A Framework to Understand, Analyse and Describe Online and Open
Education in Higher Education
Christine Jacqmot
, Françoise Docq
and Yves Deville
Louvain Learning Lab, UCLouvain, Grand Rue 54, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium
ICTEAM, UCLouvain, Place Ste Barbe2, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium
Keywords: Open Education, Online Learning, OER, MOOCS, Courseware, Framework, Models.
Abstract: This position paper addresses online and open education. It presents a simple, yet comprehensive framework
that can be adopted by any higher education institution in seek of: (1) clarification of terms and concepts
related to online and open education, (2) awareness of issues and challenges to set up strategies for online or
open learning, (3) informed choices and their impacts on operationalization actions, from an institutional point
of view, (4) perspectives on crucial issues, such as mobility, that HEI faces in a context of internationalization,
(5) awareness of policymakers and teachers on what open and online education is.
Over the past years, digital technology has become an
integral part of educational systems. The aim is to
enable new forms of instruction in higher education
institutions (HEI). Technology has somewhat
transformed teaching practices (like the blended
learning or the flipped classrooms); new mindsets
have been adopted (like the open education and its
OER’s and MOOCs), and constraints due to time or
spaces have drastically evolved.
In 2015, UCLouvain adopted a new institutional
digital strategy. It aims to exploit digital and online
capabilities to enhance the creation, dissemination,
and diffusion of knowledge as well as to promote
openness. OER’s, open coursewares, MOOCs and
other forms of online education are at the heart of our
priority (Deville, 2018). Nevertheless, we must agree
with Major (2015) that “there is surprisingly little
information available about what teaching online
really means for the faculty”. When focusing on
pedagogy rather than technology, we are surprised
how confused our teachers are about the new
available educational models that digitalisation
makes possible. As a consequence, many teachers
adopt a “wait-and-see” attitude (Lebrun, 2018)
towards online learning or show a lack of awareness
of the possibilities offered by open education.
Teaching has to evolve to cope with the digital age
and we feel that there is a real need for clarification
to effectively foster online and open education within
In this position paper, we propose a framework to
promote description, discussion, understanding and
judicious adoption of online and open learning. The
objectives are (1) to clarify the underlying concepts,
(2) to analyse issues and challenges one has to face
when setting up strategies for online or open learning,
(3) to propose informed choices and their impacts on
operationalization actions, from an institutional point
of view, (4) to consider perspectives on crucial issues,
such as mobility, that HEI faces in a context of
internationalization, and (5) to raise awareness of
policymakers and of teachers on what open and
online education is.
We first introduce the components of our
framework and we clarify the underlying concepts.
The framework, relying on a simple four-axes
approach is then presented. It is then used to address
the following questions: what does it mean to go
online? With what impact on the teaching practices?
How to integrate openness and associated concerns?
To conclude, the paper confirms the advantages of the
Jacqmot, C., Docq, F. and Deville, Y.
A Framework to Understand, Analyse and Describe Online and Open Education in Higher Education.
DOI: 10.5220/0009470704580465
In Proceedings of the 12th International Conference on Computer Supported Education (CSEDU 2020) - Volume 1, pages 458-465
ISBN: 978-989-758-417-6
2020 by SCITEPRESS Science and Technology Publications, Lda. All rights reserved
The framework we propose is derived from Witthaus’
model (Witthaus, 2017), which unbundles teaching
activities into four components usually entangled in
regular face to face teaching. Unbundling these
components provides blocks that can opportunely be
assembled in various ways and helps to consider - and
discuss - the various ways of organizing teaching and
learning in the digital age. These four components are
content, learning pathway, interactions, and assessments.
Figure 1: The 4 components of teaching.
Content stands for the content to be learned, the
topics to be mastered.
Learning pathway (named ‘teaching’ in
Witthaus’ model) refers to how the students are
guided to process the content: what activities they are
asked to do in which order, how they are incited to
engage to create meaning from the different pieces of
content (reading, exercises, quizzes, etc.). Like
Nilson (2017) recalls, “interaction with content paves
the way for successful learning” and is therefore of
high stake: instructional designers are well aware of
the importance of providing learning pathways that
provide clear and meaningful guidance on how to
interact with the content to be learned.
Interactions (named ‘support’ in Witthaus’
model). Effective learning requires some forms of
interaction and collaboration: students-students
interactions, group interaction (whole-class or small
groups) and teacher-student interactions
(communications and discussions including
feedbacks, diagnosing, etc.) (Moore, 2005). The
development of a learning community is the main
concern of this third component.
Assessment focuses on the formal recognition of
learning outcomes in the context of an accreditation
system (credentials) wherein summative
Course [Def. 5]. (n.d). In Collins Dictionary. Retrieved January
27, 2020, from
performances provide opportunities for learners to
demonstrate their competencies and knowledge
Before proposing a systematic approach to online
learning and openness, keywords must be defined.
Online. We mean by ‘online’ anything that can be
found (objects) or happens (actions) on the internet.
In a rather broad way, Bates (2016) defines ‘online
learning’ asany form of learning conducted partly
or wholly over the Internet and insists that online
learning is a mode of delivery, a way of delivering
education to learners, not a particular method of
teaching. Online learning can support a wide range
of teaching methods”. Hence there is frequent
confusion and misunderstanding when speaking
about online learning (Bayne, 2015). Indeed, online
elements may contribute to teaching designs in
different ways and proportions. Inspired by Bates
(2016)’s “continuum of online learning” and Allen
(2016)sonline course classification, we propose to
consider the following thresholds to distinguish four
different categories of online learning:
Web-assisted: 1%-29% of the teaching components
are online. That means that most of the course still
happens face to face (in the class), maybe with some
digital “classroom aids” (Bates, 2016).
Blended: between 30%-79% of the teaching
components are delivered online, i.e. can be found
or happen online, outside the classroom.
Online: 80% or more of the teaching components
can be found or happen online, outside the
classroom. Allen adds “typically have no face-to-
face meetings”. We are then in a distance learning
Full online: 100% of the teaching components
happen online.
Course. The concept of ‘course’ has different
understandings. It may be series of lessons or
lectures on a particular subject
usually leading to
an exam or qualification
and may vary from a “unit
of teaching level to an entire programme of
studies” level
Course [Def. A1]. (n.d). In Cambridge Dictionary.
Wikipedia (collective authors), 2019. Course (education).
A Framework to Understand, Analyse and Describe Online and Open Education in Higher Education
As part of our clarification framework, we
propose to define a course as a set of resources and
activities intentionally combined and designed to
allow learners to reach announced learning
outcomes related to a specific topic (knowledge,
skills, and competencies). This set is time-framed,
supported by dedicated instructors, course team,
tutors (or any other designation), and usually leads to
assessments that provide a form (that may vary) of
credentials. Each one of the Witthaus’ derived
teaching elements is involved in the proposed
definition: content (resources), learning pathway
(intentional design to trigger learning), interactions
(learning community during a period) and assessment
(acknowledgment of mastery).
Open Education. Openness in education has
different meanings (see for example the discussions
in Weller (2014 and 2018), and Economides (2018)).
Among all the shades and “silos of practices” (Weller,
2018) of this concept we focus on two key values:
The share’ value: Open education means to share
any kind of educational production (learning
resources, teaching strategy, teaching tools, etc.)
in a way that allows others to use it, distribute it,
transform it, etc. It involves the idea that what
others share is valuable and invites teachers to
seize and exploit productions shared by others.
This value promotes the vision of a global
collaborative community of educators and
The open access’ value:Open education is
designed for access because it removes the
traditional barriers that people often face in
obtaining knowledge, credits, and degrees —
including but not limited to cost. Access is
fundamental to open education and is the basic
principle that has informed and driven the open
education movement from its inception.”
(Blessinger, 2016)
By combining those two perspectives we propose
to define Open Education as a movement aiming to
make education universal, accessible to as many
people as possible. (…) It involves sharing
educational resources and practices to delete access
barriers. Learning opportunities are then multiplied
and invite every learner to seize them.” (translated
from Mathelart (2019)).
Our four components model (Fig.1), complemented
by the definitions of the terms online, courses and
open education, allows us to propose a framework
which allows us to systematically address the
following questions:
1. How to go online? How may each of the above
components be supported by online learning?
2. What teaching and learning practices are suited
for. the different components?
3. How to share and give the world access to open
resources and teaching components?
For each type of components, we address some issues
and concerns, at an institutional level, when adopting
Model 1: (Open) Educational Resources
Educational Resources. Educational resources are
any content that helps teachers to teach and students
to learn: presentation, publication, visuals, statistical
tables, etc. In this model, we intentionally exclude the
notion of learning pathways between pieces of
Going Online with Resources. Online digitalized
version of educational resources come in a wide
variety of forms and formats such as online
presentations or animations, infographics, 3D
visualization, video, webcasts, audios, podcasts,
worksheets, publications, maps, visuals,
manipulative, apps, software, simulations, and many
others as listed by Shank (2014).
Teaching and Learning Practices. Online resources
are educational materials for formal classroom
teaching and personal learning outside the school.
Their content and their granularity usually encompass
topics in such a way that they are considered as an
enrichment to in-class activity or support to confirm,
deepen or enlarge students’ understanding after the
class. As the learning pathway is missing, guidance
provided by the teacher remains necessary. Typically,
online educational resources are used in the context
of web-assisted courses, in which most of the course
happens in the class (Figure 2.A).
Openness. Online educational resources are called
Open Educational Resources (OER’s) whenever
they are released under an open license that permits
no-cost access, use, adaptation, and redistribution by
others with no or limited restrictions(Miao, 2016).
CSEDU 2020 - 12th International Conference on Computer Supported Education
They are therefore characterized by free access and
perpetual “open license” such as a Creative Commons
(CC) license: once published, OER’s can be
repurposed and adapted, following their licensing
permission, which allows improving the content, to
update the resource or to make it more closely aligned
with the specific educational need. Openness refers
here to the 5R principles (Retain, Reuse, Revise,
Remix, Redistribute) (Wiley, 2019).
Some Issues and Challenges. Teachers can exploit
(open) educational resources provided by other
instructors, possibly belonging to another HEI while
remaining in charge of the pedagogical scenario, of
providing support to the students and of assessing
their new capacities. Teachers can also develop
online educational resources and release them in an
open mode by licensing them with a CC license.
Within a course, every mix is possible: part of the
content can be turned online but not open (accessible
to regular students only), or turned online and shared
openly (with anyone), or imported from other
instructors. (see Figure 2.B).
Figure 2: A (Web-based learning. Content, in blue, is
online) and 2.B (The mix of educational resources within a
course. Open is in green).
A double challenge one has to face is (a) to
familiarize and train teachers to distribute OER’s in
an adequate open licensing model and appropriate
formats, so anyone can use them, and (b) find OER’s
of quality.
OER’s are hosted on dedicated repositories most
of the time searchable by discipline, keywords, and
metadata (e.g. oercommons, Openstax, Merlot).
Institutional involvement in OER’s requires
investment whether to foster the development of
OER’s or to set up its repository.
Model 2: (Open) Courseware
Coursewares are learning objects that aggregate
contents and learning paths to form structured
coherent self-contained learning packages. They may
be complete and comprehensive for a set of learning
topics or offer partial coverage. Unlike courses (as we
define them), these modules are self-paced and are
not instructor-led.
Going Online with Learning Pathways. Online
coursewares are more than a collection of juxtaposed
online educational resources gathered on a web site;
they propose a relevant and accurate content with an
internal structure and a pedagogical organization that
addresses a coherent set of learning outcomes. They
may contain digital activities aiming to stretch, in a
formative way and a self-assessing mode, the abilities
of the students such as quizzes, flashcards, puzzles,
drills, etc.
Thanks to the most recent technology, the most
advanced activities are animated, interactive,
immersive and truly multimedia with rich content.
Using these self-paced learning objects, students
learn on their own by running them any number of
times at any time.
Teaching and Learning Practices. In this model,
both the content and the learning pathway are
available online. Used within a course by teachers,
coursewares find their place in blended courses in
which a significant part of face-to-face activities has
been replaced by self-paced online learning activities.
Remaining activities are those for which neither
educational resources nor courseware are available,
or which requires face-to-face interactions. Blended
learning remains an instructor-led activity that takes
place in a lecture hall, a classroom, or a lab (Figure
3.A). As stated by Weilandt (2019), “The majority of
reasons why educators choose to blend their courses
revolves around accessibility, pedagogical
effectiveness and course interaction”. Blended
learning is a multi-faced concept that requires “sound
pedagogical planning to create well-paced and
coherent learning experience for students”.
Therefore, instructional design might be quite
challenging for teachers who are not used to blended
learning conception. By unbundling components,
Witthaus’ model helps teachers to give attention
systematically on 3 major quality concerns: (a, related
to component 2) to focus on the conception of
engaging online courseware by providing situations
and effective tasks that cognitively engage learners
(in contrast, for instance, to page-turning material);
(b, related to components 2 and 3 ) to seek for a global
coherence between online courseware and in-class
learning activities; (c, related to all components) by
keeping in view the required alignment between
learning outcomes, activities, and assessments.
Openness. As OER’s, open coursewares are online
resources characterized by a free and perpetual grant
A Framework to Understand, Analyse and Describe Online and Open Education in Higher Education
of the 5R permissions through an open license, to
share with the whole world a significant part of
pedagogical contents and approaches.
When using open coursewares, teachers exploit
open coursewares provided by other instructors,
possibly belonging to another HEI, while remaining
in charge of the support provided to the students, of
the organization of human to human interactions
(students-students and instructor-students) and the
assessment of their new capacities, as shown in
Figure 3.B. This scenario could be further detailed by
decomposing the non-open part from the open one, as
in Figure 2.B.
Figure 3: A (Blended Learning) and 3.B (Open
Some Issues and Challenges. Besides gaining time,
using open coursewares can improve teaching
practices thanks to the exposure to teaching
approaches from colleagues from different
backgrounds. Adaptability is a mandatory keyword to
foster reuse. Teachers who release open coursewares
have to find an appropriate trade-off between tailor-
made (and sometimes culture-specific) content and
generic, flexible learning objects. Availability and
compatibility are also of concern. Two modes of
diffusion are encountered: online version (hosted on
a specific software dedicated to educational purposes,
such as an LMS or a web platform) or downloadable
files hosted in an often dedicated open repository
(such as the MIT courseware initiative or the Saylor
Academy project). In this latter version, the open
courseware must be downloaded and installed on a
target computer and cross-compatibility is a concern.
In the former, the courseware can directly be
exploited and compatibility with devices is a priority.
Using pre-existing coursewares can save time for
teachers and costs to students (Hilton, 2014).
Accessibility and findability of quality coursewares
must be taken into account by HEIs wanting to
promote open coursewares. Finally, as in OER’s,
maintenance and sustainability are challenges that
institutions should consider when adopting an open
strategy, as documented in Atkins (2007).
NB: The first two models both relate to resources. In
this context, openness is mainly a matter of share
value: access, use, and reuse, licensing, dissemination
and discovery are of the greatest importance. This
opens up a new way of mobility, besides the students’
mobility: the mobility of resources and coursewares.
The last two components, which we are now going to
address, relate to the learning experience one
provides to students. Openness becomes here a matter
of open access value. This opens the door to
another form of mobility: a virtual mobility of
Model 3: (Open) Course
The combination of content, instruction paths, and
human interactions addresses a more complete model
of education. Interactions are designed to support and
deepen learning and enhance participant engagement.
Yet, in this model, the final assessment leading to an
official credential is not covered here and is discussed
in the 4
Going Online with Human Interactions. Model 3
implies interaction moments that have to be planned.
Unlike online courseware, available anytime, an
online course is structured around time-framed
sessions: ‘course runs’ that set out the start and end
A wide range of interactions may occur within an
online course: interactions managed at the level of the
whole course learning community, interactions into
smaller groups or between two persons. They may be
designed to happen asynchronously, between
instructors and students or between students, by
means, for instance, of discussion forums
(opportunities to questions and answers, invitations to
share experiences or confront opinions, etc.) or using
collaborative writing tools (elaborate a glossary
together; gather a collection of concrete examples of
how the topic being learned is applying in the daily
life; etc.). Most LMS include functionalities that
support such interactions and collaborative
constructions, but external tools are sometimes used
(mail, blogs, social media…). Interactions may also
be designed to happen synchronously, which requires
scheduled meeting times: individual or group project
presentations; discussions about reading publications;
interactive feedbacks, etc.
If in a face-to-face classroom, interactions may
occur quite naturally, they may be less spontaneous in
an online course. Therefore, they must be explicitly
integrated into the pedagogical scenario and decisions
must be made by the teacher about the tools to be used
to create an effective learning experience.
CSEDU 2020 - 12th International Conference on Computer Supported Education
Teaching and Learning Practices. Technology
transcends teaching, and learning environments by
making possible online modalities that support
interactions, questions and answers, feedback,
collaboration, sharing, discussion, debate, peer
review, peer instruction, etc.
Keep in mind that in this third model, assessment
that leads to the acknowledgment of mastery and/or
the official credential is not covered, and therefore
does not happen online. The remaining components
may be organized fully online (Figure 4.A) or a
significant part but not all activities are online (Figure
4.B), leading respectively to Online Learning or
Blended Learning.
Figure 4: A (Online learning) and 4.B (Blended learning).
In both cases, the challenge is to make the best use of
available technologies to engage students in
interaction and collaboration. Empirical research
tends to favor online teaching and emphasizes that
high-quality interaction is one of the factors to take
into account (Miller, 2016). Our model helps teachers
to focus their attention on ways to engage students
outside traditional face-to-face courses, designated by
the blue areas in Fig 4.A and 4.B.
Openness. Opening an online course, i.e. a set of
timely framed activities and interactions within a
learning community, means opening the doors of a
virtual classroom to anyone in the world interested to
join. Openness here mainly concerns access. It's
about what's happening online on the internet.
Retaining, reusing, revising, remixing and
redistribution is not the point, even though the content
of an open online course might be openly licensed and
available to all. MOOCs (Massive Open Online
Courses) are striking examples of open online
courses. They are online courses accessible to anyone
with a computer and internet access. They are called
massive because the enrolment may range from
hundreds to several thousand. MOOCs are open
because no prerequisites nor major costs block
access. They are courses because they have a duration
and are associated with a comprehensive set of
learning outcomes. MOOCs contribute to Open
education by removing the profile entry barrier and
lowering the organizational and financial entry
barriers. Attending a MOOC is much more flexible
than attending an on-campus course. A lot of people
worldwide can attend online courses offered by far
away institutions they would never visit otherwise.
Yet it is not totally flexible; one has to register and
while some MOOCs are self-paced, the course run is
(maybe loosely) mostly time framed, with deadlines
to respect. Most of the MOOCs currently deliver a
credential (certificate of attendance or badge), which
has no academic but a symbolic value. In most cases,
MOOCs don’t provide any certification or credits.
MOOCs are thus fully compliant with Model 3, even
though things are changing. Credit-eligible MOOCs
are expanding and MOOCs could, therefore, shift to
Model 4 in a few years.
Some Issues and Challenges. Opening a course also
means that teachers may exploit MOOCs provided by
another university into their teaching. In this model,
the content to be learned, the learning pathway and
the interactions may be fully outsourced. A blended
model may also be encountered: a teacher exploits a
MOOC only for part of the content / learning pathway
/ interactions. For instance, the content of the MOOC
could be only a part of the course or the interactions
in the MOOC could be complemented by on-campus
sessions. In any case, the assessment and the
acknowledgment of mastery remain the responsibility
of the teacher.
To open the virtual doors of an online course to
the world, three conditions are needed: the course
must be supported by a dedicated team ready for a
massive audience; the instructional design must fit an
unknown and potentially massive number of learners
as well as an intercultural audience; the course must
be made visible and invite to enroll. This requires
financial and human resources, and HEIs should be
aware of the ‘long-term cost’ involved by the support
to interactions and maintenance from runs to runs.
Finally, MOOC platforms are not OER or
courseware repositories but are dedicated educational
platforms similar to LSM. HEIs rarely distributed
MOOCs themselves and partnership, therefore, have
to be established with MOOCs providers such as edX,
Coursera, etc.
Model 4: Full (Open) Course for Credits
This last model involves all of the four teaching
components, including the assessments of learning
leading to an official credential. We are not
considering here activities that allow self-regulation,
such as self-assessments, feedback or other forms of
A Framework to Understand, Analyse and Describe Online and Open Education in Higher Education
formative assessments, sometimes declined as OAR
(Gibson, 2016) in their open version and covered, in
our framework, by activities and interactions related
to the first three components.
Going Online with Assessments. Nilson (2017)
reminds us that there are plenty of ways to take
advantage of the technology to design effective online
assessments and lists several integrity tools and
techniques to somehow overcome two major stakes,
cheating and identity usurpation. These techniques
range (Miller, 2016) from proctored assessments to
random exams (questions are randomly selected from
a database), anti-plagiarism tools, techniques to lock
down forbidden web sites or resources, facial
recognition software, analysis of the pattern of typing,
Openness. The stake of opening a full online course
for credits is to deliver to any learner, no matter their
profile and background and at a minimum cost,
official credentials that would be accepted as valuable
currency by any HEI or employer. Witthaus (2016)
speaks of recognition and credentialization of
learning outcomes” by defining these two concepts
as follows. Recognition: learning outcomes are
formally acknowledged by an educational institution
- or employer- which has or has not provided the
learning offer and which formally grants the learner
the right to access or progress in educational or
employment activities. Credentialisation: learning
outcomes are formally acknowledged by an
educational provider through the act of issuing a
credential to the learner, usually on the basis of
complete assessment”.
In our 4
model, when making use of a full open
online course, a teacher completely delegates the
teaching to a third party HEI. The whole course as
well as the assessment of learning takes place online
and is provided by another HEI, which takes in charge
the implementation of the four components, including
the credentialization of learning (fig 5.B). In the
context of HEIs and formal learning, this makes sense
only if the teacher and his/her institution recognize
the learning outcomes and the credits delivered by the
third party HEI.
According to the degree of openness, we speak of
full online courses for credits (SPOCs for credits) or
MOOCs for credits. This corresponds to one of the
variants of Friesen and Murry (2011)’s model “Open
Learning 2.0” in which any learner can access any
learning content, facilitated by different educators.
Assessment can take place at different locations and
the body that credentialises learning can be different
from the educational institution of the teacher.
Different educational institutions or employers would
decide to recognise or not recognise the learning
Figure 5: A (Full Online Course (SPOC) for credits) and
5.B (Full Open Online course (MOOC) for credits).
Some Issues and Challenges. This 4
model opens
the way to a new form of mobility, the virtual
mobility of students between partner institutions. It
ranges from virtual courses to virtual study programs
(Vriens, 2010). Virtual mobility is still a concept
under development and raises new challenges for
HEIs, as discussed in Witthaus (2016), such as digital
credentialization (digital certificates and digital
badges), policies and issues involved in the
recognition and awarding of ECTS credits
partnership and collaborative initiatives.
At the other end of the spectrum, teachers are
organizing online assessments. When openness and
exchanges are considered, assessing the learning
outcomes of a large number of students coming from
a variety of cultures might be quite challenging, in
terms of methods, exam marking time,
communication and feedback.
Based on Witthaus’ model, this paper presents a four-
pronged framework that provides a sound help to
describe, analyse and discuss systematically some ins
and outs of online learning and open education. The
advantages of such a framework is to unbundle
different levels of concerns that spontaneously arise
when speaking of ‘teaching in an open digital age’:
instructional design considerations, faculty support,
digital strategy definition, etc.
The framework is flexible and powerful; it also
allows us to describe and analyse alternative models
that are rarely encountered, such as the one Saylor
Academy (https://www.saylor.org/open/) relies on to
provide open coursewares (components 1 and 2) for
credits (components 4).
CSEDU 2020 - 12th International Conference on Computer Supported Education
The authors thank the anonymous reviewers for their
constructive comments to improve this paper.
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