Digitalisation has made possible a range of new approaches to education and learning. These are often intended to either catalyse existing processes; support innovation; or to extend provision to groups who have traditionally been marginalised. “Open education” denotes approaches that remove barriers to accessing education by supplement or replace traditional pedagogical provision (including innovations like MOOC, open educational resources, open textbooks, etc.).
Open education has already proved highly impactful. The relationship between open education advocacy and the goal of social transformation remains remarkably underexplored and undertheorized. Most advocates of open education suggest that it is about widening participation; equalising access to education; and bringing about a fairer society. This is another way of stating that the main concern of open education is a kind of justice. For many social and political philosophers, justice has been understood as the defining goal [τέλος] of society and civilization. The educational and political philosophy of Karl Popper first articulated openness as a basis for society in the 1940s.
This approach emphasizes the a critical, scientific approach to education that would underpin a democratic, humane, free and rational society with a healthy public sphere. This would provide the model for a post-war political consensus (unfettered markets “open for business”; transparent governance; free press). I will suggest that in current discourse openness currently has two primary political forms: neoliberal and radical social justice. The former can be characterized by the “open society” of Soros (inspired by Popper). The latter I will explore with reference to the values of the Pirate Party. Both of these approaches are basically compatible with Popper but they have quite different approaches to capital, profit, copyright and social change.
This divergence is paralleled in how approaches to open education either aspire to replace existing provision or rethink it entirely. I will suggest that, if the ideal of an “open society” can be endorsed, higher education institutions must increasingly envisage their audience as wider than their members; and be radical in their ambition.