Open Learning – what i have learned.

Ten years ago
Ten years ago, I started using discussion forums as a method for my students to collaborate on their writing. I started using the discussion forums because i had 275 writing students and was psychological incapable of keeping track of the paper associated with that in order to cope with my first job (at a university) that involved keeping track of student numbered grades.

I set up a discussion forum (on a server kindly donated by jeff lebow) and just set up places for students to add their initial writing pieces and allowed them to post as much as they wanted. What i noticed, almost immediately, was that the quality of student writing increased dramatically immediately. Not over the first few months or weeks… but right away. Also, I had some students who wrote 150 entries over that first term. Come to talk to the students and think about it a bit I came to these not too terribly shocking conclusions.

Hypothesis 1 – Making work public makes it better
Working in public makes students think twice about what they are contributing. Maybe for some of them its the audience available, maybe for others its because they don’t want to be embarrassed. There may be any number of reasons, but the work is better.

Hypothesis 2 – Some students like to work
Some students (not many) just want to work alot… and using an open space allows them to work as hard as they want to.

Five years ago
In the intervening time I worked around these two hypotheses, tried to perfect some ideas about them, but basically just used them more. I found moodle, which was a public/private solution that was much easier to manage, and allowed me to dodge the ‘everyone can see it’ problem that had been posed to me by some of my colleagues.

Five years ago, I started a webcast with Jeff (same guy). We started edtechtalk as another shot at seeing what could be done with audio online along some ideas jeff has about ‘homegrown webcasting’ and community. Edtechtalk has grown over the last five years, the community has probably done 1000 webcasts, we have a bunch of people registered to our newsletter and the community pretty much runs itself.

I quickly realised that i was learning more, just by being part of that community, than any other educational experience I’d had (with the possible exception of starting my first business…). I started reading and writing about what that meant, for people to just come together, without a specific plan, and learning on a regular basis, and that lead to all the crazy rhizome stuff you see on this blog.

hypothesis 3 – The community can be the curriculum
Planning the content of what you are going to learn is not necessary. The community that you are engaged in can be your curriculum.

Two years ago
Two years ago, I taught a course for UPEI called Educational technology and the adult learning (ed366). I got a chance to try out the ‘work out in the open’ and the community as curriculum in that kind of face to face way where you can really get a sense of what’s happening. I put a significant amount of work trying to create a space where students could ‘create a curriculum together’. It kinda worked, and then they stopped using it.

I had been having a suspicion about technology from my day job and from my own work online. I didn’t think that you could teach any of the practical applications of technology to people, that eventually, guided or not, they just have to take over the learning on their own.

Hypothesis 4 – Students need to own their workspace.
Students need to own their working space. Any time you control the location of people’s work, they will not integrate the work they’ve done into their future learning.

Hypothesis 5 – Adults can learn quickly
Adult learners do not need to be slowly guided to new learning. You can throw them into the deep end. It forces a commitment, a responsibility and greatly accelerates learning.

In the last year
In the last year I’ve had a chance to teach the #ed366 course again, taught a very interesting course on ‘futures’ in Singapore and have done a number of massive open online courses. I also taught an online course in french on emerging tech which did not go as planned. In each of these situations I’ve had a chance to try out some of the hypotheses that are outlined here.

One of the biggest advantages of openness (and it is one of the things that connects all of the points here) is the messiness of the process. It allows for the unexpected good and bad, to pop into a learning scenario. It approximates real life in a way that is sadly lacking from the majority of our educational encounters. There is some relationship, i think, between that desire for ‘clean’ and the prominence of the ‘print’ in our society. When you are freed from the final product, in your curriculum as well as elsewhere, it allows you to do alot more iterative learning.

Most importantly, there seems to be a direct correlation to how open a course is and how much the learning continues when the course formally ends.

Hypothesis 6 – Dealing with learner passivity is critical
learners are trained to be passive. it can be very difficult to break that pattern… mostly it just takes telling them over and over again. If you’re teaching online ‘persistent presence’ is critical for making this happen. Even people who are convinced that they are responsible for their learning, will forget and fall back to not knowing what is expected of them.

Hypothesis 7 – print controls our learning
The historical roots and technologies of print (as in on paper) have a profound controlling influence on how we see education. Deconstructing that allows learning to be iterative, reflexive and and more like life.


Hypothesis 8 – Openness leads to life long learning

The more open a course is, the more students are involved in real communities and real discussions, talking to real people in their field, the more likely they will be to continue the learning they’ve started in a course.

I’m sure there are more parts to this, and I think I’ll break this out into a longer piece that explains these in detail and allows me to ADD MORE (as this blog is pretty print like in the way that it finishes when i’m done) But i think this is a nice summation of where i am in my thinking about learning right now.

Author: dave

I run this site… among other things.

29 thoughts on “Open Learning – what i have learned.”

  1. Hello Dave. I am going to comment on your “Hypothesis 5 – Adults can learn quickly”. I have some experience working with adults and have dedicated some time to observe how adults (with little computer abilities) developed new technological capacities. Though I agree with you when you say that “Adult learners do not need to be slowly guided to new learning”, I must say that it depends on prior knowledge. Since many adult learners are not familiar with modern technology, barriers to learning are still something to be considered. Throwing them into the deep end and expect success means that they have the necessary knowledge background to easily learn new things; if they don´t slow guide is probably needed to build that knowledge, depending on how much they do or do not know. I have noticed that adults are willing to learn new things only if they find them useful and depending on how much effort they have to put into learning. In some cases, help is needed to build the knowledge base and self-confidence the learner requires to go further. Technology is becoming more standardized and intuitive, therefore once he acquires the basics and understands the uses of technology in the real world, he becomes more committed to learning new things by himself. Not necessarily quicker, though.

  2. Hi Dave

    Valuable stuff, great reflection and one that will resonate with many, no doubt.

    The ‘dealbreaker’ (for yours truly at least):
    “Desire for ‘clean’ … freedom from the final product, in your curriculum as well as elsewhere allows you to do alot more iterative learning.” [and with it becoming] YES!

    Things that are most valued and treasured in our lives are indeed iterative, messy, uncertain, fluid anyway. Always.

    To be creative and think, enact in freer ways and remain suspicious, while not always dismissive, of ‘Cartesian’ certainty of abstract, empirical, universal (I still want the bridge I travel on to stand strong, medicine I give my child to work…) and push for experimentation meaningful to different people differently is something that freaks out so many people. That is, until you casually ask them something like: “Is there an ideal way to be a parent?” (that one works a treat 😀 )

    Thanks for all your stuff Dave, you’ve been breaking the hype, unreflective zealotry AND doom-and-gloom of ed-tech so well for years. Rock on!

    PS Skyped re Community Hubs via Moodle at UPEI some time ago. Still interested? Cheers

  3. Thanks for this post Dave.

    I think some of what you are describing is more to do with open teaching, but the post itself is a good example of a summary of your open learning. To me, Open Learning is sharing my (subjective) learning experience as it happens, building the feedback I get from others in to that learning process. That is (or would be!) greatly aided by people using open teaching methods, but I think there is room to identify the two as distinct.

    I see 1, 2 as being about Open Learning, per se, whereas 3-7 are about open teaching, and 8 is perhaps a philosophical reflection or ideological position – one with which I agree.

    I am particularly interested in 3 and its adaptation, or possibly corollary, for what I would see as Open Learning. As an open teaching point, it has its own merit; let the community decide what is to be learned, providing a flexible and pragmatic approach to educational goals. For the individual, though, this fits well with my recent thinking, that *I* need to be deciding what to learn, and as part of that process I need to work out *why* I want to learn it, and what benefits it will bring (or not). The community is made up of lots of individual learners, and they all need to make their own decisions; and making those decisions is part of the learning process.

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