Cengage and OER Podcast Series: Two steps forward and one step back

Last fall I wrote about Cengage, one of the big three publishers for higher education, sponsoring and releasing a survey on Open Education Resources (OER). The survey headline:

Open Educational Resources (OER) in higher education have the potential to triple in use as primary courseware over the next five years, from 4 percent to 12 percent, according to a survey of more than 500 faculty by Cengage Learning. In addition, the use of OER for supplemental learning materials may nearly quadruple in size, from 5 percent to 19 percent.

But the hidden headline could have been viewed by skeptics as “a publisher fully interested in OER – what’s the catch?”. As time goes on, it is looking more and more like there is no catch other than Cengage promoting OER and trying to understand the nature of OER internally while sharing those lessons. Today’s news is that on the company’s OER resource page they have launched a new podcast series titled “Journey to OER”.

In this podcast series various academics are interviewed about their experiences with OER – what was the motivation, what have they learned, what are the limitations of OER. And get this, the material is not a soft-marketing pitch for MindTap or any of the company’s products, nor is it oversimplification of OER = free textbooks. Based on the first episode, the podcast straight up discusses OER and its role in enabling sharing and knowledge development.


This interest in trying to understand and promote OER by a publisher should not come as a surprise, however. As Michael wrote back in in 2014:

It is absolutely true that textbook publishers do not currently see OER as a major threat. But here’s a weird thing that is also true:

These days, many textbook publishers like OER.

Let me start with the full disclosure. For 18 months, I was an employee of Cengage Learning, one of the Big Three textbook publishers in US higher education. Since then, I have consulted for textbook publishers on and off. Pearson is a current client, and there have been others. Make of that what you will in terms of my objectivity on this subject, but I have been in the belly of the beast. I have had many conversations with textbook publisher employees at all levels about OER, and many of them truly, honestly like it. They really, really like it. As a rule, they don’t understand it. But some of them actually see it as a way out of the hole that they’re in.

Fast forward to my post about the Fall 2016 survey [emphasis added]:

According to [VP of Content Strategy] Costantini, the reason Cengage did this study is that in their view OER is another type of content, and there are high-level conversations at schools about adoption. Costantini described Cengage as making a move for a while to not be as proprietary, with the MindTap platform as an example where multiple content types – proprietary and OER – can be combined or used individually. Cengage views themselves as excellent curators, and OER content fits into this view. They want to accelerate this shift, and internally they need to better understand the dynamics of OER usage.

And this new podcast fits in the same mold. Cengage does not fully understand OER, but they seem to like it and see it as a way to help them out of a hole, and while they learn more, the company is sharing their learnings through surveys, resource pages, and podcasts.

Hey Phil, why don’t you embed and share the damn podcast episode?

Excellent question, and the answer involves the reality that Cengage does not fully understand the nature of OER, yet. The podcast is only available on their OER resource page, with no deep links, sharing or embedding options. The player is built-in in a manner to drive traffic through their site. And this in a page about OER.[1]

Might I suggest that Cengage add a resource to David Wiley’s “5 Rs of Openness”[2] :

The 5Rs of Openness

– Retain – the right to make, own, and control copies of the content
– Reuse – the right to use the content in a wide range of ways (e.g., in a class, in a study group, on a website, in a video)
– Revise – the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself (e.g., translate the content into another language)
– Remix – the right to combine the original or revised content with other open content to create something new (e.g., incorporate the content into a mashup)
– Redistribute – the right to share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others (e.g., give a copy of the content to a friend)

Read it, learn it, live it. Trust me, it will help you on your journey, Cengage. But kudos once again for working to understand and to promote OER for the good of the community.

Update: Good for Cengage. Two people have alerted me that you can now share / embed the podcast episode. And one indicated that future content in resource page will be released with CC-BY license.

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  1. This feels analogous to setting up a learning center about renewable energy and powering the displays with individual diesel generators. []
  2. Disclosure: David’s company Lumen Learning is a client of MindWires. []

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About Phil Hill

Phil is a consultant and industry analyst covering the educational technology market primarily for higher education. He has written for e-Literate since Aug 2011. For a more complete biography, view his profile page.
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2 Responses to Cengage and OER Podcast Series: Two steps forward and one step back

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