Paul Stacey


What is an Open Business Model and How Can You Generate Revenue?

What is an Open Business Model and How Can You Generate Revenue?

4622769282_03b9ffa37f_m
Money by Xavier Vergés CC BY

In this post I describe what an open business model is and some of the many ways to generate revenue while still licensing things to be free and open using Creative Commons. My goal is to help you find ways to build sustainable and thriving open business models.

We’re discovering a rich diversity of open business models that use Creative Commons. There isn’t one model, there are many.

We set out with the goal of depicting open business models across different sectors and from different parts of the world. To business sector and geographic diversity we’ve added model diversity. With our interviews we’re aiming to show as many types of Creative Commons based open business models as possible.

I’ve been especially impressed at how many different types of businesses are using Creative Commons licenses. Writers, musicians, furniture designers and manufacturers, visual symbol creators and distributors, educators, games developers, hardware manufacturers, publishers, researchers, art museums, journalists, technology platforms… The list goes on. Use of Creative Commons by business is not niche.

It’s been even more interesting to discover a diverse range of business models being used across these different sectors. With each new interview we hear different ideas on how Creative Commons is being used as part of a successful model. I feel a kind of unexpected wonder and delight with each new model. Like receiving a gift and glimpse of an alternative kind of economy just emerging.

What is a business model?

The phrase business model conjures up different things to different people. For some of our interviewees the very idea of a business model is dissonant with how they think about what they do. Others are very much aligned with the concept of a business model, have thought deeply about it, and speak eloquently about its many dimensions.

Everyone we interviewed can describe what they do and how it has evolved over time. But not everyone uses business speak and for some the process has been experimental, emergent, and organic rather than carefully planned and following some pre-defined model.

Entering into this work Sarah and I drew on the Business Model Generation handbook as a frame of reference for defining a business model.

business model generation book

Developed using an open process over 9 years, involving 470 co-authors from 45 countries the business model canvas described in the Business Model Generation handbook establishes a common framework for understanding the core building blocks of a business model.

The canvas is used to design business models by answering a set of questions in each of the nine core building blocks. Its an interactive process that allows for rapid prototyping and careful consideration. It’s useful for establishing a common reference for what we mean by the phrase “business model” and providing a framework for talking about it and thinking about it more strategically.

The authors of the Business Model Generation handbook licensed the business model canvas with a CC BY-SA Creative Commons license. This allowed us to adapt it, adding in additional building blocks, Social Good, CC License, and Overall Environment Open Business Fits In, as additional components “open” businesses explicitly need to define as part of their open business model.

We created a GoogleDoc open business model canvas template with associated questions as a useful tool for creating your own open business model. Open the open business model canvas template in Google Docs, then from the File Menu choose Save a copy …, give it a name and you’ll have your own editable version. Into each building block enter your answers to the questions. Once complete you have a one page depiction of your open business model that can be used for discussion, planning, and communicating.

We’ve used these tools a lot ourselves in open business model workshops we’ve conducted and in analyzing and providing advice and feedback on others existing or newly designed open business models.

Revenue Generation +

Many people equate a business model to one thing — revenue generation. “Just tell me how I can make money?” I get asked. Open business models are not for those who just want to get rich and if that’s your only interest an open business model may not be for you. As the open business model canvas shows, a business model is more multi-faceted than simply making money and to fully understand it mapping out all the building blocks is essential. Most organizations and businesses using Creative Commons are in business for reasons other than money.

However, given the overwhelming interest in understanding how revenue generation works when Creative Commons licensing works I thought I’d focus this post on that topic and use real examples from the interviews we’ve done to illustrate a range of possibilities.

Revenue Generation

Method #1: Digital to Physical

Many of the businesses and organizations we’ve interviewed operate at the interface between digital goods and physical goods. In this model digital goods are openly licensed with Creative Commons and made available online for free.

This generates all kinds of value for both the creator and society including:

  • access
  • participation
  • innovation
  • reputation

… to name but a few. These open benefits are generalizable to all the open business models but worth stating here upfront.

When a digital good is converted into a physical good costs are incurred. Money is required for the raw physical resources themselves and for the production of the physical output. Then there are the significant additional costs associated with physical good storage, replication, and distribution.

Digital to physical can also apply to digital works available online under a free open license but in person performances, appearances, or services costing money.

The conversion of bits to atoms is a point of transaction where revenue generation for many of the businesses we interviewed happens.

Example #1: OpenDesk has curated a collection of digital designs for furniture from a range of international designers. Designs are Creative Commons licensed and can be downloaded and customized by users to fit their specific needs. Users can make furniture themselves from the design for non-commercial use in a do-it-yourself fashion. However conversion of a digital design into physical pieces of wood usually requires specialized milling tools controlled by computers.

opendesk
https://www.opendesk.cc/

OpenDesk has partnered with maker businesses all over the world that have such tools. A special part of OpenDesks business model is enabling localized manufacturing close to where you live. Localized manufacturing generates a huge range of benefits including increased business for small local businesses and a more eco-friendly method of manufacturing that dramatically reduces things like storage and transportation costs. OpenDesk and their designers make revenue when a user wants a local maker to do the cutting for them.

When customers buy an OpenDesk product directly from a registered maker they pay:
1. the manufacturing cost as set by the maker
2. a design fee for the designer
3. a percentage fee to the OpenDesk platform

Conversion of digital to physical is an important part of the OpenDesk model.

Example #2: Cards Against Humanity one of the most popular table-top games of all times started out as a game Max Temkin and friends put together to play at a New Year’s Eve party. The game generated huge laughs and they decided to work on it some more, refining the writing to make it better. They created a .pdf of the cards that make up the game and a set of descriptions for printing it out and playing it and posted it online under a Creative Commons Attribution BY NC-SA license.

Thousands of people downloaded and played it generating a lot of positive word of mouth and interest. They began to receive requests from people who wanted to simply purchase the boxed Cards Against Humanity set directly from them rather than printing it out and making it themselves. This led them to run a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to manufacture the game. The initial print run sold out quickly and led to ongoing growth and diversification into custom card packs and many other spin-offs.

CardsAgainstHumanity
https://www.cardsagainsthumanity.com/

The Creative Commons license let people make a fan based version of the game and remix. A search on YouTube for Cards Against Humanity generates hundreds of thousands of videos with fans sharing remixes, humorous game play, and expansions. As Max Temkin put it to us “the license sanctioned this and became a fantastic form of marketing.”

The Cards Against Humanity team use quirky irreverent humour and candor to further differentiate themselves and establish a unique brand. For example check out the way they engage with Black Friday:

2015 Black Friday

2014 Black Friday

Conversion of digital to physical is where Cards Against Humanity generates money. The business formula is simple. Max describes it as, “Make product, sell product, make it for less than you sell.”

Method #2: Direct Connect

In the past musicians, writers, artists and other creators had to first find an agent, record label, publisher, or other third party to represent them. This intermediary sat between the creator and their hoped for fans and played three roles — 1. judged whether their work was worthy of publishing 2. invested in supporting creation of the work, and 3. acted as the representative and distributor of the work to the public.

The “direct connect” open business model eliminates creator reliance on such middle man intermediaries. Instead, creators use the Internet to go direct to fans, readers, and their audience. They openly license their work using Creative Commons licenses, put it up online and invite everyone to listen, read, use, and distribute it.

Rather than restricting access to the work until payment is received, it is freely given away with an explicit invitation to copy it and share it with others. Fans and audience are the ones who, through word of mouth, have a promotion and distribution role. This leverages the unique social affordances of the web.

Going direct to your audience is only one part of this model. The creators we’ve interviewed also make an extensive effort to “connect” with their fans. They post images, they tweet, they Facebook, they blog, and use other forms of social media to represent themselves directly to fans. Sharing daily lives, experiences, and insights is a form of open transparency that deepens fans understanding, interest, and trust. It invites connection, dialogue, and a bond. It creates relationship and establishes a channel for reciprocal exchange. It makes people interested in the work you do and want to support you in doing it.

A kind of reciprocity emerges with creators when they celebrate and promote derivative works their audience creates including things like fan fiction, music remixes, and video .

Direct connect revenue methods include:

Donations — this method appeals to users, fans, and audience for a small donation that goes toward costs. The donation model tries to spread costs across a large number of small personal donations.

Example: Wikipedia is one of the world’s top ten most popular web sites viewed more than 15 billion times every month. Wikipedia text content is licensed Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike CC BY-SA. Wikipedia runs an annual donation fundraising campaign. A small donation from a percentage of users can actually fulfill revenue needs. In 2014 over 2.5 million users made an average donation of $15.

wikipedia
https://www.wikipedia.org/

Pay-what-you-can — this method asks fans when they download a work to pay an amount of their own choosing.

Example: The song-a-day musician Jonathan Mann licenses his songs CC BY-NC and offers them for download with a Buy Now — name your price option. See his Every Day EP for example.

jonathanmann
http://jonathanmann.net/

Free and for sale — This method makes works available as both a free openly licensed download and a for sale item through traditional channels.

Example: Author Cory Doctorow licenses his books CC BY-NC-SA making them available as a free openly licensed download but also selling them through booksellers. See his book Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom for example.

corydoctorow
http://craphound.com/

Crowdfunding — this direct connect method is a direct appeal to fans for upfront funds to create a work with the promise of making it available to them on completion, open licensing it for further distribution, and providing other rewards.

Example: Sarah and I used Kickstarter to crowdfund the writing of this book on open business models.

kickstarter
https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/creativecommons/made-with-creative-commons-a-book-on-open-business/description

Unlatching — this method, a variant of crowdfunding, appeals not to the “crowd” but to a specific group to aggregate upfront funding to make a resource open.

Example: Knowledge Unlatched forms coalitions of libraries to underwrite the publishing of monographs under a Creative Commons license. Funds provided by each library are pooled to pay for the commissioning, proofreading, design, and everything you have to do in advance to get to first digital copy. In exchange for this fixed amount title fee publishers make the book available to anyone, anywhere to read or download for free under a Creative Commons license. With the title fee a fixed amount the greater the number of libraries participating the lower the cost per library.

KU_UnlatchesAgain (1)
http://www.knowledgeunlatched.org/

Patrons — this direct connect method asks fans to commit to providing an amount of money for each work you create on an ongoing per item or monthly basis.

Example: Amanda Palmer has over 7,000 patrons on Patreon who are willing to fund her creation of new songs, film clips/music videos, long-form writing, and more random, unpredictable art-things at $33,840 per “thing”. She creates about one “thing” per month.

amandapalmerpatreon
https://www.patreon.com/amandapalmer

Method #3: Matchmaking

Technology platforms play a unique role acting as a bridge matchmaking creators of openly licensed goods with those who need those goods. In a sense, platforms play the third party intermediary role eliminated in the “direct connect” model. They are the new web based intermediaries representing creators and matchmaking supply and demand.

Platforms offer creators of Creative Commons licensed goods a place to upload and store their work. Platforms provide functionality enabling creators to establish an online presence and identity which serves as a means of online promotion and marketing building a creator’s reputation over time. That’s the supply side.

On the demand side, platforms provide users seeking specific types of openly licensed works a one-stop shop destination for finding resources they may be interested in. Platforms usually support search, browse, and download.

Many platforms create value for themselves by becoming the destination for openly licensed works. However, platforms do not always provide reciprocal value (beyond reputation) for the creators who are putting their openly licensed works on the platform. For our interviews, we focused on platforms who go beyond merely hosting openly licensed content by offering creators additional matchmaking support.

Example #1: The Noun Project is a platform for visual symbols and icons. The Noun Project aggregates and curates symbols and icons from a global network and profiles the designers of each work. Icons and symbols are licensed Attribution CC BY. There are currently over 150,000 icons available.

nounproject
https://thenounproject.com/

Users can download and use the icons and symbols for free as long as they abide by the CC BY license and give attribution to the original creator. Revenue is generated when users do not want to give attribution. Using the symbols without attribution requires users to pay. In addition the Noun Project has built out a range of additional tools and services to support bulk use for a fee, integration of symbols and icons to apps using an API, and is about to release a new Lingo app for organizing collections. All these additional tools generate revenue. Revenue is split between designers and the Noun Project.

Example #2: Tribe of Noise is a fast-growing online community which represents over 20.000 artists from 170 countries and supplies music (licenses) to the film, TV, video production, gaming, and in-store media industry.

tribeofnoise
https://www.tribeofnoise.com/

Tribe of Noise offers musicians two options. To generate awareness and interest in your music, you can upload music to your profile in the community (under a CC 4.0 BY-ShareAlike license) which allows others to share and remix your song free of charge — even for commercial projects — as long as they attribute the work and license their project under the same license.

The second option is to upload music to the Tribe of Noise PRO licensing platform (under a non-exclusive exploitation contract). Tribe of Noise curates what music is posted on the PRO platform and also helps those musicians secure music deals. Revenue generated through those deals is split between Tribe of Noise and the artist.

Method #4: Value-Add Services

In this method services are built on top of a resource that is free and open. Revenue is generated through sale of premium services rather than sale of the resource itself.

There are lots of different value-add service model types:

Customization — this value-add service type charges for customization services.

Example #1: Figshare is a repository where academics and other users can make all of their research outputs available in a citable, shareable, and discoverable manner. Figshare offers a free service for academics to upload, store, and share their research as openly licensed CC BY resources, and their data as CC0 (note: CC0 is not a license per se but a Creative Commons no rights reserved way of putting works into the public domain.)

figshare
https://figshare.com

Figshare offers paid customized services for publishers and institutions. Institutions can get their own custom branded implementation of Figshare along with data metrics, data management (public or private storage), data dissemination, and user group administration. Publishers get to upload data and resources associated with their research articles which generates click through to the journals themselves and are provided with data visualization tools.

These custom paid services by institutions and publishers fund the free Figshare service to academics.

Example #2: Musician Jonathan Mann builds reputation by licensing his songs CC BY-NC but will write a custom acoustic or produced song for a fee. He says this about this custom service “My superpower is that I can take any idea, no matter how complex, and distill it down into a short, catchy, memorable song.”

jonathanmann2
https://jonathanmann.bandcamp.com/merch

Hosted Supported Service — this value-add service type charges a fee for hosted and supported access and use of openly licensed resources.

Example: Lumen Learning curates Creative Commons licensed education content into Candela courses which provide a set of low cost e-textbook alternative to expensive commercial textbook high enrolment college courses. These courses can be accessed for free off Lumen’s site. Or, alternatively, for a fee, these courses can be integrated into a college learning management system with additional faculty and technical support services.

Lumen-200x92
http://lumenlearning.com/

Lumen courseware places no paywall between students and the materials they need to succeed in their courses, so every student enjoys day one digital access to course content through the LMS. Instead of a student paywall, Lumen contracts with institutions for a low-cost $10 per student fee based on the number of students enrolled in Lumen-supported courses. Many Lumen clients recoup this cost with a course materials fee.

Supplemental Resources — This value-add service type charges a fee for resources that supplement a core Creative Commons licensed resource.

Example: OpenStax provides free, Creative Commons CC BY licensed, peer-reviewed, high quality textbooks for college courses. OpenStax partners with with third party companies that provide, for a fee, high quality online homework tools that supplement those books. A portion of the fee generated from these supplemental resources goes back to OpenStax as a way of sustaining their business model.

openstax
https://openstaxcollege.org/books

Training and Education — this value-add service type charges a fee for training and education related to Creative Commons licensed resources.

Example: The Open Data Institute connects, equips and inspires people around the world to innovate with open data. Open data is data that anyone can access, use or share. When big companies or governments release non-personal data, it enables small businesses, citizens and medical researchers to develop resources which make crucial improvements to their communities. Data is usually made open through Creative Commons CC0.

http://opendata.institute/

Open data is free and open but the Open Data Institute offers courses and training for a fee on the benefits, opportunities and practices associated with open data.

Method #5: Members

One of the surprising results of our work so far is the absence of advertising as a revenue generation component of open business models. There seems to be a general abhorrence of advertising and a sense that it conflicts with mission and adversely affects business perception.

Instead of advertising some rely on members, sponsors or partners to directly fund creation and availability of Creative Commons openly licensed content.

Example: The Conversation is a reliable source of high quality, evidence-based information and news. It aims to promote better understanding of current affairs and complex issues and allow for a better quality of public discourse and conversation. The Conversation licenses its content Attribution CC BY-ND.

https://theconversation.com

The Conversation ensures its integrity by only obtaining non-partisan sponsorship from education, government, and private partners. To avoid commercial conflict it takes no advertising and doesn’t carry advertising pop-ups or annoying autoplay.

The Conversation information and news is generated through partnerships with scholars at universities. Professional editors at The Conversation work with academics to convert their expertise into something understandable and readable by the public.

The Conversation generates revenue through a university membership model. Universities are massively deep repositories of research, knowledge and expertise but a lot of that stays behind the paywall of their own walled garden or ivory tower. Being part of The Conversation helps universities get good at presenting their knowledge and information to the general public and increase the reputation of their scholars.

Mix and Match

Open business models use diverse means to generate revenue. Many of the businesses and organizations we interviewed make use of more than one method mixing and matching them together.

The integration of different methods is an area of open business model innovation. Combinations can be devised to custom-fit a particular business purpose and generate unique value and differentiation. Diversification of revenue methods mitigates risk and provides multiple paths to sustainability.

Revenue = a means to an end

The initial draft of this post aimed to define a taxonomy of open business model types. Based on feedback from Sarah and our co-creators (thank you co-creators) I decided to shift it to simply depicting methods of open business model revenue generation. It became clear to me that an open business model taxonomy cannot be based solely on revenue and that more work was needed to ensure an open business taxonomy was based on facets other than money.

For open business models revenue generation is a means to an end, not the end itself. The end game for everyone we’ve spoken to is not profit but impact.

Traditional business models start with exclusivity, denying access to a good until money is paid. There is no impact without first a financial transaction.

Open business models start with inclusivity, participation, and universal access. Impact is enabled up front and revenue generation follows.

I hope this post helps you see this difference and realize that just because a business is open doesn’t mean it can’t generate revenue. In many ways I think open business models are more sustainable and beneficial to the world than closed ones.

Go open and prosper.

Originally published on Medium March 6, 2016. Special thanks to Sarah Pearson and co-creators Bernd Numberger, Benedikt Foit, and Jason Blasso for their many suggestions and improvements to this post.

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Open Business Models – Recommended Reading
January 9, 2016, 9:22 am
Filed under: Creative Commons, open business models, Uncategorized
Originally published on Medium 7-Jan-2016.
Paul’s open business models reading library from 2015

Sarah and I read a ton of books related to open business models in 2015. We’ve referenced a few of them in our writings. The picture above shows most of the books I read in 2015. They are all interesting in their own way (and I encourage you to read them all) but I thought I’d create a 2015 top 10 recommended book reading list from the collection along with a few notes on why each book is of interest. If you have recommendations for books we should read in 2016 leave a note with your suggestion.

1. The Art of Asking
http://amandapalmer.net
by Amanda Palmer

The best open business model related book I read in 2015. Amanda Palmer’s personal account of her evolution as an artist and the methods she uses toconnect with and get financial support from her fans and followers shows what is truly possible. This is a must read book for anyone trying to transition to an open business model that relies on community engagement.

2. Business Model Generation Handbookhttp://www.businessmodelgeneration.com/book
by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur

This book establishes a common framework for understanding what makes up a business model. It provides a business model canvas with nine core building blocks and corresponding set of questions as a tool for designing and prototyping business models. In 2015 our Creative Commons open business model initiative remixed and modified this canvas into an open business model canvas and associated questions. We used this for everything from analyzing how open companies are, to designing open business models for startups, and as a hands on activity in workshops helping people create their own open business model. Try it out for yourself!

3. Crises of Imagination, Crises of Power: Capitalism, Creativity, and the Commons
http://maxhaiven.com/2013/09/26/crises-of-imagination/
by Max Haiven

Suggests capitalism encloses time, communities, resources, the environment and even our imagination creating a kind of futility and cynicism. Calls for a radical re-imagining of value and taking back collective creative cooperative action separate from the market and government. Promotes the creation of a new commons of social reproduction outside the command and control of capital, including new and rekindled forms of community care, horizontal and grassroots democratic decision-making and local production. Also calls for reclaiming public institutions (schools, hospitals, public works) from the market in the name of the public and increasingly democratizing and rendering these institutions common, so as to “avoid the enclosure of public bodies by bureaucracy and crypto-capitalist models of ‘efficiency.’”

4. Free Knowledge — Confronting the Commodification of Knowledge
http://www.uofrpress.ca/publications/Free-Knowledge
Edited by Patricia W. Elliott and Daryl H. Hepting

This book is a wonderful collection of essays exploring how knowledge is generated and shared, and to what purpose. It pays particular attention to the rapid appropriation of public knowledge for private benefit around the globe and across multiple sectors and disciplines. Specific examples in education, the pharmaceutical industry, biomedical research, and even seeds are explored. Alternatives to this commodification of knowledge are described including indigenous and traditional knowledge and open access research publishing. Some pretty profound emerging ideas reframing the future are put forward including the economics of information in a post-carbon economy and the study of abundance. An a-ha book for me as referenced in earlier Medium writings.

5. The Zero Marginal Cost Society: The Internet of Things, The Collaborative Commons, and The Eclipse of Capitalism
http://www.thezeromarginalcostsociety.com/
by Jeremy Rifkin

This book describes how the capitalist era is passing and being replaced with a new economic paradigm it calls the “collaborative commons”. It documents how the collaborative commons is changing a wide range of fields from renewable energy, to marketing, logistics, transport, education, manufacturing and health care. It explores how the two economic systems currently work in tandem and sometimes compete. However it argues that technologies impact on the economy has already created a marginal cost of zero model that wreaks havoc with the capitalist model and new forms of sharing and collaboration are further leading to its decline. A fascinating depiction of an emerging new economy.

6. Governing Knowledge Commons
http://knowledge-commons.net/publications/gkc/
Edited by: Brett Frischmann, Michael Madison, and Katherine Strandberg

This book contributes to evidence-based policy making about innovation and creative production in the knowledge commons. It draws on Elinor Ostrom’s Nobel prize winning work around natural resource based commons and adapts that work to the knowledge and information commons. It’s an important book for the way it adds a third approach to traditional views of methods for promoting innovation and creativity. The two traditional approaches are, 1. innovation systems organized around markets, supported by intellectual property rights directed to exclusivity and ownership, and 2. innovation systems organized around governments, which intervene in markets in various ways to sponsor and subsidize innovation. The third approach explored in this book is commons-based sharing of knowledge and information to produce innovation and creativity.

7. Society 3.0
http://www.society30.com/
by Ronald van den Hoff

Written by one of our Kickstarter backers this book describes society in transition. It documents how the web, social capital, and value networks, are creating an interdependent economy and new ways of not only doing business but functioning as a society. It shows how this transition is playing out in the environment, work, money, democracy, education, health and even the organization of businesses. Written with a particular critical eye on the state of affairs in Europe this book describes and advocates for new ways of governing and functioning as a society. It provides some good insights on social, co-creation, and transactional business concepts with specific suggestions and examples of how to set up and operate a new kind of business.

8. Think Like a Commoner
http://www.thinklikeacommoner.com/
by David Bollier

This book traces the history of the commons and dispels the myth of the “tragedy of the commons”. It presents the commons as an ageless paradigm of cooperation and fairness and suggests that it is re-emerging as a practical new form of self-governance and production controlled by people themselves. A key aspect of this book is helping us all think differently and seeing the commons as a framework for social action and value production. Does a good job of exploring the logic of the market and the commons.

9. The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World
http://lewishyde.com/publications/the-gift
by Lewis Hyde

Not a new book but an important one for the way it explores the artist’s dilemma. At its core this book investigates the way that “every modern artist who has chosen to labor with a gift must sooner or later wonder how he or she is to survive in a society dominated by market exchange.” Examines the anthropology of gifts as a kind of property and gift exchange as a kind of commerce. Important for the way it delineates the differences between a gift and a commodity and for describing the human aspects of gift giving and sharing.

10. Information Doesn’t Want to be Free — Laws for the Internet Age
http://craphound.com/category/idwtbf/
by Cory Doctorow

Quoting the promotional blurb “Can small artists still thrive in the Internet era? Can giant record labels avoid alienating their audiences? This is a book about the pitfalls and the opportunities that creative industries (and individuals) are confronting today — about how the old models have failed or found new footing, and about what might soon replace them.” As others have done it emphasizes the importance of building an audience through open sharing. It also examines past business strategies of creative industries and shows how they have been adapted to the Internet. Most provocative of all it looks at how ever increasing copyright laws mess up artists and endanger privacy, freedom and our digital lives.

A short summary of what I have learned from this collection of books goes like this:

  • The commons has been increasingly enclosed and commoditized by government and market forces for decades.
  • Technology and the Internet have generated a distributed and participatory means of production and can store and distribute goods at near zero cost.
  • Zero marginal cost creates abundance (or the potential for abundance) which traditional market economics has no model for.
  • The commons has new relevance, particularly the digital commons, and is re-emerging as an important alternate means of achieving social and economic aims.
  • The commons is not just a place with content and resources but a social process, enabled by technology, that involves people participating, co-operating, sharing, and collaborating.
  • The social process of commons practice is affecting all sectors of society including education, manufacturing, health, energy, work, and even money itself.
  • The re-emerging commons does not mean the elimination of business or work but does mean business and work are done differently.
  • Commons-based ways of working and doing business are being invented right now and must co-exist and sometimes compete with existing models.
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Maximize Abundance

Maximize Abundance

Originally published on Medium 15-Dec-2015. This is the second in a series of six Medium articles connected to the research underway by Creative Commons for its Kickstarter-funded book about open business models to be published summer 2016. This work has three parts. Part 1 explores how open businesses models are based more on abundance than scarcity. Part 2 continues that exploration with an eye to how abundance affects design and development of open business model strategies. And finally, in Part 3 we get down into specifics around how open business model organizations generate revenue to sustain and thrive.

Part 1: A dialogue between abundance and scarcity.

Conversation by Michael Rojas from the Noun Project CC BY

Imagining a post-scarcity world has long been the domain of science fiction writers and futurists. Replicators producing goods in great abundance. Societies where basic human needs are fulfilled cheaply or even freely. People freed from the need to work or earn money. The activities and lives of humans living in abundance. These are the realm of Star Trek or books like Culture and Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom.

These ideas have no relation to the here and now.

Or do they?

No, no, no, the here and now is governed by scarcity based economics. We all know about the shortage of water, food, energy, clothing, education, medicine, and other goods. Too much demand and not enough supply. Scarcity, that’s the here and now. That’s what drives the market. Supply and demand determining prices. And price determining who has access and who gets what goods.

But wait — aren’t digital goods different?

In the digital world the incremental cost of storing, copying, and distributing digital goods is next to zero. And Creative Commons licenses on digital goods make explicit permission to replicate, share, and reuse. This creates the possibility for abundance. And we certainly are seeing a growing abundance of works in the Commons. Over 1 billion according to the latest Creative Commons State of the Commons report.

No, no, no, to prevent abundance we’ll create artificial scarcity through “digital rights management”. We’ll put locks, passwords, and controls on digital goods to prevent them from being accessed, changed, or replicated. That way we can control digital goods the same way as physical resources and existing economic models and revenue streams are maintained.

Do we really need to hobble technology for economic gain? Do we really need to rely on artificial scarcity to prop up society and its scarcity-based economic model? What are the implications for the economy and society if we go with an abundance model?

Can we even imagine it?

*********************************

Part 2: Abundance Based Design of Open Business Models

Abundance by Luis Prado from the Noun Project CC BY

Jeremy Rifkin in his book The Zero Marginal Cost Society says, “The notion of organizing economic life around abundance and use and share value is so alien to the way we conceive of economic theory and practice that we are unable to envision it.” (bold added by me)

Rifkin introduced me to abundance, but Free Knowledge was the a-ha moment book where the limitations of scarcity-based economics were made evident. Ever since then I’ve been having thought experiment dialogues in my head like the one at the start of this post. Mental conversations between scarcity and abundance.

Trying to imagine abundance.

I’ve been noticing the vision and mission statements of the open businesses and organizations Sarah and I are speaking to are about abundance.

Wikimedia imagines “ a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge.”

The Noun Project is “creating, sharing, and celebrating the world’s visual language.”

Thingiverse “is a thriving design community for discovering, making, and sharing 3D printable things. As the world’s largest 3D printing community, we believe that everyone should be encouraged to create and remix 3D things, no matter their technical expertise or previous experience. In the spirit of maintaining an open platform, all designs are encouraged to be licensed under a Creative Commons license, meaning that anyone can use or alter any design.”

I began thinking about open business models as being abundance-based. I began wondering …

What if, to generate your own open business model, you flip the traditional economic scarcity-based model on its head and focus on abundance? What if, as an open business, you focus on what is it you have that you can strategically make freely and openly available to everyone?

I began seeing maximizing abundance as a key open business model strategy.

I quickly saw how open businesses leverage the permissions Creative Commons licenses provide to put assets out in the world in a way that encourages use, participation, contribution, and enhancement. The Noun Project, Wikimedia, and Thingiverse all do that. They make digital assets abundant and invite everyone around the world to use, contribute to, and enhance that abundance.

I also began seeing how abundance isn’t just about maximizing availability of open digital assets but also about maximizing abundance of participation. Open business vision and mission statements couple an aim for abundance of resources with a recognition that getting there is a collective group activity. Abundance isn’t solely created by a single open business or organization. It is collectively created by a global network of people who affiliate themselves with the open business and collectively worked toward a shared goal.

Edward Boatman, co-founder of the Noun Project, may have created the original set of icons and symbols that got the Noun Project’s visual dictionary going but he didn’t conceive of a business where he’d author the entire world’s visual dictionary himself or bring on Noun Project employees to do so. Instead maximizing icon and symbol abundance is collectively being done by over 7,000 designers from all over the world contributing their work to the Noun Project.

Globe by Jon Prepeluh from the Noun Project CC BY

In creating your own open business model think about how you will engage the world in adding to, improving, and expanding use of what you’re making freely and openly available to everyone. “Build a community around your content” as my colleague Sarah Pearson says.

Opendesk’s Open Making Manifesto includes a principle that says:

“Open Making can democratize not only the design and manufacturing of artefacts, but also the design of processes and organizations, which should also be documented, visualized and shared. Designing, sharing and manufacturing in a collaborative way can enable us to learn how to build global and local networks that are more sustainable thanks to the fact that anybody could improve them. Building a new economy is not an easy task, but it’s easier if we test it in a distributed way and share the results. Designing and making together can enable us to learn the social, political and economic dimensions of Design and Manufacturing.”

Sustainability is based on the ability for anybody to improve and share. And you can also see I’m not the only one who thinks this work is helping us learn new processes, new kinds of organizations, and yes even a new form of economics.

These ideas about abundance are all a bit raw for me still. I’m still thinking it through, but seeing open business models as being about maximizing abundance of digital assets and abundance of human participation has been really useful. It’s helped me frame how I think about open business models, generated a couple of strategies for creating your own open business model, and provided a lens through which to look at and analyze existing open businesses.

These aren’t the only ways open business models maximize abundance. I bet you have many ideas about this too. Welcome your comments. Here’s one more I’ve been thinking about in my latest thought experiments …

Abundance of value.

Scarcity based economics seeks only to maximize monetary value, abundance-based economics and open business models seek to maximize a more diverse set of values. The degree to which an open business can engage participation in what it does is dependent on the extent to which others buy in to the value the business seeks to achieve.

I think the reason Wikimedia has 26,884,090 registered editors (seehttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikimedia_Foundation, as of 3-Dec-2015) is because that many people around the world agree with and want to participate in making possible the value Wikimedia seeks to create “a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge.”

Open businesses generate value for others, not just themselves, and that value can take many forms — knowledge, culture, relationship, livelihood, well-being … Open businesses aren’t blind to money, but what drives them, what motivates them, the values they operate by and the value they seek to create is more diverse than just monetary value for themselves.

As an open business how will you maximize the abundance of value you create?

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Part 3: Generating Open Business Model Revenue to Sustain and Thrive

All this abundance-based economics talk is well and good but you’re probably saying to yourself, today, right now, most of the world is operating on the basis of scarcity-based economics. How do abundance-based open businesses survive in such a world? Just how does the money part work in an open business model anyway? How can open businesses not only survive but thrive?

Lets set aside thought experiments and get down to the money.

It’s true, during this transition time while inventing a new abundance-based economic model open businesses must include monetary value in the mix of value they create.

Lets look at the money part of how the open businesses work. Lets look at a real examples from open organizations and businesses already mentioned in this post. Lets start with the simplest one first.

Wikimedia is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. More than 4 million donors around the world donated $75 million USD to Wikimedia last year. Here’s a link to their 2014–15 Fundraising Report. This is yet another way Wikimedia makes it possible to participate. Donating money for their operation is an expression of support for the value they are creating.

Donation by Aha-Soft from the Noun Project CC BY

It’s worth pointing out that the actual content Wikimedia has on its sites like Wikipedia are created by volunteers. Editors do not get paid (in general). Wikimedia aspires to be an unbiased, accurate and trusted resource which can be undermined when entries are created through paid advocacy — seehere for example.

The Noun Project has a very unique business model. It’s also one of the few examples where Creative Commons licenses are at the very core of the model. Co-founder Edward Boatman spoke wonderfully eloquently about it during our interview. Here’s my simplified version of how it works.

Icons and symbols on the Noun Project are Creative Commons CC BY licensed. Free membership entitles you to download and freely use those icons at no cost — as long as you give attribution and credit to the creator as specified by the terms of the Creative Commons license. To provide proper credit, you can use the embedded credit already in the icon you download, or you can copy the credit line they provide and add it to your citations, about page, or place in which you credit work you did not create.

In the Free Membership model, if you don’t want to give credit and attribution to the creator you can purchase the symbol or icon for $1.99. The Noun Project splits this revenue roughly 70% to creator and 30% to Noun Project.

When you purchase an icon you see a thumbnail image of the creator, their name, and a message saying: “You can use this icon for unlimited use on any project, forever. Your purchase directly supports the creator.”

If you don’t want to purchase a la carte through the Free Membership plan you can go with the premium NounPro unlimited plan where $9.99/month gets unlimited downloads and no requirement to attribute/credit the creator. Revenue from this is shared roughly 40% to creator and 60% to the Noun Project. Operating the premium NounPro plan requires the Noun Project to offer a lot of services, outside of the icon itself. This additional effort results in a higher revenue percentage going to the Noun Project.

The Noun Project also has an API option that lets you get a direct feed of Noun Project icons and symbols into a your application or service. They have a Playground and API Pro version. Royalty payments to creators are now calculated by adding revenue from the API project to revenue from premium NounPro subscriptions and dividing that total revenue by number of downloads. Numerator and denominator fluctuate on a monthly basis, which means royalty payments fluctuate too.

I really like the way the Noun Project values its creator community and shares revenue with them. However, when we spoke with Edward Boatman he told us that based on feedback from their creators the #1 reason they participate in the Noun Project is its mission. They really like the idea of putting their work out there and helping others. Money is the #3 reason. #2 is promoting their own personal brand. This is a good example of value abundance.

The model of free use as long as credit and attribution are given and requiring payment if users don’t want to give credit is a novel idea. All Creative Commons licenses require attribution be given to the creator so this model really draws on the way Creative Commons works. I’ll be very interested in seeing whether any other open businesses replicate this model for themselves.

Lets look at one last one — Opendesk.

Here’s how Opendesk describes what they do:

“Opendesk is a global platform for local making. You can use it to download, make and buy work space furniture.

Opendesk has a global network of makers and a collection of furniture by a range of international designers. Because that furniture is designed for digital fabrication, it can be downloaded as a digital file and made locally — on demand, anywhere in the world.

We call this “Open Making”:

  • Designers get a global distribution channel
  • Makers get profitable jobs and new customers
  • You get designer products without the designer price tag, a more social, eco-friendly alternative to mass-production and an affordable way to buy custom made products”
Share by Jamison Wieser from the Noun Project CC BY

I really like the way the Opendesk global platform is making furniture designs abundant. I’m especially intrigued by the way Opendesk converts a global digital abundance into a local produced physical good. I like the idea of being able to tell a story about workspace furniture where the design came from around the world but was made just around the corner.

Of all the open business model organizations I’ve spoken to so far Joni Steiner and Nick Ierodiaconou, co-founders of Opendesk have been the most open about commercial intent and our conversation around their business model ranged wide and deep about how to design one that works.

When they first started designing the Opendesk system, they had two goals, “We wanted anyone, anywhere in the world, to be able to download designs for local making and we wanted to reward designers financially when their designs were used commercially.”

In designing a business model to achieve those goals they gave a lot of thought to three angles – 1) social sharing potential, (2) support for license choice, (3) impact of license choice on business model.

In support of social sharing Opendesk actively advocates for open licensing. However, designers have choice. They can be proprietary or choose from the full suite of Creative Commons licenses deciding for themselves how open or closed they want to be.

For the most part designers love the idea of sharing content. They understand that you get positive feedback of attribution and what Nick and Joni called “reputational glow”. And Opendesk does an awesome job profiling the designers on the platform. I especially like seeing furniture designers, not often recognized for their work, be so highly profiled.

While designers are largely OK with personal sharing they do have a concern that someone will take the design and manufacture the furniture in bulk without the designer getting any benefits. This has led most Opendesk designers to choose Creative Commons Non-commercial licenses.

So users can download the design and make it themselves for non-commercial use — and there have been many many downloads. (There are always lots of questions about just what constitutes non-commercial. See Opendesk’s response here.)

Or, users can buy the product from Opendesk or a registered maker in Opendesk’s network. You might think of this as on-demand personal fabrication. The Opendesk maker network is currently focused on makers who do digital fabrication via a computer controlled CNC machining device that cuts shapes out of wooden sheets according to design file specifications on the computer.

Makers benefit from being part of OpenDesk’s network by getting paid work making furniture for local customers. Opendesk generates business for makers. Nick and Joni said “Finding a whole network and community of makers was pretty easy because we built a site where people could write in about their capabilities. Building the community by learning from the maker community is how we have moved forward.” Opendesk now has relationships with hundreds of makers in countries all around the world.

Makers are a critical part of the Opendesk business model. The model hangs off the maker quote. Here’s how its expressed on Opendesks own business model page:

“When customers buy an OpenDesk product directly from a registered maker they pay:

  1. the manufacturing cost as set by the maker
  2. a design fee for the designer
  3. a percentage fee to the OpenDesk platform”

They go on to openly share their model by detailing how Maker Quotes are created:

“Maker Quotes

When a customer wants to buy an OpenDesk through our Marketplace model (or by just getting in touch directly with a maker), the maker is responsible for managing customer communication and providing a quote for the product.

The price quoted by the maker must include the design fee and the Opendesk platform percentage fee. Specifically, quotes should be constructed as follows:

  1. manufacturing cost: fabrication, finishing and any other costs as set by the maker (excluding any services like delivery or assembly)
  2. design fee: as 8% percent of the manufacturing cost
  3. platform fee: as 12% percent of the manufacturing cost
  4. sales tax: as applicable (depending on product and location)”

Like the Noun Project Opendesk shares revenue with their community of designers. According to Nick and Joni a typical designer fee is around 2.5% so Opendesk is being more generous, with 8%, and providing a higher value to the designer.

Moving forward Opendesk is looking to recast the whole idea of openness. To them the sharing economy has shown how you can disruptively scale an idea. Instead of building a business model around IP or design exclusivity Opendesk is starting with openness, sharing, and abundance. Their model focuses on value-added services and experiences for which a fee can be charged — similar to models used in the open source software world.

Even more fascinating is the way Opendesk is working openly to engage everyone in helping define how this model should work. OpenMaking is a public domain resource developing open standards in keeping with new and social forms of design and manufacturing, working with a community of thought leaders and practitioners to define this new movement and discuss how we will produce and consume in the 21st Century.

I’m only skimming the surface of the broad and deep conversation we had but this gives you the gist of Opendesk’s business model.

It’s clear that openness and revenue generation aren’t mutually excludable. There are many ways to earn revenue based on abundance — these three examples show what’s possible with some creative thinking.

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Growing Mind by Francielly Costantin Senra from the Noun Project CC BY

Open business models start with abundance, a spirit of generosity, an act of sharing.

Success and sustainability of open business models depends on the extent to which assets, participation, and value is made abundant.

Open business models generate value in many forms — one of which is financial.

This isn’t science fiction. Abundance is a generating a new kind of economy right now. Special thanks to the organizations profiled in this post for showing how this is possible. And to the many millions of people who share using Creative Commons, thank you for creating abundance.

End Notes and Participation Invitations:

As I engage in this work. I’ve decided to do more than just write about it. I’ve decided to directly experience it, to experiment with it. To not just observe and analyze but to actively participate in it. Try it out myself. Even invest in it. Here’s a few of the ways I’m doing that with invitations for you to join me.

This is the time of year when the Wikimedia Foundation runs its fund raising campaign. I donated. I received an e-mail in response which says in part: ‘Everyone is a potential Wikipedian. If you don’t find what you’re looking for on Wikipedia, you can start creating it yourself. The articles, words, pictures and data are created by a diverse community of people who volunteer to share their knowledge with the world.’ One thing I’m noticing in these open business models that make them different from the more closed traditional models is that they invite me to participate in making abundance. Want to join me? Make a donation too? Edit a Wikipedia entry on a topic of mutual interest? Leave me a note. (highlight any text in this article and click on the dialog bubble that appears in the black pop-up bar.)

Images in this post are all from the Noun Project. I’ve given attribution for each and technically, as per the Noun Project’s business model, am allowed to use them for free. However, I chose to pay for them too. Thought I’d experiment with the business model and give extra thanks to the creators. I encourage you to use Noun Project images yourself. I’m also interested in using Noun Project images in the book we are writing. What Noun Project images do you recommend we consider using? Leave me a note with your suggestions.

I’m interested in getting an Opendesk Edie table and I was excited to see Opendesk has a fabrication partner called Makerlabs in Vancouver. However, ordering notifies me the Edie table is fabricated in quantities of 2 — and I only want 1 (costs about $330 CAD for one). I asked Joni and Nick at Opendesk “Is there some way to team up with someone else in Vancouver to make such a purchase with each of us getting 1 table?” They replied, “We aren’t at the scale yet to have frequent enough orders all around the world to combine them — but when we do we will look to bring in a ‘group-making’ feature where we can team up smaller orders — I think this will be really powerful in serving smaller orders and items, but it’s not something we have up and running quite yet.” They also super helpfully linked me up to Kirsty at Makerlabs in Vancouver to help take me through the quoting / ordering / getting made locally in Vancouver process. Thought I’d see if there is anyone else locally in Vancouver interested in an Edie table who wants to join forces with me and place an order? Leave me a note.

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State of Online Address
November 2, 2011, 3:40 pm
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BCcampus is a member of the WICHE Cooperative for Education Technology (WCET). WCET’s mission is to accelerate the adoption of effective practices, advancing excellence in technology-enhanced teaching and learning in higher education. We like WCET as it is one of the few organizations that really brings together consortia based organizations like BCcampus from across North America. Attending their annual gathering and conference gives us a chance to see the latest education technology innovations and to benchmark ourselves agains other consortia.

Thought I’d share a brief summary of what took place at WCET’s 23rd annual conference in Denver. Given that WCET is primarily made up of US organizations I thought I’d playfully riff on the US State of the Union Address by calling this report a State of Online Address.

The opening keynote was customized based on live audience feedback. The speakers, using Poll Everywhere, presented the audience with multiple topics and invited them to express their choice using mobile phones, twitter, and the web. Responses are displayed in real-time on charts in PowerPoint. The speakers then customized their presentation based on the audience choices. Over the course of their presentation the speakers referenced Headmagnet as a means of maintaining something in short term memory, Historypin, supported by Google, as a means of creating a global history by crowdsourcing photos from everyone around the world, Enterzon a multiplayer online learning environment designed to teach Chinese language and culture through gameplay, and the nursing neighbourhood as a means of learning how to diagnose health issues via virtual patients.

The 2011 Horizon Report lists learning analytics on the four-to-five year adoption horizon but the rapid rise of analytics tools combined with the increasing demand for data-driven decision making is pushing this horizon closer. Learning Analytics was a hot topic throughout the entire event. Learning analytics mines data from Learning Management Systems (LMS) and Student Information Systems (SIS) to support real time data driven decision making. Some learning analytics data analysis is oriented to supporting teaching and learning. The University of Maryland Baltimore County showed an analytics tool they use within their LMS that tells students where they are in course compared to other students. It generates a grade report that shows how students are doing against others in class and shows how activities of those who are doing well are different from those not doing well. LMS activity of students with D and F grades are noticeably lower from those getting higher grades. Students who enrol after a course starts, stop attending for five consecutive days, log-in to the LMS fewer than three times per week or have less than three hours of activity per week are considerably at risk of dropping out. Based on these analytics some institutions are taking actions where college advisors are provided with data on students that shows their last login date, activity in minutes, activity submission counts, course points earned and course average to date as a means of triggering interventions and contact with at risk students. Another learning analytics tool called Social Networks Adapting Pedagogical Practice (SNAPP) does an analysis of discussion forums activity and generates networking maps identifying who is leading discussion, volume of posts, volume of responses, and interconnections between those posting to discussions. This has led to research exploring a whole range of questions such as:

  • Do networks between students relate to successful completion?
  • How does professor discussion interaction with at risk or low performing students impact student success?
  • How important is multi node, multi directional interaction to course success?



While some learning analytics are focused on teaching and learning others are focused on supporting administration and policy makers. Analytics coming out of LMS”s can help administration identify students who are not engaged and at risk of drop out. One of the largest examples of Learning Analytics work in this category is the Predictive Analytics and Recording (PAR) framework being funded by the Gates Foundation. This project is aiming at deeper analytics by analysing 3 million unique records from 6 different institutions across 34 common variables to determine what trends there are for retention and progression. It is well known that retention in campus-based face-to-face courses is higher than online courses so the findings coming out of this analysis are highly anticipated. Factors analysed include things such as completion based on the % of students still enrolled at the end of a course, success based on % of students who haven’t withdrawn or received a D or an F, continued semester to semester enrolment and progression to degree completion. However it is interesting to note that definitions for factors like length of a semester, what a course is, course completion and even grades differ across institutions making it challenging to have common measures. Analysis is being done using descriptive statistics, inferential statistics, and predictive modelling. This project is essentially looking at what factors impact loss, progression, momentum. It’s still early days for this project and one thing all the learning analytics projects mentioned is that 90% of the work is getting the data. Extracting data out of the LMS/SIS is challenging. Analysis of the data is 10% of the work. However, early analysis has focused on trying to find what was universally true for those who got a C grade or better in a course vs those who disenroll. Students were categorized as high risk, medium risk or low risk. High risk students have attributes such as being new to online, returning to school after 5 years, having a low high school GPA or failing an online course in the previous two years. Preliminary findings indicate that the biggest factor causing at risk students to disenroll is if they are pushing multiple courses simultaneously. Taking concurrent courses is not a good idea for students who are at risk. However, in many cases receiving student aid is contingent on being enrolled in multiple courses. This is an example of a learning analytics finding that suggests we rethink financial aid policy. This PAR project is large and part of the challenge is simply demonstrating that analytics like this can be done and that the methodology is scaleable. I look forward to hearing more in the coming months after this project has had the time it needs to complete their analysis.

If you are interested in reading more about learning analytics and understanding who is doing what in this field I recommend the Next Generation Learning Challenges paper called Underlying Premises: Learner Analytics.

The majority of WCET members are based in the US. In October 2010 the US Department of Education released a broad package of regulations. These new Program Integrity Rules which became effective July 1, 2011 have a direct impact on all US institutions involved in creation and delivery of online learning. A great deal of attention and effort has been paid to the new rules around the state authorization regulation requiring all institutions teaching students outside of their state to have authorization to do so from the state the student resides in. This has caused online learning providers considerable grief and untold hours and money as colleges and universities scramble to comply. While state authorization has received the greatest attention other regulations have an impact on the way online learning is being provided including provisions dealing with the definition of credit hours, compensation of persons and organizations involved in student recruitment and enrolment, and defining when a student ceases to be considered in attendance. This last one is particularly interesting as last day of attendance for online students used to be based on “last click” within an LMS – last day of attendance for on campus students is based on physical presence in the classroom. However the new regulations for online learning deem last click inadequate and require “evidence of academic engagement”. This appears to be a double standard as we all know that physical presence in a bricks and mortar classroom hardly constitutes academic engagement. All these new regulations have had a chilling effect on online learning in the US. Huge effort is being diverted from online learning innovation to red-tape compliance. While some of the regulations are obviously intended to curb the excesses of private education providers in the US many of them seem based on a fundamental distrust of online and distance education. I’m glad we’re not embroiled in similar regulations here in Canada.

As mentioned WCET brings together online learning consortia and it was sobering to hear news from US consortia in Texas, Ohio and Arizona about either closures or significant reductions in support. In contrast Canada’s consortia including BCcampus, eCampus Alberta and Contact North/e-Learning Network (and soon to include the Ontario Online Institute) are doing well.

While the magnitude of online learning innovation in the US may be diminished it is not extinguished. Each year WCET issues WCET Outstanding Work (WOW) awards (I received one in 2008). This years WOW Award winners are:
1. Century College and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System for GPS LifePlan

2. Kansas State University for University Life Café a site providing counseling on emotional wellness.

3. Regis University for Passport to Course Development a site integrating graphics, audio, multimedia and technology to provide support for faculty new to online environment.
(Note if you visit this site use Password: passport11 and Name: passport11 to login)

Another US initiative that received considerable profile (and one that I’m particularly interested in given my involvement with Open Educational Resources) is the US Department of Labor Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grant program.

This initiative is providing $500 million a year for four years to expand and improve the ability of eligible institutions to deliver education and career training programs. These programs are targeted to workers adversely affected by trade agreements. The Department of Labor is encouraging online/technology-enabled learning and evidence based strategies and grantees are required to make all the resources developed Open Educational Resources by applying a Creative Commons (CC-BY) license to all content developed with grant funds. This program has four priorities:
1. accelerate progress for low-skilled and other workers
2. improve retention and achievement rates to reduce time to completion
3. build programs that meet industry needs including developing career pathways
4. strengthen online and technology enabled learning

Thirty two awards were announced 26-Sept-2011 for the first year of this program. Twenty three of the awards involve consortia, 9 are individual efforts. Grantees are being offered a complementary set of support services funded by the Gates Foundation including open licensing support from Creative Commons, accessibility support from CAST, technology assistance from Carnegie Mellon Open Learning Initiative and best practices in using OER from the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges.

The Colorado Online Energy Training Consortium TAACCCT grant was profiled by Rhonda Epper. This project received $17.2 million for a 36 month project. The consortium involves 15 community colleges, 14 energy industry employers, the Colorado Dept of Labor and Employment, 10 regional workforce centres. Together the consortium support Colorado’s fast growing energy industry sector by expanding and redesigning for hybrid delivery the following programs:
– Clean Energy Technology
– Wind Energy Technology
– Utility Line Technology
– Oil & Gas Technology
– Process Technology/Instrumentation
– Mining/Extractive Technology
– Water Quality Management
Many of these will be stackable credentials with options that allow certificates to ladder into associate degrees.

More information on the TAACCCT program and the capacity building grant awards is available at http://www.doleta.gov/TAACCCT

I recently got an iPad and while I’m in the early stages of using it have already been impressed with it’s unique form factor, rich array of apps, and tactile/gesture modes of interacting with it. Some education institutions are actively piloting iPads on campus and I was particularly taken with how William Hicks at the Community College of Aurora/Colorado Film School incorporated the use of iPads into his film school script writing courses. Traditionally students in his short script analysis course write a script hand it in and think of it as being finished. William wanted to break the notion of scripts being untouchable and devised a unique and powerful workflow supported by iPads linking students across three different courses. Students in his Creative Producing class hire a script writer in his Script Writing course to write short scripts which are reviewed and annotated by students in a third class. iPads loaded with the app iAnnotate are used to support distribution and commenting on scripts. Prior to using the iPad his class had only been able to analyse 15 scripts. With the iPad they analysed 84 scripts, a six fold increase in efficiency. In addition he found that students prefer the iPad over hand written notes and the annotations were seen as more credible, easier to understand, and more thorough. In his view the iPad has revolutionized the outcomes in his courses. He also notes that the form factor of the iPad makes it easy to simply hand it back and forth for viewing and contrasts this with the “huddling around the campfire” way sharing content on a computer has traditionally been done.

I’ve been thinking and reading a lot about use of mobile devices for online learning lately. The closing session at WCET focused on innovations of which mobile was one. By 2014 mobile internet consumption will overtake desktop consumption. Android phone popularity was used to exemplify this growth. In 2009 Android had 2.8% market share, in July 2011 over 550,000 Android mobile devices were being activated every day with growth of 4.4% every week, by August 2011 Android had 48% of the smart phone market. Of course mobile devices have significant constraints. The screen is small with low device resolution and pixel density. The touch gesture paradigm of interacting with a mobile device is not as precise as a mouse. There are limitations in cpu processing and battery power. Some devices are locked down platforms with real limitations such as the non-support of Flash on an iPhone or iPad. However, there is a great deal of potential in using mobile devices as a supplement to traditional computing and exploring education possibilities for an untethered learning experience not constrained by space or time.

Finally I should note that the NANSLO online science program I’m involved with was both a formal presentation at this event and celebrated as a significant innovation in the closing session.

So there you have it. A mini snapshop on the state of online in the US.



In For Questioning


cc licensed (BY NC SA) flickr photo shared by Pyriet

Do you think online learning is isolating, impersonal and devoid of social contact? Have you ever used Skype, WebEx, Blackboard Collaborate, or Facebook? Do you know what an Internet discussion forum is? Have you ever been moved to tears or laughed out loud by something on the Internet? Have you ever taken online learning?

Is Abject Learning really abject? Which of the following three Canadians do you think has contributed the most to e-learning – Murray Goldberg, Tony Bates, Stephen Downes? If you could spend time with one of these three which would you choose? Do you think OLDaily is a platform for Stephen Downes’ personal views or a research program of the National Research Council’s Institute for Information Technology? If health and education together represent approximately 60-70% of all provincial budget expenditures (Ontario, BC, …) why is there so much research funding available for health and virtually none for education?

Isn’t there a tremendous potential for Canada to develop and roll-out online learning for the trades at a national level? Wouldn’t it be fantastic if that development led to Open Educational Resources for the trades? In Canada, where education is a provincial mandate not a federal one, is it possible the provinces could collaborate on such an endeavour? At what point will we switch to thinking about education globally not regionally?

Is it OK with you that faculty are not required to know anything about teaching? Do you think the government and institutions are meeting their responsibilities to the public by not requiring faculty to know how to teach? Do you think that the teaching practices associated with online learning are the same as the teaching practices used in the classroom? Are you fearful that online learning will eliminate the need for faculty? If I said to you that a faculty member can be replaced by a pre-recorded lecture streaming from a server, would you believe me? Or would you find such an idea laughable? Is a lecture an effective means of providing education? Do you think of lecture capture as an innovation? Or is that laughable too? Do students like having lectures available online? How would you teach online?

Do you know the difference between synchronous and asynchronous? Do you get all atwitter over Tweets? If you had to choose between using a blog or a wiki for online learning which would you choose, and why? If I said to you the first online course I ever took was on Enjoying Wine would you believe me? Can you imagine how such an online course would structure activities to engage students’ sense of smell and taste? Have you ever enjoyed champagne with popcorn on a hot summers day?


cc licensed (BY SA) flickr photo shared by Stéfan

Do you think online learning is an effective alternative to campus based learning? If not, why not? Are you aware of quality assurance practices for online learning? Isn’t it odd that online learning is subject to quality assurance but on campus learning is not?

Should online learning cost the same as campus based learning? Should tuition for an online course be the same as for an on campus course? If you had to choose between investing public funds in creating more on campus buildings or supporting the build out and provision of online learning infrastructure which would you choose? Are you interested in online learning for cost savings reasons? Cost savings for whom? With more and more campus based courses putting technology in the classroom and using Learning Management Systems to house course content is that saving money or adding more cost? Does anyone really know what the ROI of online learning is? Or even how to find out? Do you think it’s OK that Canada’s students are carrying so much debt on graduation?

When we’re transitioning campus based courses online should the learning outcomes be the same? Should we be considering the possibility of having special learning outcomes related to the online learning experience – say outcomes related to technology literacy and digital communications? Is it possible to do things through online learning that just aren’t possible on campus?

Do you believe that the best way to learn something is to teach it to someone? How important is peer-to-peer based online learning? Are the experiences, knowledge, and skills students bring equally important as that of the teacher? Should students teach each other? Can online learning be personalized to provide multiple paths and options so students only have to study stuff they don’t know? Would you take a course from P2PU?


cc licensed (BY NC SA) flickr photo “David Lynch Interrogation Chair” shared by Homies in Heaven

Do you think traditional campus-based universities and colleges are doomed? What do you want universities and colleges of the future to look like? Should contemporary education focus on serving traditional geographic catchment areas or go global? How will institutional collaborations and partnerships shape and create a connected world? Would you like to participate in virtual classrooms that include students from around the world sharing perspectives from their country and culture? Do you agree with Lawrence Lessig that the education academy has an “ethical obligation at the core of its mission which is universal access to knowledge in every part of the globe“? Are you in favour of DIYU? What about OERu?

Can science be taught online? What about the labs? Would you hire someone to work as a scientist in a lab if their only exposure to the laboratory environment was through virtual means? Is most professional science work mediated by technology making use of computer-based instrumentation mainstream? Do you consider unmanned deep sea submarine experiments or Mars rover experiments “real science”? Are you comfortable with doctors using robots to do surgery from thousands of miles away?

Can art be taught online? What about the studio portion? Do you think visual artists must learn how to use a physical brush or are you OK with them learning to use the digital brushes available in Photoshop and Illustrator?

If collaborations and partnerships are the future of education why does government funding for education reward autonomy and competition? Is education a commodity? Or is education a public service? Should education be about economic development and acquiring skills for the work place or development of socially aware and responsible citizens? Can online learning support societal goals such as access to education, cultural diversity, and social inclusion?

How do education and learning theories like behaviourism, cognitivism, and constructivism work in an online learning context? Is connectivism the first new education theory for the digital age? Should online learning instructional designers foliow the ADDIE model or do we need to invent a new model that involves a more iterative, on-the-fly approach? Do we need new pedagogical models for online learning that differentiate the way different fields of study are taught online? Would pedagogical approaches for teaching business online be equally as effective for teaching nursing?

Are you aware that in the US states providing online learning to students not resident in that state require authorization from the state where the student resides? Can you imagine applying that principle more globally? Do you think thats bizarre in today’s borderless digital world? Can’t a student choose for themselves where they get their education from?

Are you in favour of a monolithic fully integrated online learning technology platform as is being assembled by Blackboard through acquisition of WebCT, Angel, Elluminate and Wimba? Or do you prefer a more flexible loosely coupled systems approach? Does Providence Equity Partner’s purchase of Blackboard for $1.64 billion make sense to you? On the Student Information Services (SIS) side is SunGard Higher Education Systems purchase by Hellman and Friedman LLC, a private equity company that already owns Datatel Inc good news for online learners? Will Hellman and Friedman (SIS) and Providence Equity (LMS) play together to create a unified edtech campus?

Is it possible for people to be addicted to their digital devices? Or is that as ridiculous as saying people who are overweight are addicted to knives, forks, and spoons?

If online learning is growing so fast and becoming increasingly core to both on campus and online education offerings why do so few institutions have an educational technology and online learning strategic plan?

Do you want to ask me a question? Do you think these questions make a profile of me? Are you curious how I’ll use your answers?

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This post is inspired by Padgett Powell’s novel “The Interrogative Mood” in which every sentence is a question.



Professional Development Events and the E-learning Amoeba

I’ve been busy lately helping plan, organize, fund, and facilitate a number of events. I was thinking this morning about how they collectively convey an array of current e-learning trends. Here are the events so you can see what I mean:

I sometimes imagine e-learning as an amoeba. The entire outer membrane of an amoeba is expandable. At any given moment in time one or more areas of the membrane push out into pseudopods moving the amoeba forward and engulfing food for sustenance.

 

Like an amoeba, e-learning has an expandable outer membrane. At any given moment trends push out moving e-learning forward, bumping in to barriers, acquiring sustenance in the form of knowledge on what works and what doesn’t, determining where to go next. I think of e-learning users (students, teachers, tutors, faculty, etc.) as the ectoplasm particles inside e-learning’s membrane. As a critical mass of users builds and presses outward e-learning’s membrane expands and moves, its’ future defined by all those within. The events I’ve been participating in each represent a current trend pushing out e-learning’s flexible membrane.

So, here’s a bit more on these e-learning events. All of them are happening over a two month period from April 4, 2011 through June 4, 2011. The school year has a certain rhythm and these months are one of the phases in the year when professional development can happen. The number of people participating in these events ranges from 30 to over 400. The cumulative number participating in them all is well over a thousand. Events like these require extensive planning, design and production. Its a bit like putting on a theatrical production. It’s impossible for me to give a complete synopsis of each event but within each event I’ll describe some of the areas of motion and action that are pushing e-learning’s membrane and a few of the ways I’ve contributed.

 

Privacy and Cloud-based Educational Technology

My colleague Tori Klassen did a fantastic job with this event and I enjoyed helping facilitate the day.
Major themes:

  • cloud-based computing offers substantial benefits including cost effectiveness, ease of access, scaleability and reliability
  • educational access and use of cloud-based computing services based in the US requires personal data from users which due to the US Patriot Act infringes privacy laws of BC
  • cloud-based computing can still be utilized if students give permission and/or if identities are anonymized

Tori, wrote a great background paper on this topic which is available here.
A full conference report and summary of recommendations is available here.

Another related topic is the data mining of your personal interests by technology companies who then embed or present advertising to you that is customized to fit your interests. The amoeba video I use in this post is an interesting case in point. There is an embedded ad at the 10 second mark that generates an ad YouTube has determined fits your interests, Facebook does this by default too. I tried my darnedest to turn this ad off or find another clip I liked as much but to no avail. Nor is it easy to stop technology companies from tracking your interests without your approval. Reminds me of unsolicited marketing calls I get on my home phone number. Annoying and intrusive. On the other hand we’ve learned to tolerate a certain amount of this activity as we accept the fact that people have to earn a living.

 

Personalized Learning for the 21st Century

This event is organized to support discussions, networking and professional development around digital learning in BC’s K-12 education sector. The two major themes of 21st century digital literacy learning skills and personalized learning are current areas of focus. Close to one hundred sessions at this three day event explored all aspects of those themes. All sessions are listed on the conference web site.

I facilitated the closing panel of keynote speakers for this event. A closing plenary should encourage reflection, summarize overall experience, and suggest next steps. To draw these elements out of the panel and audience I asked them to consider:

  • what surprised you?
  • what inspired you?
  • what technologies, pedagogies, and resources did you hear about that you plan to further explore?
  • what did you learn that will help you personally in your work?

 

Canada Moodle Moot 2011

The Canada Moodle Moot happens every two years and this year I served on the program planning committee. The theme for the event was “Open Learning and Open Collaboration in Canada”.

I enjoyed organizing and participating in the opening keynote panel Talking About All Things Open and hearing Terry Anderson, Gavin Hendrick, and Stephen Downes elaborate on and explore some of the ideas I put forward with the University of Open.

The program planning committee for the Moodle Moot event had extensive discussions around the format and topic for the closing plenary. The original topic was to compare and contrast future development plans and product road maps for different learning management systems.

This got morphed to a broader topic – the future of eLearning. I’m a huge advocate of making events like this as active and inclusive as possible. I pushed for crowdsourcing ideas through multiple channels – via Twitter, via the Elluminate rooms where virtual delegates were, via discussion forum on the conference web site. Get ideas from the attendees and participants at the event. However, not all of the planning committee agreed with the idea of crowdsourcing the future of eLearning. Some were adamant that crowdsourcing the future of anything just doesn’t work. That got me to thinking …

  • Canada just had a federal election. Isn’t voting in a democracy a way of crowdsourcing parliamentary representatives for the future, or at least for the next four years?
  • What if we could crowdsource ideas on the future of eLearning at the Moodle Moot. Would those ideas be any less interesting or insightful than calling on a single keynote speaker to present their views on this topic?
  • In any adult education scenario isn’t it true that every participant brings with them expertise, and that the cumulative pooling and sharing of that expertise creates a powerful learning environment where the sum of the whole far exceeds what the teacher could provide on their own?

In the end the planning committee decided to proceed with crowdsourcing the future of eLearning which we did by asking delegates to write down their idea(s) on a piece of paper and tick off which of the following areas of eLearning their ideas pertained to:

  • tools and technologies
  • learning theories and pedagogies
  • content authoring and sourcing
  • instructional design
  • teaching and learning methods
  • evaluation, assessment, and credentialing

All ideas were then collected in a box.

The night before the closing plenary I mapped all the future of eLearning ideas submitted onto a giant poster (click on poster below to open .pdf version). The ideas submitted seem to loosely fall in to categories of Global, Students, Pedagogy, Teachers, Technology and Credentials. The Global category was particularly fascinating as there really wasn’t a tick box for this category but ideas relating to eLearning’s future being global came out anyway. Some ideas could have been placed in multiple categories. Some ideas are similar and can be grouped together creating a source of critical mass. I was totally impressed with the cumulative range of ideas delegates came up with. In my view, yes, you can crowdsource the future of eLearning.

Most events like this provide keynote presenters with thank you gifts. This year the Moodle Moot went with Oxfam Unwrapped gifts where the thank-you gift helps women and men in developing countries reach greater levels of self-sufficiency and control over their lives. I received two thank you gifts – Plant 50 Trees and Give a Flock. Very interesting approach.

 

Online Community Enthusiasts

The SCoPE online community brings together individuals who share an interest in educational research and practice. Sylvia Currie, the awesome steward of SCoPE, once a year organizes an Online Community Enthusiasts Day. This event is for all community coordinators, hosts, moderators, and everybody else interested in learning more about cultivating and sustaining online communities. It provides a gathering place to share resources, experiences, and opportunities. The theme for this years Online Community Enthusasts day was “Planning Excellent Community Events”. Since this event is all about excellent community events, a big part of the day involved experimenting with ways to enhance participation, share artefacts, and harvest what we learn.
Activities during the day included:

  • Fish Bowl
  • Open Space
  • Planning an online symposium to launch a community
  • Increasing participation by diversifying tools
  • Commitment Wall/Time Capsule

I really enjoyed meeting and working with fellow online community enthusiasts. Fantastic to see the energy and enthusiasm of all the up and coming online community leaders. It’s always interesting to hear the diverse range of uses online communities are being used for – climate action, mental health, education, religion, … A community of practice can form around almost any shared interest.

This is the first event I’ve ever participated in that came with a disclaimer:
Disclaimer: Since this excellent community event is about exploring possibilities and experimenting wildly, we make no promises that the day will run smoothly! 🙂

 

Just Instructional Design Networking Event

The JustID group brings together individuals who are working as instructional designers within a variety of fields/educational sector groups (e.g., K-12, public sector, private, post-secondary). Instructional design has become increasingly important and its great to see this group getting together to share ideas, challenges, and best practices in instructional design. The themes for this years event were:

  • Emerging trends/changes in the field of Instructional Design
  • Impact of the recent changes/trends in Instructional Design (both in definition and in practice)

Five different topics were discussed in round table discussions that rotated every 20 minutes so everyone could discuss every topic.
The five topics were:

  • Innovation/creativity and instructional design
  • Social media, Web 2.0 and instructional design
  • Mobile learning and instructional design
  • Future of instructional design including instructional design for open learning and place-based learning instructional design
  • Designing for learning environments that aren’t courses (communities of practice, personal learning environments)

Dr. Tony Bates, a renowned expert in the field of educational technology and e-learning, did a fantastic job of capturing key ideas and providing a wrap-summary with a good dose of analysis and personal take away’s. Tony’s got a new book just coming out and I can’t wait to read it:

 

Open 4 Learning

It’s my distinct pleasure to work with BC’s Educational Technology Users Group in designing and hosting two workshop/conferences every year. Workshops are held at different BC public post secondary institution campuses every year. The Open4Learning workshop is being held beginning of June at Selkirk College in the Kootenays.

The theme for the workshop revolves around “Open”. Open and free tools, resources, and learning opportunities abound, but how are we integrating them into our work? What new skills are needed? What challenges are we facing? What value does open provide? What are the costs and risks?
The event invites exploration of questions in the following 4 streams.

1. Open, Free, & Alternative Teaching & Learning

  • Open Professional & Faculty Development: How do you choose which events to participate in? What formal and informal learning opportunities exist and are the best? How/have you and your colleagues given back to the educational community?
  • MOOCs (Massive Open Online Course): Tales from the field – what’s your experience in MOOCs?
  • Teaching & Learning in the Cloud: Has cloud computing improved the way we share and collaborate? How are you using the cloud to learn or to teach?
  • Open/Free/Alternative Assignments: What are students doing besides traditional academic essays? Are students doing work “in the open”? What about assessment?
  • Alternative Formats for Presentation/Facilitation/Teaching Formats: Let’s talk about blends, baby! (synchronous/asynchronous)
  • Designing 4 Open? How/is this same/different? What are instructional/course designers doing to design
  • Impact of Open/ness

2. Open, Free, & Alternative Technologies

  • Tool-specific: Moodle, WordPress, cloud tools…? Specific sessions on specific free/open and open source tools.

3. Open Educational Resources (OERs)

  • What is your experience with OERs? Are you sharing? Are you using others’ stuff?
  • What’s really going on with your OER project? Tell us more!

4. Open or Not?: Privacy and other issues

  • How are we dealing with issues around privacy in a world moving increasingly towards openness, sharing and transparency?
  • What is the impact of the recent announcements to privacy legislation for learning? What are you doing/not doing at your institution because of privacy concerns?
  • What are the barriers of open, free, alternatives approaches to teaching and learning? Solutions/options?
  • Is our increased use of open technologies changing our attitudes towards privacy? How?

The resulting program and schedule is posted here.
I’m looking forward to doing a design session around the University of Open and co-presenting the North American Network of Science Labs Online.

In the spirit of openness everyone has been invited to participate in a crowd-sourced video keynote.
The vision is to create a keynote video that highlights the collective voice on the value of openness.

Here’s what we asked everyone to do:

Create a short video/interview/montage answering one or two of the following questions:

1. What is the value of openness?

2. What examples of openness stand out to you as being valuable/worthwhile?

3. WHY do you believe in the value of open education?

I put together the following short video around the first question addressing the value of open.

Given these events are about educational technology and online learning they increasingly involve multi-modal delivery where some of the face-to-face activities and presentations taking place on site are webcast or web streamed over the Internet allowing those unable to travel to still actively participate and benefit. I’m a big fan of using technology like this to expand participation and have been very active in facilitating the online activities. I increasingly believe these multi-modal delivery activities need way more intentional design – it doesn’t work so well just tacked on to the existing face-to-face event as an add on.

I recommend Terry and Lynn Anderson’s book “Online Conferences – Professional Development for a Networked Era” as a good overview of how this is done and the various factors that should be considered.

Finally these events take a lot of people to produce. I’m tempted to name names and personally thank them all but the list would be like rolling credits at the end of a movie. So let me just say I sure enjoy working collaboratively on these events and deeply appreciate the creative effort of all involved. It’s great fun working with you all pushing e-learning’s flexible membrane forward like an amoeba.