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OpenCases: the ALISON case study

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OpenCases is a study which is part of the OpenEdu Project. It is a qualitative study consisting of a review of literature on open education and nine in-depth case studies of higher education institutions, a consortium of universities, a private organisation and a national initiative. It analysed the rationale and enabling conditions for involvement in open education, open education activities, strategies, impact, challenges and prospects. The main outcome of this study is evidence that a large number of OER have reached a large group of learners. However, completion rates of MOOCs are low. Accreditation is not formalised and in general its impact on employability is not measured.

ALISON is a growing Irish for-profit social enterprise that offers online courses free of charge. The company mainly targets Anglophone and developing countries. During its 7 years of existence, the company has reached 6 million learners (defined as all those individuals who have ever registered on the ALISON website).

ALISON claims that it exploits a market niche by adapting courses designed by various online publishers and universities into targeted work-related skills training. Their stated goal is to fill the gap where there is a perceived lack of workplace skills in their target audience. ALISON courses are short (from 2.5 hours to 10 hours) and cover ten categories: Diploma courses; Business and Enterprise Skills; Digital Literacy and IT Skills; Personal Development and Soft Skills; Languages; Health and Safety and Compliance; Health Literacy; Financial and Economic Literacy; Schools Curriculum; and Health and Safety (Irish legislation only). ALISON also offers some courses that target school students and basic literacy, which cover parts of the Irish school curriculum. All the courses offer the option of obtaining a (free or paid) ALISON certificate. Although the company provides courses free of charge, it has developed a profitable business model based on low cost content integration and revenue generation. The latter comes from advertisements, certificates and paid-for premium services for learners, educators and employers although the model appears to be evolving.

The content of ALISON's courses comes from three different sources: (1) Content owned or acquired by ALISON available exclusively on the ALISON platform, (2) Open Education Resources (OER) produced by third parties and made available under various open licences and (3) content produced on ALISON initiative through partner agreements. The use of OER produced and made available online by higher education (and other) institutions indirectly supports ALISON's activities. Often, these OER are licensed for "non-commercial use". Charging for indirectly related services such as certificates therefore is part of the business model of ALISON. ALISON argues that it adds value to these resources by reorganising them into smaller, modular learning chunks, making them easier for the learner to use and creating a new learning experience and furthermore, that it charges not for the content but the structure enabling its free study.

In terms of quality control, ALISON relies mainly on the publisher for the subject matter expertise but reviews the content to meet pedagogical requirements. It is a model that allows a large number of courses to be offered with relatively low investment in quality assurance mechanisms.

Although ALISON is not a higher education institution, it was included as a case study in OpenCases because it shows the complementarity between public and private sectors when there is a high demand for an open education offer in a specific area, i.e. the distribution and provision of free access to content that is fact-based – and can be efficiently delivered via an online platform.

The full document is available online at http://publications.jrc.ec.europa.eu/repository/bitstream/JRC101533/jrc101533_opencases%20case%20studies%20on%20openness%20in%20education.pdf.

This extract comes from the the OpenCases: Case Studies on Openness in Education document which states that reproduction is authorised provided the source is acknowledged. Source: Souto-Otero, M., Inamorato dos Santos, A., Shields, R., Lažetić, P., Castaño-Muñoz, J., Devaux, A., Oberheidt, S., Punie, Y. (2016) OpenCases: Case Studies on Openness in Education. Institute for Prospective Technological Studies, Joint Research Centre, European Commission. EUR 27937 EN, doi:10.2791/039825