I’ve been thinking a lot lately about open learning and with Open Education Week coming up, thought it would be a good time to explore this in more detail.

To be clear, I am not talking about open educational resources (OER), but rather open learning practices. (Is there a common term people are using for this? Open learning? Open pedagogy? Open practice?)

In my mind, this area is somewhat loosely defined, but may be at the heart of why “open” is important.

I’m thinking aloud here, but I think that open practice includes things such as:

  • Learner choice and flexibility
    This is all about learner agency. In an open learning environment, the learners have authentic choice over what they do both in terms of process and product, and they act in a way that is self-directed. By definition, this means that not every student is doing the same thing at the same time. It precludes things like standardization, whole group direct instruction, and scripted, paced lessons.
  • Collaboration and sharing
    Open practice is about drawing upon and sharing with others. Not only do open learners share their process and end products, but they draw on others in the community and beyond to help formulate and shape their learning. This connectivism makes learning deeper and richer.
  • Transparency and open access
    Open learning is done in a way that is quite literally “in the open.” Anyone is welcome to participate. It isn’t done behind a firewall or a log-in screen. It is publicly viewable and inclusive. (This makes me wonder about an equity component to open learning.)

Elements of open learning probably exist in every learning environment, but increasingly, it seems that many formal learning structures are going more toward closed. I worry that this not only hinders learning, but doesn’t prepare students for the real world. In a world that is constantly changing and requires more critical thinking and self-directed learning skills, the rote facts learned in a closed learning environment may not be very helpful.

This makes me wonder if open learning also has something to do with content. To me, open learning is about learning how to learn, how to think, how to design, how to iterate, and how to collaborate. It is not about memorizing facts that aren’t relevant or that can just as easily be looked up somewhere.

I would love to hear others’ thoughts on this. What is the best terminology for this? (Hashtag, anyone?) What constitutes open learning? What are the benefits? How can we encourage more of it?

We’ll also be discussing this in several forums during Open Education Week, including on Teachers Teaching Teachers on Wed., March 11 at 9:00 pm ET. I hope you’ll join in the conversation there, here, on Twitter or on some other platform of your choice.

Thinking about open practice
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9 thoughts on “Thinking about open practice

  • February 25, 2015 at 1:10 pm

    If open learning fits the first of your bullets, then it falls outside what schools call curriculum. And it is certainly at odds with the Common Core.

    If that is true, then open learning will need to occur as an individual effort for K12 students. It may be that school staff will offer support, but it will be on top of their commitment to the school’s structured goals. I believe this support has long been available and happily given. It isn’t likely, though, that typical classroom activities were set aside to give the self-motivated learner time there in the class period.

    The teacher’s common role is to help make connections to experts or mentors when they, themselves, lack the skills needed to support the child’s direction. One good thing developing through online educator networking is the chance to find remote support when a local mentor isn’t easy to find.

  • February 26, 2015 at 10:16 am

    Interesting fodder for thought and conversation, Algot.

    While I think open learning may be at odds with how many (most?) schools are implementing Common Core curriculum, I don’t think it’s at odds with the Common Core standards themselves.

    The Common Core standards are just that — standards. They don’t say how to teach or even what to teach, but instead give milestones we are to reach.

    It does seem that many schools are taking a more “closed” approach to implementing the Common Core, including direct instruction and rigid pacing, but it doesn’t have to be that way. This seems to me sadly ineffective.

    However, I am quite certain that there are many who have reached these milestones through less closed approaches.

    In fact, I’d even go so far as to say that those standards might be more easily (and more deeply) achieved through a curriculum and learning environment that is more engaging, more self-directed, more open.

    I would love to hear others’ reactions to this.

  • February 26, 2015 at 10:29 am

    Rob, I really like this post. Thanks for sharing it.

    Mostly, I agreed with your qualities of open pedagogy. One that got me thinking though is “unmeasurable outcomes — Traditional outcome measurement implies the learning is static and closed.”

    I definitely agree that most assessment today is static and closed, corresponding to what is taught. However, I think that open learning can be “measured” and even that open learning can lead to strong measurable results on a variety of assessments.

    I am thinking about this as a part of my wondering about how we can promote more open learning. In today’s environment, assessment seems to be an inevitable component of that.

    Some questions to ponder:

    – What is the purpose of assessment, and how does that fit into open learning?
    – Does (or can) open learning lead to strong assessment result, even on more traditional/closed assessments?
    – How do we authentically measure open learning?

    This fits in well to the other discussion about Common Core. Again, I’d like to hear what others think.

  • February 26, 2015 at 10:36 am

    I definitely agree that we can “measure” learning. My point int he post was more to stimulate thunking about where we want to place our focus in the learning process and what/how we should attempt to measure.

    I am wary of terms such as competency that imply a close set of knowledge with an endpoint in mastery. I am more a fan of measurement strategies that evaluate progress and gaps (showing how far I’ve traveled and where I might want to go next).

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