Selling Openness: Branded Digital Content in the World of Open

I wrote an essay for Learning, Media & Technology* about what the proliferation of branded video content in the discourse of open education means for the future of Open Education Resources: OER As online edutainment resources: A critical look at open content, branded content, and how both affect the OER movement.  If you are at an institution with access to Taylor & Francis, the link above will get you to a space where you can access the journal.  Otherwise, I have provided my author’s proof of the same article, but T&F asks you cite the prior if so inclined.

Writing this article was a fascinating experience for me.  The journey started close to three years ago when a mentor and I debated his upcoming keynote at a TEDx event; I was frustrated by the TED boilerplate (anecdote, joke, thesis, sales pitch, conclusion referencing anecdote) eschewing complexity for saccharin and unguided zeal, and rather than shore my concerns this mentor shared stories of the production elements of a TED event where the invisible hand of program management and stage production guide an inspiration crescendo rather than a space for thought and discussion.  This stuck with me while dissertating on MOOCs, as I engaged texts and media from TED, Udacity, Khan Academy, Coursera, edX, and even spaces such as and Upworthy.  All of these entities purport to educate the world, but the above content providers substitute usability for purposes of branding.  There are many technological and pedagogical criticisms to be made for these purveyors of digital content, but I kept getting stuck at a philosophical conundrum:  how can these organizations serve their mission of freedom and democracy (emancipation through knowledge) while at the same time restricting the freedom and democracy of their content in the name of their brand?

This article is the springboard into a continued critical look at open, and the manifestations engaged here I plan to engage further:  the push of digital video producers and distributors towards edutainment, the blurring of lines between branded digital content providers and edutainment, the fallacy of disruptive innovation as practiced in education, the contradictions of engaging both modernism and postmodernism, Jean-Francois Lyotard and Jurgen Habermas, the evolution of OER, the need for OER to engage pragmatism and zeal, and more.  The current landscape of free=open is problematic for many reasons, in particular for me is one: in order to sell their brand, these providers warn of the harsh reality of society in terms that are fully postmodern (there is no emancipation but rather a system designed to benefit the top and everyone else will slot into a tier) while in the same breath promising their technology is the conduit to global democracy (the universal modernist perspective).  To the organizations the approach is altruistic and pragmatic, but the results of the system only promote the best of both worlds while providing the worst (globalized democracy as access to lifelong learning job skills).

If you are going to be at ET4Online in Dallas, I am presenting on Thursday surrounding this topic, taking the arguments of the paper and running in a host of directions, doing so in in a manner fitting of the topic and epic in scope.  It will definitely be worth your time to attend. Until then, a taste of what to expect:  the logo for some of Disney’s first edutainment (Our Friend the Atom, 1957) compared to TED’s splash animation.








*Special thanks to Sian Bayne, Jen Ross and Jeremy Knox for editing this fantastic special issue of the journal.

About Rolin
Assistant Professor & Director of EdTech & Media at Seattle Pacific University. Consultant w/ RAM TEC. Work with faculty, teach students, explore non-formal learning spaces (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums)

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.