this may or may not be accurate practically depending on the policies of the educational system with which one is associated.

Figure 2

Components of Open Content

Open Pedagogy

As indicated by Wiley and Hilton (2018, p.135), “The wide range of variation in the many recent definitions of open pedagogy makes it increasingly difficult to make sense of the term, potentially leading to claims of openwashing and creating other practical problems in the context of teaching and learning practices.” This was found to be correct when outlining how open pedagogy has been conceptualized. Consider, for example, the differences in the eight attributes described by Hagerty (2015), 1) Participatory technologies; 2) people, openness & trust; 3) innovation & creativity; 4) sharing ideas and resources; 5) connected community; 6) learner generated; 7) reflective practice; and 8) peer review, and the definition of open pedagogy provided by DeRosa & Jhangiani (n.d.) at http://openpedagogy.org/open-pedagogy/, “. . . we might think about Open Pedagogy as an access-oriented commitment to learner-driven education AND as a process of designing architectures and using tools for learning that enable students to shape the public knowledge commons of which they are a part.” In addition, other terms in the literature, including open educator (Nascimbeni & Burgos, 2016), open teaching (Couros & Hildenbrandt, 2016), and open learning (Bozkurt, Koseoglu & Singh, 2019; Coffey, 1977), all could be considered pedagogical in nature. As the purpose of the meta-conceptualization is to simplify frameworks when possible, and more comprehensive definitions of pedagogy include the variety of activities that impact both teaching and learning (Smith, 2019; UNESCO, n.d.), Open Pedagogy was chosen to represent the teaching and learning components of Open Educational Practice as opposed to terms related to teaching or learning individually.

In order to make Open Pedagogy as a taxonomic tree more accessible,the dynamic of the instructor and the learner was separated. The instructor (Open Educator) and the learner (Open Learning) allows stakeholders to see a clear delineation in the role of teaching and learning under the terminology of pedagogy (see Figure 3). Questions have been raised regarding whether open pedagogy exists as a subset of critical digital pedagogy. Critical digital pedagogy (CDP), as defined by Strommell (2014), places an emphasis on community and the collaborative nature of teaching and learning; requires recognition of a multitude of voices, perspectives, and narratives across cultural, socioeconomic, and political borders; and must be able to be used outside the ivory walls of academia.To be effective, open pedagogy must include component parts that encompass critical digital pedagogy. Therefore, the authors considered CDP and agency of the learner as a prerequisite characteristic of openness and not an element to be labeled separately.

In selecting Open Educator, the authors sought to recognize a learning facilitator’s complex role as teacher, designer and assessor of student development.Teaching, by its very definition, relates to the dissemination of information. Fortuitously, Nascimbeni and Burgos (2016) developed a well-defined outline for the role of the Open Educator, the child elements which have been included in Figure 3. The concept of open educator as envisioned by Nascimbeni and Burgos (2016) is not in conflict with that of open teaching as outlined by Couros & Hildebrandt (2016), however the term educator is seen as a more general descriptor than teacher which often holds the connotation of someone working within a school or whose primary profession is teaching which need not be the case in open education.

Open Design, more broadly, is associated with the “… creation and development of potentially meaningful learner experiences through open and transparent collaboration among course developers and peers using open educational resources, open educational practices and open technologies” (Open Design and Development, n.d.). This parallels a similar concept found in Nascimbeni and Burgos’s (2016) first characteristic of an open educator; one who uses and shares learning designs openly with peers, colleagues, and experts in their field.

Open Assessment, the second child element of Open Educator, again originates from Nascimbeni and Burgos (2016) who emphasizes the importance of peer-review as an assessment tool, as well as collaborative assessment practices, badges, and micro-credentialing. This aligns well with the definition developed by Chiappe (2012) and Chiappe, Pinto, and Arias (2016), who acknowledge that open assessment relies on peer-to-peer engagement facilitated through the use of open tools. Peer-to-peer engagement, as a part of open assessment, is a vital component of the open educator’s facilitation process. Hegarty (2015), in his development of the characteristics of open pedagogy also includes peer-review as one of the eight characteristics of open pedagogy. OER-Enabled Pedagogy, introduced by Wiley and Hilton (2018), serves as a connector between parent elements in Open Educator and Open Learning. OER-enabled pedagogy includes both teaching and learning, as Wiley and Hilton (2018) describe OER-enabled pedagogy as involving student-created OER.

The parent element for the learner side of Open Pedagogy, Open Learning, relates to knowledge acquisition being a fluid practice wherein the individual can explore information through a variety of modalities (Naidu, 2016; “An Introduction to Open Learning”, n.d.; Beetham, et al., 2012; McGill, 2013). OER-Enabled Pedagogy, linking both Open Learning and Open Educator, acknowledges that learning also happens through content creation. Open Course relates to the modality component of knowledge acquisition, as determined by the definition of Open Learning. McGill (2013) acknowledges that open courses do not always mean Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), but may include learning experiences that are not structured like traditional courses. Peer-to-Peer Learning provides students an opportunity to grow through collaborative approaches, wherein they help others become proficient in a subject area, while also fostering their own knowledge acquisition (“Collaborative, and Peer to Peer Learning”, n.d.). The final child element of Open Learning is Self-Directed Learning. Knowles (1975) acknowledges that self-directed learning is student-driven, wherein the individual identifies their own needs, creates, and pursues a plan that allows them to achieve their goals. Subsequent accreditation (microcredenitialing, etc.) is considered in the meta-conceptualization within the third branch, Open Educational System.

Figure 3 

Components of Open Pedagogy

Open Educational System

Open education from an institutional standpoint has been written about extensively. The entity responsible for policies, credentialing, and most frequently managing the teaching/learning environment, however, is referred to in different ways including open educational systems (Stagg & Bossu, 2016), open universities (Daniel, Kanwar, & Uvalic-Trumbic, 2009; Devries, 2019; Jeong, 2019; Li, Yuen, & Wong, 2018; McKiernan, 2017; Tait, 2008) and open institutions (Carey, Davis, Ferreras, & Porter, 2015; dos Santos,Punie, Castaño- Muñoz, 2016). Although open university appears to be used most commonly, this may be by virtue of the fact that the majority of research in open education addresses higher education and because some articles pertain to particular institutions known to be “open” (Open University, etc.).

Regardless of the term, the functions associated with an open university/institution/educational system are not relegated to a “university” as the term is commonly used. Creating policies, such as those that encourage open educational practice in relation to OER creation, research, publishing, pedagogical approaches, recognition of prior learning, and admission (referred to here as Open Policies) is frequently discussed as the role of an open university (DeVries, 2019; Jeong, 2019; McKiernan, 2017). However, they may also be impacted or created by international groups like UNESCO, governmental agencies, regional boards, and non-governmental organizations (Gallacher & Feutrie, 2003; Open Educational Handbook, 2014). Considering these dynamics, the term Open Educational Systems is used here as it embodies the spirit of the definition by Stagg and Bossu (2016), “‘open education systems’ is used to describe an educational institution that authentically practices openness in not only educational terms, but in administrative, transactional, and strategic actions”(para. 4).

Component elements of Open Educational Systems include Open Policies, described earlier, and Open Recognition (see Figure 4). Open recognition, open accreditation, and open assessment have been used to represent an entity recognizing non-formal educational experiences for more formal credit (Bologna Open Recognition Declaration, 2016; dos Santos, Punie & Castaño-Muñoz, 2016; Open Education Handbook, 2014; Wiley, 2008) and as peer or community-driven evaluation techniques of student learning (Nascimbeni & Burgos, 2016; Open Educational Handbook, 2014). Here, Open Recognition was chosen as a function that an Open Educational System would employ to recognize non-formal learning. Conversely,  Open Assessment describes the process an Open Educator engages in to evaluate students. Open accreditation is not used in the meta-conceptualization to reduce redundancy and due to its connotation, particularly in higher education, to assessment of the institution by an external governmental or non-governmental agency.

Figure 4

Components of an Open Institution

Important Considerations in Meta-conceptualizing Open in Education 

Analysis of existing conceptualizations highlighted the need to outline prerequisite characteristics of open. These components were not identified as separate elements within the taxonomic structure presented, as their presence was considered a necessity to being open regardless of the context in which they are utilized. Access (whether it be access to content or learning opportunities), sharing, collaboration, and the values inherent in critical digital pedagogy were identified as concepts vital in all forms of “open”. Although contextually how these are manifest in open educational resources versus open courses (for example) may differ, their essence is none-the-less fundamental to that concept being “open”. Thus, although some frameworks include open access, open sharing, or open collaboration separately (Beetham et al., 2012; dos Santos, Punie & Castaño-Muñoz, 2016; Schaffert & Geser, 2008), here they were omitted.

The authors also identified terms which have multiple definitions within existing literature which had to be addressed in constructing the meta-conceptualization. Open recognition, open accreditation, and open assessment were mentioned previously. Open access and Open access publishing are two other terms with potentially overlapping definitions. Open access has been used to describe content in a way most commonly now associated with OER, such as lowering barriers to access and allowing the reproduction and distribution of material  (Bethesda Statement on Open Access Publishing, 2003; Gesser, 2007). Open access has also been described as, “ . . .  research articles that are freely and openly available to the public for reading, reviewing, and building upon” (Wiley & Green, n.d.). While not entirely different, the similarity with the definition of OER begs the question, “What are open access materials if they are not OER?” This is particularly pertinent considering that it has been noted that even using Creative Commons licenses, non-derivative materials are not “open” so not OER (Green, 2018), “free” does not mean “OER” (Cronin, 2017), and what would one consider publishing in journals using a color-coding system? Decidedly different than these, however, is the use of open access to refer to flexible delivery options for learning experience, described along with open admission as key elements of an open university by Hanmo (2019). While not inaccurate and possibly utilized within literature this way, it appears from searching both web resources and published papers that most frequently open access references publishing materials using structures like color-coding, and is contrasted with OER. This difference, however, is an example of identical terminology in the field referring to different concepts.

As described earlier, open access was not included in this taxonomy as the principles which it espouses are considered a prerequisite to “open”, and to reduce confusion with;

  • OER: more content-focused definitions;
  • Open Access Publishing: publishing scholarly works in a way that permits access but through the systems a publisher develops to allow use, reuse, and modification (with the caveat that depending on how licensed, “open” may not be appropriate); and
  • access as it may refer to flexibility in learning time and modality.

In addition, open access as it relates to university functions may fit under what is included in the meta-conceptualization as Open Policy.

The authors do not view the taxonomy in Figure 1 as conflicting with other concepts related to open. For example, Cronin (2017) outlined four interpretations of “open” in educational settings: open admission, open as free, open educational resources, and open educational practices. Within this meta-conceptualization, OER and Open Educational Practices are named directly while the concept of “open as free” and “open admission” are embodied within other elements of the framework such as Open Access Publishing, Open Learning, and Open Policies. The four transverse dimensions of open education (strategy, technology, quality and leadership) described by dos Santos, Punie & Castaño-Muñoz (2016) and the eight attributes of open pedagogy (Hegarty, 2015) are also represented in elements of this meta-conceptualization.

Finally, as described earlier, there appears to be reluctance on the part of those researching “open” within educational settings to propose canonical definitions of terms. This may be to avoid the appearance of  constructing walls around concepts in a field that is continually evolving in relation to both time and context, or to abstain from being viewed as unilaterally proposing a definition within a community known for collaborative efforts. The taxonomy presented here is not intended to do either of the above. However, Table 1 is provided to outline existing definitions consistent with the meta-conceptualization described herein. Others in the field may view concepts differently based on their own experiences, beliefs, and values. The authors believe that what is provided here is useful in describing more concretely concepts that often are anything but explicit, and represent a tool for more effective communication between theorists, practitioners, and researchers. In doing so, perhaps the community may take a step in addressing an issue frequently identified within existing literature.

Table 1

Definition of Terms Consistent with the Meta-conceptualization

Term Definition Citation
Open Educational Practice “Open education is best seen as an omnibus term that has many dimensions including the following critical attributes: (1) Open access: Inclusive and equal access to educational opportunities without barriers such as entry qualifications and ability to pay. Value principle: All lives have equal value. (2) Open learning: Ability to study and learn at anytime, anywhere and at any pace. Value principle: Freedom and the flexibility to choose the mode, medium, time, place and pace of study. (3) Open scholarship: Releasing educational resources under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others. Value principle: Education is a basic need that should be accessible to all, if we were to achieve education for all towards a path to real freedom, justice and equality (see Sen, 1999).” (p.1) Naidu (2016)
Open Content “Content in open education refers to materials for teaching and learning, and research outputs, which are free of charge and available to all.” (p.25) dos Santos,Punie, Castaño- Muñoz (2016)
Open Pedagogy “To summarize, we might think about Open Pedagogy as an access-oriented commitment to learner-driven education AND as a process of designing architectures and using tools for learning that enable students to shape the public knowledge commons of which they are a part.” DeRosa & Jhangiani (n.d.)
Open Educational System “‘Open education systems’ is used to describe an educational institution that authentically practices openness in not only educational terms, but in administrative, transactional, and strategic actions.”(para.4) Staggs & Bossu (2016).
Open Educational Resource “Open Educational Resources are teaching, learning and research materials in any medium – digital or otherwise – that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions.” https://hewlett.org/strategy/open-educational-resources/
Open Scholarship “ Open scholarship was characterised as a “new type of education and scholarship context” which sought to maximise social learning, media richness, participatory and connectivist pedagogies, ubiquity and persistence, open data and research, and connections (Anderson, 2009)” (p.134) Anderson (2009)  in Cronin & MacLaren (2018)
Open Data “Open data is data anyone can use and share. It has an open licence, is openly accessible and is both human-readable and machine-readable.” “What is Open Data”, 2019
Open Research “Openness in research is about removing barriers to access to data and research outputs, and also about broadening participation in research.” (p. 27) dos Santos,Punie, Castaño- Muñoz (2016)
Open Access Publishing “Because journal articles should be disseminated as widely as possible, these new journals will no longer invoke copyright to restrict access to and use of the material they publish. Instead they will use copyright and other tools to ensure permanent open access to all the articles they publish. Because price is a barrier to access, these new journals will not charge subscription or access fees, and will turn to other methods for covering their expenses.” Budapest Open Access Initiative (2002)
Networked Participatory Scholarship “use of participatory technologies and online social networks to share, reflect upon, critique, improve, validate, and further their scholarship” (p. 768) Veletsianos & Kimmons (2012b)
Open Educator An Open Educator implements openness along four main activities. He/she:

1. Implements open learning design by openly sharing ideas and plans about his/her teaching activities with experts and with past and potential students, incorporating inputs, and

transparently leaving a trace of the development process.

2. Uses open educational content by releasing his/her teaching resources through open licenses, by facilitating sharing of her resources through OER repositories and other means, and by adapting, assembling, and using OERs produced by others in his/her teaching.

3. Adopts open pedagogies fostering co-creation of knowledge by students through online and offline collaboration and allowing learners to contribute to public knowledge resources such as Wikipedia.

4. Implements open assessment practices such as peer and collaborative evaluation, open badges, and e-portfolios, engaging students as well as external stakeholders in learning assessment.” (P.4)

Nascimbeni & Burgos (2016)
Open Design “Open design refers to the creation and development of potentially meaningful learning experiences through open and transparent collaboration among course developers and peers using open educational resources, open educational practices and open technologies.” Open Design and Development (n.d.)
Open Assessment “The process of learning verification and feedback that takes place collaboratively, mediated by free access tools in which teachers produce or adapt assessment resources and students adapt and reshape these resources for the purpose of generating for themselves an assessment that meets their personal needs, learning styles and context.” (Chiappe, 2012, p. 10). Chiappe (2012) in Chiappe, Pinto, &  Arias (2016)

Enabled Pedagogy

“We define OER-enabled pedagogy as the set of teaching and learning practices

that are only possible or practical in the context of the 5R permissions which are characteristic of OER.” (p.135)

Wiley & Hilton (2018)
Open Learning “The educational philosophy of open learning emphasises giving learners choices about:

· medium or media, whether print, on-line, television or video;

· place of study, whether at home, in the workplace or on campus;

· pace of study, whether closely paced or unstructured;

· support mechanisms, whether tutors on demand, audio conferences or computer-assisted

learning; and

· entry and exit points” (p.4)

An Introduction to Open and Distance Learning (2000)
Open Courses “There are a range of different models for open courses, and they are not all Massive (in a student numbers sense). Structure may be imposed or not, assessment may be included or not, learners can be fully open or registered paying students.” McGill (2013)
Peer-to-Peer Learning “ . . . peer to peer learning allows students to work through new concepts and material with other individuals engaged in the same work and provides them with opportunities to teach and be taught by one another, expanding their perspectives and fostering meaningful connections.” Collaborative And Peer to Peer Learning: What Is Collaborative Learning. (n.d.)
Self-Directed Learning ““In its broadest meaning, ”self-directed learning” describes a process in which individuals take the initiative, with or without the help of others in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identifying human and material resources for learning, choosing and implementing appropriate learning strategies, and evaluating learning outcomes.” (p.18) Knowles (1975)
Open Recognition

“Recognition in open education has two meanings: a) it is the process, usually carried out by an accredited institution, of issuing a certificate, diploma or title which has formal value; b) it is also the process of formally acknowledging and accepting credentials, such as a badge, a certificate, a diploma or title issued by a third-party institution.” (p.25)

dos Santos,Punie, Castaño- Muñoz (2016)
Open Policies Open policies require access to, and open licensing of, resources financed through public funding. For the purposes of open policies that contribute to the public good, we define policy broadly as legislation, institutional policies, and/or funder mandates….

Institutional policies set out a commitment to supporting open education through, for example, mandating or authorising OER production as a valid activity for staff; aligning curriculum with materials or textbooks that are openly available; or encouraging use of open resources in teaching and learning.” (p.31-32)

Open Education Handbook (2014).



Anderson, T. (2009, October). Open scholarship. Presented at Open Access Week 2009, Athabasca University.  http://auspace.athabascau.ca/bitstream/2149/2320/7/oas.pdf

An Introduction to Open and Distance Learning. (2000).The Commonwealth of Learning.  http://oasis.col.org/bitstream/handle/11599/138/ODLIntro.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

Andrade, A., Ehlers, U.-D., Caine, A., Carneiro, R., Conole, G., Kairamo, A.-K., … Holmberg, C. (2011). Beyond OER: Shifting focus to open educational practices (pp. 1–191). Open Education Quality Initiative. https://oerknowledgecloud.org/sites/oerknowledgecloud.org/files/OPAL2011.pdf

Baker, F. W. (2017). An alternative approach: Openness in education over the last 100 years. TechTrends, 61(2), 130-140. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11528-016-0095-7

Beetham, H., Falconer, I., McGill, L., & Littlejohn, A. (2012). Open practices: Briefing paper. JISC. https://oersynth.pbworks.com/w/file/fetch/58444186/Open%20Practices%20briefing%20paper.pdf

Bethesda Statement on Open Access Publishing. (2003). Definition of Open Access Publication.  http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:4725199

Bologna Open Recognition Declaration. (2016). Toward an Open Architecture for the Recognition of Learning Achievements. https://www.openrecognition.org/bord/

Bozkurt, A., Koseoglu, S., & Singh, L. (2019). An analysis of peer reviewed publications on openness in education in half a century: Trends and patterns in the open hemisphere. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 35(4), 78–97. https://doi.org/10.14742/ajet.4252

Budapest open access initiative. (2002). https://www.budapestopenaccessinitiative.org/read

Cape Town Open Education Declaration. (2007). The Cape Town Open Education Declaration. http://www.capetowndeclaration.org/read-the-declaration

Carey, T., Davis, A., Ferreras, S., & Porter, D. (2015). Using Open Educational Practices to Support Institutional Strategic Excellence in Teaching, Learning & Scholarship. Open Praxis, 7(2), 161–171.

Chiappe, A. (2012). Prácticas educativas abiertas como factor de innovación educativa con TIC. Boletín REDIPE, 818(1), 6–12.

Chiappe, A., Pinto, R., and  Arias, V. (2016).  Open assessment of learning: A meta-synthesis. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 17(6). http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/2846/3965

Coffey, J. (1977). Open learning opportunities for mature students. In C. Davies (Ed.), Open learning systems for mature students (CET Working Paper 14). London: Council for Educational Technology.

Collaborative And Peer to Peer Learning: What Is Collaborative Learning.  (n.d.).  https://www.uopeople.edu/student-experience/quality/collaborative-peer-peer-learning/

Conole, G. (2013). Designing for learning in an open world. Springer: New York.

Cormier, D. & Siemens, G. (2010, August 5). Through the open door: Open courses as research, learning and engagement. Educause Review, 45(4), 30-39. https://er.educause.edu/articles/2010/8/through-the-open-door-open-courses-as-research-learning-and-engagement

Couros, A., & Hildebrandt, K. (2016). Designing for open and social learning. In G. Veletsianos, Emergence and Innovation in Digital Learning: Foundations and Applications. Edmonton, AB: Athabasca University Press.

Cronin, C. (2017). Openness and praxis: Exploring the use of open educational practices in higher education. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 18(5), 15-34. https://doi.org/10.19173/irrodl.v18i5.309 6

Cronin, C., and MacLaren,L. (2018). Conceptualising OEP: A review of theoretical and empirical literature in Open Educational Practices. Open Praxis, (2), 127. https://doi.org/10.5944/openpraxis.10.2.825

Daniel, J., Kanwar, A., & Uvalic-Trumbic, S. (2009). Breaking higher education’s iron triangle: Access, cost, and quality. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 41(2), 30-35. http://dspace.col.org/bitstream/handle/11599/1442/2009_DanileKanwarUvalicTrumbic_BreakingIronTriangle_Transcript.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

DeRosa, R., and Jhangiani, R. (n.d.).  Open Pedagogy.  http://openpedagogy.org/open-pedagogy/

DeRosa, R., & Robison, S. (2017). From OER to open pedagogy: Harnessing the power of open. In R. S. Jhangiani & R. Biswas-Diener (Eds.), Open: The philosophy and practices that are revolutionizing education and science. London: Ubiquity Press. https://doi.org/10.5334/bbc

DeVries, I. (2019). Open Universities and Open Educational Practices: A Content Analysis of Open University Websites. International Review of Research in Open & Distance Learning, 20(4), 167–178.

Ehlers, U., & Conole, G. (2010). Open educational practices: Unleashing the power of OER. In UNESCO Workshop on OER in Namibia. Windhoek. https://oerknowledgecloud.org/sites/oerknowledgecloud.org/files/OEP_Unleashing-the-power-of-OER.pdf

Ehlers, U.-D. (2011). From open educational resources to open educational practices. Elearning Papers, 23, pp. 1–8. Retrieved from ERIC database (EJ1079969).

Gallacher, J., and Feutrie, M. (2003). Recognising and Accrediting Informal and Non-formal Learning in Higher Education: an analysis of the issues emerging from a study of France and Scotland. European Journal of Education, 38(1), 71–83. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-3435.00129

Geser, G., Ed. (2007). Open educational practices and resources: OLCOS roadmap 2012. Salzburg, Austria: Salzburg Research & EduMedia Group. http://www.olcos.org/cms/upload/docs/olcos_roadmap.pdf

Green, C. (2018). Week 2: How to decide which open license(s) to use on your work? Who is using open licensing (international examples)?  https://www.yearofopen.org/article/week-2-how-to-decide-which-open-licenses-to-use-on-your-work-who-is-using-open-licensing-international-examples/

Havemann, L. (2016). Open educational resources. In M. A. Peters (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Educational Philosophy and Theory. Singapore: Springer.

Hegarty, B. (2015). Attributes of open pedagogy: A model for using open educational resources. Educational Technology. https://www.scribd.com/doc/276569994/Attributes-of-Open-Pedagogy-A-Model-for-Using-Open-Educational-Resources

Hodgkinson-Williams, C., & Gray, E. (2009). Degrees of openness: The emergence of OER at the University of Cape Town. International Journal of Education and Development Using Information and Communication Technology, 5(5), 101–116. http://ijedict.dec.uwi.edu/viewarticle.php?id=864

Inamorato dos Santos, A., Punie, Y., Castaño-Muñoz, J. (2016) Opening up Education: A Support Framework for Higher Education Institutions. JRC Science for Policy Report, EUR 27938 EN; doi:10.2791/293408

Jeong, H. (2019). Rethinking Open Universities: What Makes Them Unique? International Review of Research in Open & Distance Learning, 20(4), 152–166.

Knox, J. (2013). The limitations of access alone: Moving towards open processes in education technology. Open Praxis, 5(1), 21–29.

Knowles, M. S. (1975). Self-directed learning. New York: Association Press.

Koseoglu, S., & Bozkurt, A. (2018). An exploratory literature review on open educational practices. Distance Education, 39(4), 441–461. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/01587919.2018.1520042

Lane, A. (2009). The impact of openness on bridging educational digital divides. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 10(5). http://dx.doi.org/10.19173/irrodl.v10i5.637

Lane, A. (2010). Widening participation in education through open educational resources. In T. Iiyoshi & M. S. V. Kumar (Eds.), Opening up education: The collective advancement of education through open technology, open content, and open knowledge. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. http://mitpress.mit.edu/books/opening-education

Li, K. C., Yuen, K. S., & Wong, B. T. M. (Eds.). (2018). Innovations in Open and Flexible Education. Springer, Singapore.

McGill, L. (2013). A guide to definitions and terminology around OER and Open Educational Practice with links to further sources informed by work on the UKOER Programme.  https://oersynth.pbworks.com/w/page/46010546/navigation

McKiernan, E.C. (2017) Imagining the “open” university: Sharing scholarship to improve research and education. PLOS Biology 15(10): e1002614. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.1002614

Naidu, S. (2016). The case for open educational practice. Distance Education, 37(1), 1-3. https://doi.org/10.1080/01587919.2016.1157010

Nascimbeni, F., & Burgos, D. (2016). In Search for the Open Educator: Proposal of a Definition and a Framework to Increase Openness Adoption Among University Educators. International Review of Research in Open & Distance Learning, 17(6), 1–17. https://doi.org/10.19173/irrodl.v17i6.2736

Open data in a nutshell. (n.d.). https://www.europeandataportal.eu/en/providing-data/goldbook/open-data-nutshell

Open Design and Development. (n.d.). https://course.oeru.org/ds4oer/learning-pathways/designing-a-blueprint/open-design-and-development/


Open Education Consortium. (n.d.). About the Open Education Consortium. http://www.oeconsortium.org/about-oec/

Open Education Handbook. (2014). Chapter 4- Open Education in Policy and Practice.  https://oerpolicy.eu/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2017/07/Open-Education-Handbook.pdf

Open research. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved December 6, 2019 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_research

Paskevicius, M. (2017). Conceptualizing Open Educational Practices through the Lens of Constructive Alignment. Open Praxis, 9(2), 125–140.

Saunders, B., Sim, J., Kingstone, T., Baker, S., Waterfield, J., Bartlam, B., … Jinks, C. (2018). Saturation in qualitative research: exploring its conceptualization and operationalization. Quality & Quantity, 52(4), 1893–1907. doi:10.1007/s11135-017-0574-8

Schaffert, S., & Geser, G. (2008). Open educational resources and practices. ELearning Papers, 7. http://elearningeuropa.info/sites/default/files/old/media14907.pdf

Smith, M. (2012, 2019). ‘What is pedagogy?’ The encyclopaedia of informal education. http://infed.org/mobi/what-is-pedagogy/.

Stagg, A., and Bossu, C. (2016).  Educational policy and open educational practice in Australian higher education, in Open Education: International Perspectives in Higher Education (Blessinger and Bliss, eds.). https://books.openedition.org/obp/3522

Suarez, A. V., & McGlynn, T. (2017, November 15). The fallacy of open-access publishing. The Chronicle of Higher Education. https://www.chronicle.com/article/The-Fallacy-of-Open-Access/241786

Tait, A. (2008). What are open universities for? Open Learning, 23(2), 85-93. Doi: 10.1080/02680510802051871

The Commonwealth of Learning. (2000). An introduction to open and distance learning. http://oasis.col.org/bitstream/handle/11599/138/ODLIntro.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

UNESCO. (2012). What is the Paris OER Declaration? http://www.unesco.org/new/en/communication-and-information/access-to-knowledge/open-educational-resources/what-is-the-paris-oer-declaration/

UNESCO. (n.d.).  Effective and appropriate pedagogy.  https://learningportal.iiep.unesco.org/en/issue-briefs/improve-learning/teachers-and-pedagogy/effective-and-appropriate-pedagogy

Veletsianos, G., & Kimmons, R. (2012a). Assumptions and challenges of open scholarship. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 13(4), 166–189. http://dx.doi.org/10.19173/irrodl.v13i4.1313.

Veletsianos, G., & Kimmons, R. (2012b). Networked Participatory Scholarship: Emergent Techno-Cultural Pressures toward Open and Digital Scholarship in Online Networks. Computers & Education, 58(2), 766–774.

Weller, M. (2013). The battle for open – a perspective. Journal of Interactive Media in Education, 2013(3), Art. 15. doi: 10.5334/2013-15

What is open data? (2019). Retrieved December 6, 2019 from https://www.data.govt.nz/open-data/what-is-open-data/

What is Open Data? (n.d.).  Open Data Handbook.  Open Knowledge Foundation. https://opendatahandbook.org/guide/en/what-is-open-data/

What is open research? (n.d.) https://www.vitae.ac.uk/doing-research/open-research-and-open-researchers/what-is-open-research

Wiley, D. (2008, September 30). On open accreditation [Web log post]. http://opencontent.org/blog/archives/585.

Wiley, D. (2013, October 21). What is open pedagogy? https://opencontent.org/blog/archives/2975

Wiley, D. (2014). Open content. In D. Wiley (ed.) An Open Education Reader.  https://openedreader.org/front-matter/intro/

Wiley, D. (2019, December 2). Some very bad news about the UNESCO OER recommendations [Blog post]. https://opencontent.org/blog/archives/6219

Wiley, D. (n.d.). Defining the “open” in open content and open educational resources. https://opencontent.org/definition/

Wiley, D., and Green, C. (n.d.). Why Openness in Education?  https://courses.lumenlearning.com/pathways/chapter/reading-why-openness-in-education/

Wiley, D., & Hilton, J. (2018). Defining OER-Enabled Pedagogy. International Review of Research in Open & Distance Learning, 19(4), 133–147. https://doi.org/10.19173/irrodl.v19i4.3601


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Deconstructing Open by Eric Werth and Katherine Williams is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book