The Cost of Open (and Closed) Education

The Cost of Open (and Closed) Education

I thoroughly enjoyed our last class and chance to hear Alan Levine share a little bit about the topic of open education (full disclosure – I typed “Adam Levine” at first and thought… wait a minute…).

Adam Levine confession GIF by Giphy

Prior to hearing him talk about it, I didn’t really know how to define it. I knew very little about it. I suppose I could have taken a good guess at what it was, but it was definitely a weak definition prior to our discussion.

Alan offered the definition of open education as basically the belief that education is a common good, and everyone should have access to it. Open education resources, then are those materials that are created and made available for anyone to use, without barriers of cost or access.

I immediately thought of a resource base that I use frequently – TPT. While many resources are freely available for download with an account on this site, much of the higher-quality materials must be purchased. Some plans, units and resources can be upwards of $30. One thing Alan said, with a bit of a wondering tone, was that sellers on TPT who create and put their resources up for sale don’t really make all that much money. This made me curious; I felt like I’d seen the same creators over and over again when searching for resources. Teaching with a Mountain View is a seller that came to mind. Upon browsing her page, I found that she has 870 products available. I found it hard to believe that someone like this wouldn’t make a notable amount of money with this many quality products for sale. I also read this article that notes that over 300 sellers on TPT have reached the $1 million dollar mark in sales. Of course, as with any sums large as this, the “take home” is far less, based on a variety of factors. However, based on this and a couple of other resources and blogs I stumbled upon, the profits that some sellers on TPT take home are worth mentioning.


photo by connonbro studio on pexels

The article I linked above talked about how money was tight for some people and they turned to TPT as a way to ease some of the financial stress during unpaid summer months. I posed this question in class, but I still have been wondering: if all resources were “open”, would people be less motivated to create quality products?. To my understanding, the belief of open education is that creators of content are driven largely by the love of knowledge and the desire to share it with everyone and anyone. The cynic in me just finds it hard to believe that some of the self-made millionaires, who have created incredible resources for purchase on TPT, would have poured countless hours into creating high-quality products just for the goals of open education. If people could not create and sell resources, how would this change the landscape of a place like TPT or other businesses that sell educational materials? This is absolutely not to say I don’t believe in open education. This is just a conundrum I’ve been reflecting on over the past week and it kind of breaks my brain.

photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels

As Alan continued his presentation, the conversation shifted to some of the obvious positive things about open education, such as “open data” and its role in world betterment. Alan also talked about “open access”, explaining that more knowledge fuels more knowledge. He discussed the irony in having publicly-funded academic research journals requiring a payment for members of the public to eventually read and have access to, which is just kind of messed up.

Listening to Alan speak was lovely. One of the last things he said in his presentation was that “it shouldn’t be hard to become educated”. He explained that he learned a lot of what he knows through open education so he’s just passing it on. His casual, easy-going tone helped communicate his message and passion for open education and certainly inspired me to think more about it myself.

Reflecting on this has me thinking about my own learning. I can use my learning project (sewing) as an example. As a result of “open” education, I was able to learn how to set up my machine and practice the basics. Without platforms like YouTube and TikTok providing me with free videos and instructional materials, I’m not sure where I would have been in my progress. A little more broke, I suppose, with all of the other resources I access freely online without thinking about that help me learn and accomplish things (recipes for baking and substitution ideas, gardening tips and tricks, guitar chords and tabs for thousands of songs, etc.)

At risk of contradicting my considerations about open ed. resources demotivating people to create quality products, all of this open education wondering leads me to this: open education is a concept, a collection of beliefs, a worldview, and a set of values about knowledge and how it should be shared. Saying this begs the question: what is the purpose of creating something in the first place? Yes, people create to express themselves or to complete a task, but if these creations have the potential to spread awareness and knowledge about something, should that be limited or restricted? Open education promotes the common good, and maybe that’s enough to keep people motivated to keep doing what they’re doing, regardless of a paycheck.

Shining Schitts Creek GIF by CPC on Giphy

5 thoughts on “The Cost of Open (and Closed) Education

  1. I went through the same mental gymnastics. In my own blog I connected it to how drug companies are motivated by profit, but that motivation creates innovation. Like you I then thought about all the things I’ve learned and gathered for free online. While the presentation was not as slick, it was available. Perhaps that is really what we are paying for. After all a cheap store brand works just as well, it just doesn’t look as pretty on the shelf.

  2. I enjoyed your post Christina. I have also used Teachers Pay Teachers and I agree with your points about the quality of resources if they weren’t making money off it. I would like to think that people are generous and would share their best quality work away for free, but I also know that people are driven by money. I mean, who doesn’t want to make more money, right? I also enjoyed Alan’s visit on our zoom. They way explained the concept of open education really made sense for me and I was finally able to put it into context from an educational perspective.
    Great post! Loved the gif’s. 🙂

  3. Adam Levine.. too funny! I agree with all your points, especially in respect to TPT. I really cannot blame people for wanting to make money off of resources they have poured hours into. For some, this is a side business that aids and creates a more sustainable life. I am not sure we can shift this notion for all.. Do you think it is possible? What would this look like?

  4. I think you pose some interesting thoughts here. I have used TPT regularly throughout my career and I always assumed people who posted their materials made good money, but I guess that isn’t always the case. I do think you’re right to wonder if the quality of the materials would decrease if it became an open source for resources. I think it is safe to assume that, in some cases, the quality would go down.

  5. You had me at “It shouldn’t be hard to become educated”. I think this is my biggest gripe with having to pay for resources. The more education the better. Society complains about how uneducated we all are. Sure we can just google it, but that doesn’t help when true learning happens with collaboration and creativity and doing and showing one’s processing and analyzing… know what I mean? Anyway. It really shouldn’t be hard to become education, but here we are. Solid thoughts that I agree with on all fronts.

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