Earlier this month, Cengage and Learning Objects—a Cengage business unit—announced the launch of OpenNow, “a suite of digital products for general education courses with open educational resources (OER) content.” Responses to media coverage of this new offering focused mainly on the business model, the adherence to the “5 Rs” of OER and the contributions of materials from Cengage back to the OER community.

While these reactions are to be expected, they reminded me that “open” is much more than OER content and its associated implementation and business models. An open approach to education and learning also encompasses open architecture for learning, such as open competency maps, open assessments and open credentials (see Wiley 2017). It also includes an open, standards-based infrastructure to enable learning tool and data interoperability.

Honoring all of these principles would make a program or institution “open for learning.” In 2009, David Wiley and I wrote an article titled, “Open for Learning: The CMS and the Open Learning Network.” In that piece, we largely focused on the “closed” nature of course management systems (CMSs, now more generally referred to as learning management systems or LMSs). The CMS/LMS, we argued, is inherently limited because it’s semester-based, time-bound and can cut off learners from course-based tools and resources as well as from their peers. We issued an early version of the above call for a more open learning architecture—specifically, a broader adoption of open data and tool interoperability standards.

A Holistic Approach to OER

This trip down memory lane is intended to call attention to the more holistic open approach behind the Cengage OpenNow offering. Yes, OpenNow courses are OER-based (substantially based on OpenStax open textbooks) and will be offered at an affordable price. More holistically, though, OpenNow is aimed at being “open for learning,” beyond simply using or sharing back OER.

Notably, OpenNow courses are built and delivered on the Learning Objects platform. Learning Objects is engineered from the ground up to support backward design and curricular alignment. This enabled us to granularly chunk and tag all the OER in each course against a set of clearly articulated competencies, competencies which will be published openly along with the narrative content in the course.

Additionally, the backward design enables diagnostic assessments that drive personalized learning plans within each course. These are possible because all course content, from learning activities to assessment—are tagged against competencies (and supporting outcomes). This mapping allowed us to run alignment reports during the design process to identify areas where outcomes were insufficiently taught or assessed. The course design teams created substantial amounts of new learning content and assessment items (~500–700 new items per course) to fill these gaps. All learning resources and course assessments will be CC-BY-licensed, allowing learning designers to examine, modify and improve the curriculum maps and assessments in each OpenNow course.

Opening Career Options

Beyond open competencies and assessments, OpenNow also addresses increasing demands from the workforce for more specific, verifiable assertions about learners (i.e., more granular than course titles and grades). Instructors and institutions implementing courses in Learning Objects can issue open badges (in OBI standard format) to their learners for the competencies or sets of competencies they choose. These more granular credentials, owned and curated by learners, will empower individuals to manage and present their own learning achievements as they see fit, as they pursue their career and life goals.

Lastly, one of the primary reasons for deploying OpenNow on the Learning Objects platform is to leverage its industry-leading open standards and interoperability architecture. For example, Learning Objects can function as both a Learning Tool Interoperability (LTI) provider and consumer, allowing the rapid integration of multiple learning and assessment tools to support students. By implementing the Caliper data analytics standard, Learning Objects also provides an open data architecture for the aggregation of learning data across these various tools and environments. Learning Objects has also been a leader in the development and adoption of rapidly evolving credential standards like Open Badge Infrastructure (OBI) and the extended transcript (eT).

Open to the Future

OpenNow is unabashedly an OER-based offering from Cengage that adheres to the 5Rs of openness. We have additionally sought to embrace “being open” by publishing open competencies and open assessments, by issuing open credentials and by delivering OpenNow courses on an aggressively standards-compliant, open architecture.

Learn more about OpenNow by watching this demo.