Open Learning – leveraging the web for collaboration

This is a moodle book I’ve put together to give people an introduction to open learning at UPEI… It still needs some work… but there it is.

This topic considers the concept open learning and explores how being open as an educator can increase the chances for collaboration, access to knowledge and promote lifelong learning in students.

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Open Learning – leveraging the web for collaboration

Printed by:
dave cormier

Wednesday, 15 September 2010, 09:48 PM

Table of Contents

1 Introduction to open learning

The term ‘open’, when seen broadly, essentially refers to the idea of sharing. It may be that the content of a given course is being shared, it might be the learning methods or perhaps the course itself.

Why should I care?

  1. Access to resources – There are thousands of resources out there for most disciplines freely available for reuse. This can lead to more interesting classes and reduced preparation time.
  2. Access to new approaches – there is, at any given time, likely an educator struggling and overcoming the same issues in the classroom. Much can be learned from reading and participating in their experiences.
  3. Access to new educational experiences – open courses (free to access) have started around a number of topics. This fall, PLENK2010 is studying the research and practice around the usage of PLEs (personal learning environments) and PLNs (personal learning networks) in an educational context.
2 What do you mean by Open

What is openness?

Openness is not a panacea. It will not suddenly teach students or spread ‘good’ education, nor is it free of cultural baggage. There is a vast amount of money currently being spent on open education and some kind of return is expected, even if it is not to be the direct return of actual clients purchasing the content. Many of these projects also seem to exhibit a potentially different kind of openness, and suggest that there are different degrees and ways in which a given piece of content or educational experience can be considered as open. With the language of educational openness now reaching the national level with major OER projects in the UK and Canada the field appears to be moving into the mainstream.

The moniker of openness – like its much maligned cousin ‘free’ – comes in many guises. With the word free, as in free software, we might call it free because the user (as in the case of gmail) does not need to spend any money to use the product. The software is free from inherent monetary charge, but it does have hidden costs in the permission given to Google to search your email data and the subliminal viewing of advertising – an activity that most corporations would have to pay money for. Free, in the sense that The Free Software Foundations uses the word, means that it is not owned by anyone and it is not bound by any licensing that restricts what someone would like to do with it. It is also, usually, free of charge. In common usage both are “free”, but in practice they are very different things.

Openness suffers from the same confusion. A thing can be open in the sense that you may use or interact with the product of a process created by a university. This might be called OER as ‘project’. This is the sense in which Open Educational Resources like the ones at OpenLearn and MIT’s Open Course Ware OCW are open. Rebecca Attwood’s article in the Times Higher (September 2009) mentions that the tuition at MIT costs $36000 a year and claims that this is the worth of the OCW project to its users. Elsewhere in the article she reports that MIT found “it would be impossible to transfer the kind of education it provided on campus to an online environment.” This kind of openness bears a striking resemblance to the kind of software that you can get free of charge. You get access to the cold hard facts of the course, not the heart and soul.

Another kind of openness, OER as ‘practice’, opens up the learning process to the scrutiny of the watcher. It is transparent rather than free of charge. The work done by Alec Couros at the University of Regina (Couros, 2009), and the MOOCs that are being taught at the University of Manitoba, are excellent examples of these (Cormier, 2008b). In these cases, the classes are open for people not only to read the content and the syllabus, but these visitors can be part of the learning process. The role of the institution becomes one of accreditation.

See Dave Cormier, “Open Educational Resources: The Implications for Educational Development,” Dave’s Educational Blog, November 24, 2009,

3 Open Content – Free stuff you can use

The first question that people have about ‘free’ content is – how do I know that it is any good? If they are giving the content away, it must not be worth anything. There is some truth in this… when MIT began giving away their content in 2001 they did so upon the realization that they could not make any money with it. This is an important distinction. There is a difference between things that have ‘worth’ and things with which ‘money can be made’.

The content available online from educational institutions, individual educators and students can have a great degree of value to those using it. There may not be, however, a business model with which those institutions or individuals could make a living selling that content. In some cases, particularly in the case of individual, they do not wish to make money from the content.

The list of Open repositories on wikipedia is a great place to start.

4 Open Teaching

The opening up of the teaching process is an important dimension of openness in education more broadly. Increasingly, educators are able to share and participate in the trials and successes of their fellow educators as they tweet and blog about their work. This process can be as simple as posting ideas for the classroom or as profound as posting daily reflections on the successes and failures of different approaches.

See Alec Couros Open course

Some of my own work opening up an edfutures course

5 Open Courses

In an open course, participants engage at different levels of the educator’s practice, whether that be helping to develop a course or participating in the live action of the course itself. This is distinctly different from the idea of open in the open content movement, where open is used in the sense of being free from the intellectual property stipulations that restrict the use and reuse of content. The distinction between openness in practice and openness in content is significant in cost as well. Creating content requires time, effort, and resources and opens up numerous discussions around intellectual property rights. However, openness in practice requires little additional investment, since it essentially concerns transparency of already planned course activities on the part of the educator.

The PLENK2010 course running this fall is an excellent example of an open course available to participate in both as a participant or to get a sense of how this kind of course works. Feel free to join the course, or lurk alongside by going to the PLENK2010 home page.

Here’s a larger list of open courses from The Chronicle of Higher Education

6 What you can do right away.

  1. Start a blog on to share you work with others in your field by sending an email to
  2. Check out the most famous open content project at MIT. Here’s one on Musculoskeletal Pathophysiology
  3. Find work done by other professionals from your field through the open content links available here.
  4. Join the PLENK2010 course to get a sense of what an open course looks like
  5. Here’s a larger list of open courses from The Chronicle of Higher Education
  6. Here is an introduction to OER from the wikiversity project

Author: dave

I run this site... among other things.

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