Lumen Learning Develops Textbook-Free Business Degree

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March 22nd, 2013 1 Comment Other
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Lumen Learning hopes to make textbooks free for any individual or institution to download and use.

Co-founded by open education visionary Dr. David Wiley and education technology strategist Kim Thanos, Lumen Learning is dedicated to facilitating broad, successful adoption of Open Education Resources (OER).

Lumen works with faculty across the U.S. to review and aggregate the best OER from around the web, design these resources into Open Course Frameworks that match general education and other degree requirements, and post these open course frameworks online. This process results in open course frameworks that are free for any individual or institution to download and use.

Lumen provides strategic services to help institutional leaders plan for using OER, including how and where it makes sense to introduce OER into courses and degree programs. It also trains and supports faculty as institutions begin the process of adopting OER. Since beginning the OER-Lumen project in 2012, Wiley and Thanos have seen a 10% improvement in the student success rate normally associated with the traditional versions of courses offered by the same professors. In an effort to continue this trend, Lumen offers analytics and other support services to help maximize student success at institutions using OER.

One of the company’s primary goals is to collaborate with colleges to develop an associate degree in business administration that can be completed entirely with free open-education materials.

Colleges following what the company calls the Textbook Zero model would offer a section using open-education alternatives for every required course and elective needed to earn the degree. A recent article from The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that Lumen is now testing the model with an unnamed community college on the East Coast, and is also looking for colleges interested in applying the model to general-studies and computer-science degrees.

In a recent U.S. Public Interest Research Group survey, 70% of students were found to have opted out of buying a required textbook because of the cost. A Florida Virtual Campus survey reported that 30% of students had decided not to enroll in a desired course because of textbook costs.

[Read about why aren’t e-textbooks taking off?]

Graduating without ever buying a textbook, Mr. Wiley says, could shave 30 percent off total tuition costs.

OERs are created by taking what professors expect students to master by the end of a course, then using those expectations as search criteria to find openly licensed materials. The materials, which can include textbooks, videos, and journal and newspaper articles, are then pulled together into a new product that is both inexpensive—or even free—and tailored to individual courses’ needs. (By basing the content on student and professor preferences rather than specific existing textbooks, the process differs from the “alignment” technique that recently landed another company, Boundless Learning, in legal trouble.)

Lumen’s goal, says Thanos, is not to develop or redevelop new materials (like Boundless), but to help teachers connect to existing materials and then accurately measure the learning results.

While some remain skeptical that license-free alternatives could replace established, peer-reviewed textbooks created by major publishers, Mr. Wiley said that many open-education resources are created through grants by organizations and institutions like the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Carnegie Mellon University, and therefore go through their own vetting process.

High-quality material exists, he said. More people just need to know how to find it.

“It has been the ultimate example of ‘if you build it, they will come,’” Mr. Wiley said. “But they just haven’t come yet. Lumen’s trying to bridge that last mile.”

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Saga Briggs is Managing Editor of InformED. You can follow her on Twitter@sagamilena or Facebook.

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