Charles Linsmeier

Citizens or Tourists: Macmillan Learning, Intellus Open Courses, & the Open Education Community

Blog Post created by Charles Linsmeier Employee on Mar 5, 2018

Every February, major league ballplayers report to Spring Training for their first workouts. For fans the world over, it marks the beginning of a new season of baseball and with it the rush of memories from years past. As an avid Chicago Cubs fan, one memory persists: the place where I watched Game 7 of the 2016 World Series, a victory that led to the first World Series title by the beleaguered franchise in 108 years. To my luck, I was fixated on the big screens at the Home Team Grill in Richmond, VA, surrounded by Chicagoland diaspora, where I happened to be attending my first Open Education conference. My colleagues’ and my interest in Open Educational Resources (OER) began earlier, but OpenEd 2016 was the first time I spent so much time with members of the Open Education community, advocates in classrooms, libraries, and administrative offices, and many people like me, still trying to figure out what OER really is. Most importantly, it was the first time I was exposed to the values that underpin the Open Education community.


On a Path to Being Good Actors


Recently, Macmillan Learning (where I have been employed for seventeen years) launched Intellus Open Courses. I have been fortunate to play a role in their development alongside a team at Intellus Learning that has made great effort to ask questions, learn, and appreciate the values of the Open Education community in the context of the products and services that we might develop. As a commercial company, this is not an effort that is viewed without skepticism, nor is it something that we believe anyone will take for granted. It is nonetheless a commitment that we have made to ourselves.


To that end, we have taken steps that we believe put us on a path towards being good actors in the Open Education community, perhaps one day good citizens of it. Intellus Open Courses are one vehicle for that journey. First, let me say a few words about Intellus Open Courses and the Intellus Learning platform. Our mission with Intellus Open Courses is to support the advancement of learning through the adoption of high-quality, OER-populated courses. These courses are developed by expert curation from Macmillan editors and subject matter experts, supported by our implementation team, and advanced by engagement analytics. Intellus Open Courses leverage Intellus Learning, a platform that indexes over 60 content repositories aggregating over 5.4 million free and open resources for higher education with powerful search, discovery, and organizational tools to customize and develop courses. It provides transparency into licensing, accessibility, user-generated rankings, and source information. For institutional licensees of the platform, which is not a condition to adopt an Intellus Open Course, Intellus Learning can index and surface library content that has already been acquired by the institution (in addition to OER), and deliver it to the fingertips of instructors developing a new course or adapting an Intellus Open Course. Put together, an institution that uses Intellus Learning has a searchable system of record of OER and institution licensed content to efficiently deploy for instructors’ use in their classrooms.


No Walled Gardens When It Comes to OER


Intellus Open Courses and the Intellus Learning platform provide means to solve two of the biggest issues preventing widespread adoption of OER: finding high-quality resources that best serve an institution’s curriculum with the flexibility to support the way that each instructor wants to teach it; and evaluating the effectiveness of that content towards student outcomes of learning and engagement.


But supporting services that add value to OER means little if the OER content itself is walled off from use. Students and other instructors shouldn’t be restricted from accessing content in an Intellus Open Course that they could freely find elsewhere on their own. To that end, we are committed to taking steps that we feel will put us in better alignment with the values of the Open Education community.


  • We understand the importance of the 5Rs and to us it starts with being able to Retain, Reuse, and Redistribute content. Links to open content curated for Intellus Open Courses will be made available on our public website: no passwords, no paywall.
  • At the same time, we value agency to Revise or Remix content, even content that we create ourselves. Content that Macmillan Learning develops specifically for an Intellus Open Course will be shared under a Creative Commons-Attribution (CC-BY) license.


Our Mission Is Greater than Our Courses


With each day, it seems another commercial company is angling for entrance into the emerging marketplace for OER-related services; at Macmillan, we would like to be entrants into the expanding open education conversation. What will be the role of commercial companies in the Open Education community? Is there a path to citizenship or will they remain little more than tourists? What are the attributes of OER-enhanced products and services that warrant payment from an institution or student? How will we manage the integrity of assessment content under open licensing? In what ways can OER contribute to effective learning and at what scale? How can OER and complementary content and services contribute not only to access and affordability but demonstrably influence student success, advancement, and improve time to graduation? And how can we evaluate our assumptions with transparency? Candidly, much is still to be learned. But we will continue to engage with members of the Open Education community to inform us as we continue this journey. We know that citizenship is not acquired in a single day, it can only be earned over time.


Another season of baseball is ahead of us and like seasons before each team will have to prove itself day in and day out. There is no reason to think we won’t have to do the same at Macmillan Learning. Once again I look forward to concluding the season at the annual Open Education conference. Hopefully, come year end, Macmillan Learning and other commercial companies that are trying to align their efforts with the values of the Open Education community will have more to be excited about than perhaps another Chicago Cubs World Series title.




Charles Linsmeier is senior vice president, content strategy at Macmillan Learning, where he manages the social science, curriculum solutions, and high school programs. He has worked on various educational technology products, including Macmillan’s LaunchPad, Sapling Learning, and FlipIt; initiatives focused on assessment and student engagement, economic and science literacy, and evidence-based learning. A Cubs fan since his early years growing up in southeast Wisconsin, he joined Macmillan in 2000.