The randomness of intelligent design
Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.

—Steve Jobs[1]

Open design refers to the creation and development of potentially meaningful learning experiences through open and transparent collaboration among course developers and peers using open educational resources, open educational practices and open technologies.

OER design and development begins with a simple premise that it is more productive and sustainable to reuse and remix existing resources than to create new ones from scratch. It requires an agile disposition to assemble learning pathways which utilise existing OER and open access resources to support the learner’s journey in attaining the learning outcomes. The OER design process is highly iterative. Unlike production-line models found at many open distance learning institutions which develop a “master design plan” which provides detailed direction of the development, the OER design process accepts that we are more open to iterative change as the development process progresses. It draws on the experiences of open source software development.

Eric Raymond compared the differences between open and closed models of software development in his seminal text, The Cathedral and the Bazaar (1999). The cathedral represents the detailed planning and closed development of proprietary software, where users only get to see the functionality and features between major releases and the code developed between releases is restricted to an exclusive group of developers. The bazaar references an approach where all code is developed on the Internet in view of the public. Raymond proposed that “given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow” which he terms Linus’s Law named in honor of Linus Torvalds who led the development of the kernel of the GNU/Linux open source operating system.[2]

The OERu provides an example of a design and development model which is distinctively open. The entire process from initial course nominations, to preparing design blueprints and developing the course resources is conducted openly on the Internet for all to see and participate in. This open approach facilitates more iterative design and development because the design documentation becomes a living document and the open education community can assist with peer review and refinements.

Comparison of open design and development and traditional instructional design

In the formal education sector, the concept of open design and development as well as the OERu project have few comparable
precedents. DeVries (2013) provides a conceptualisation of these concepts in comparison with traditional instructional
design in the table below.

Aspect Open design and development Traditional instructional design
Participants Volunteer – either individual or institutional through contributions in kind Normally paid, institutionally based
Makeup of design team Volunteers from global open education community – individuals or institutional Usually from within one organisation
Roles of the design team members Varied, overlapping More clearly circumscribed
Content copyright Open licensing for course materials but may link to open access materials with some rights reserved Mostly rights reserved
Content versions Multiple simultaneous Single official version
Intended learners Multiple constituencies, many unknown in advance Predefined
Design processes Iterative and recursive involving volunteer contributions Formal design processes
Authoring environment Generally open source software with detailed version control for open collaboration Generally proprietary or closed environments
Delivery environment Multiple options incorporating Personal Learning Environments and based on those used by member institutions, e.g. blogs, wikis, learning management systems, static websites and social media platforms Usually a single dedicated enterprise platform, e.g. BlackBoard, Moodle

Note: Adapted from DeVries (2013)[3]


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Reflection on the comparison of open design with traditional models

What do you consider to be the strengths and weaknesses of the open design model? If you have experience in either traditional or open developments, you could focus in a little on those roles and experiencse.

Share you thoughts on this question on WEnotes below, OERu forums or Twitter. For example:

  • Strength: Open design ….. #ds4oer
  • Weakness: Open design ….. #ds4oer
  • Other comments?

(If using WEnotes, you do not need to explicitly add the tag to your post.)

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Describing open design

The concept of open design extends the principles of openness beyond OER materials themselves to include open planning, open design and open development of courses.



Open design refers to the dynamic processes for open collaborative design and development of OER learning materials. It draws on the open source software development model to facilitate rapid prototyping and continuous feedback and improvement loops.

In contrast to course development by a sole individual or dedicated team, the open design approach is characterised by:

  1. Participants and teams constituting themselves in self-selected roles using collaborative processes. Anyone is free to volunteer and contribute to the process.
  2. A highly iterative design and development process, where people with different skill sets including learning designers, subject matter experts, language editors and technologists work simultaneously rather than using a production line model with discrete division of labour.
  3. A public record of all planning and communications. For example, creating a node page for planning the development in a wiki and using the corresponding discussion pages or posts to email lists with public access to the archives.
  4. Collaborative authoring technologies which maintain a detailed edit history.
  5. Group decision-making informed by rough consensus and running code, a term coined by David Clark, a computer scientist. In open design, this means that the active collaborators tap into the “sense of the group” at a given time to prioritise practical implementation knowing that the open model facilitates continuous improvement. In a rough consensus model, a majority agreement (i.e. 51%) of all listed participants is not required. In open design, it is better to have a working draft than an elaborate master plan.


  2. Raymond, Eric S. (1999). The Cathedral and the Bazaar: Musings on Linux and Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary. O’Reilly Media. p. 30.
  3. DeVries, I. 2013. Open Course Design and Development: A Case Study in the Open Educational Resource University. PhD Thesis. Simon Fraser University.