Can Open Education Accelerate Business Sustainability?

By Jim Jubelirer, an independent management consultant working with EDF to help speed the transition to a sustainable economy.

Open Education‘s philosophy is that knowledge is a common good and should be made widely available. The Open Education Resources or “OER” movement has gained a significant presence in academia. Over 200 universities, worldwide, participate in the OpenCourseWare Consortium and contribute materials from over 13,000 courses.

Environmental Defense Fund is exploring the possibility of sharing education and training materials on business sustainability across organizations to encourage production, increase distribution and accelerate improvement. Ideally, the process would work like open source software – materials would be contributed, used and improved by others, re-contributed, and continue to evolve and broaden over time.

Why Are We Doing This?

EDF has been at the forefront of the fight to preserve the environment by partnering with leading companies and encouraging the business world to become more efficient and innovative.  Nonetheless, the rate of environmental challenges and threats is increasing at a rate faster than business’ responses and we need ways to dramatically reduce business’ environmental footprint.

Education, training and development are vital to support an organization’s human capital resources.   The question we are asking is “Do open education resources for business sustainability hold promise of speeding up business transformation by disseminating better tools and training to a wider audience?”

What’s Next

In July, we will host a meeting of thought leaders in OER, sustainability and/or corporate training to evaluate the opportunity for sharing sustainability training materials more widely. As a result of the meeting we hope to determine whether this is a fertile field, where we should be plowing, and who might partner to provide seed and labor.

Key Questions

Some of the key questions we will discuss include:

  • What organizations produce training materials related to sustainability?  Would producers be willing to release materials and allow reuse by others?
  • Who would use such materials? What would be needed to make them widely used?
  • How would materials be organized, evaluated and circulated?
  • What are the incentives and disincentives organizations would experience around sharing and using shared materials?
  • How could such a system be jump-started and made productive?

Let us know if you would like to learn more about this initiative.

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  • Open education is very good for the justice of education. To link the open education with acceleration of business sustainability is very creative. I think it will be succeed if taking the right methods.

  • Open education is a no-brainer; unfortunately, in regards to implementation, it all comes down to dollars and cents.

  • I think a little research can go along way toward helping people understand how much corporate training is already being shared. There are contributions to grand endeavors like the Open Courseware Initiative; while initially academic, there are gigabytes of courses that pertain to businesses and other organizations. iTunesU is another great example; hours and hours of content that can only be considered training materials – shared from one company to another and the community at large.

    There are also pointed examples like – a website that contains all the lean six sigma, change management and innovation elearning of BMGI Corp; a corporate training company; available at no cost. Microsoft has integrated the help function within their applications with free courseware – ask a question about calculating a mortgage in Excel and you get a who tutorial on the time value of money. MSFT has even gone a step further, enabling other to create great elearning at a fraction of the cost of a few years ago. Learning Content Development System is a FREE application from MSFT that allows you to create elearning content that cost 10% of what it would require in Adobe Flash [the corporate training lingua franca] and the content is much more portable – it runs on the iPad… arguably the learning device model for the near future.

    Perhaps the question might better be posed, “…, Which Companies are Participating Now, and Who’s Next?” It does come down to dollars and cents – this is a knowledge economy and sharing knowledge attracts customers. Google opencourseware and “invible hand.” Lots of great stuff on how the market often drives the right, socially beneficially, behaviors.

  • I think open source has a great deal of promise; in fact, I think it is a key component of our future environmental protection. However I worry about the sustainability of a system where there is no financial backing for publishers and collectors. Centers that develop this type of material are increasingly finding themselves challenged for funding. So the quality of the information is declining. I think it is kind of analogous to the news media. There are a lot of people syndicating and republishing information, but with the financial underpinnings of the news industry decaying, there is not a lot of investigative reporting. Similarly we who publish and distribute sustainability do not have the resources to research and develop new information. So I would phrase the last question “How could such a system be jump-started and made productive? ” to “How can a system continue to sustain itself without funding from intellectual property royalties?”

  • Thanks for the wonderful examples dmansfield. I like the framing of the question – “Which Companies are Participating Now, and Who’s Next?” There is clearly an awareness building opportunity too – how do we get folks interested in sustainability to know about, use and improve the resources that are and will become available.

    Of course, as Thomas Vinson-Penq points out, financing is important. I think we have opportunities here though. For many organizations this kind of training is a cost-center that they should prefer to offer at as low a cost as possible. To the extent that offering their resources to the commons allows them to reap other, high-quality resources in return, we may create a positive reinforcing cycle. Likewise, non-profits like mine and colleges and universities may be in situations where they can contribute materials at low cost. I’m not sure this makes the system free to operate but it may bring costs down to a point where a large-scale effort isn’t _too_ expensive.

  • The Open Education Resources movement draws inspiration of developing a vast pool of educational resources on the Internet, open and free for all to use. By enabling sharing will eliminates one barrier to education: such as highly priced learning materials. It also begins something else, as planting the seeds of a new pedagogy where educators and learners create, shape and evolve knowledge together, deepening their skills and understanding as they go.

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