What can open learning do for education?

The concept of Open Learning is such a departure from the traditional views of learning that it can seem too progressive, unrealistic, or futuristic for many teachers.  The transparency of open learning environments may also seem to be high risk and intimidating for teachers who are already under much scrutiny from administrators, parents, and other stakeholders in their communities.  On the other hand, “open learning encourages collaboration, connections, networked learning, and interdependence between educators and learners” (Graham, LaBonte, Roberts, O’Byrne, & Osterhout, 2014).  These characteristics suggest that open learning will fundamentally change what we know about learning and how we will experience learning in “formal” settings of education.  What makes open learning a more profound way to encourage these traits, is that theoretically ANY teacher and student can participate in an open learning environment; not only that, virtually anybody can be a part of that experience, not simply teachers and their students.  I get that this is probably exactly the reason for being cautious about participating in open learning experiences and environments but since our prompt this week is about the “promise” of open learning, it is worthwhile to consider the possibilities that will be afforded by this emerging form of transparent and accessible education.

The promise of open learning as an emerging technology, pedagogy, or philosophy for education is better understood by broadening our perspective and considering the social, cultural, economic, and political implications.  It’s not difficult to understand that educational reform will require changes in other aspects of society as well.  The social impact of open learning is that students will be able to connect with other learners, experts, and teachers on a scale that is overwhelming to comprehend.  The concept of “being in the open” is in itself an emerging idea that applies to several industries and content areas.  Some examples include (The Higher Education Academy/JISC, 2013):

  • Open source (relating to business and technology)
  • Open source software
  • Open source hardware
  • Open standards
  • Open access (research)
  • Open design
  • Open knowledge
  • Open data
  • Open content
  • Open courseware
  • Open educational resources
  • Open educational practice

The technology exists for students to engage with others across any content, distance, and increasingly time barriers.  Experts are more accessible than ever before, many choosing to “practice in the open” through social media and other mediums and the potential for educational equity for ALL is profound.

It’s easy to argue privacy, budgetary, and philosophical concerns when public education is the norm rather than a privilege.  But not all educational experiences are created equal and students are typically provided with access and resources based on what their school can afford or the policies that drive decision-making within their school districts.  We don’t have to look far in each community or school district to see the inequity in schools based on factors far beyond the ability of students and teachers to change.  Open learning is poised to disrupt all of this and allow historically marginalized people (of all ages) and communities to access the education of their choosing, at their convenience, for their own purposes.  The idea that everyone will be a learner and potentially “educate” others through sharing their learning is an incredible concept.

In the past, many alternative (to school) learning experiences were through hands-on internships, apprenticeships, and mentoring (art, trade, construction, etc.).  Today, we are already seeing some industries shake up the pre-existing value on formal education and begin to develop new practices, expectations, and standards for hiring and recruiting employees and experts.  Ironically, it’s the tech industry that has done this in the most dramatic way, placing a high value on self-taught professionals who have learned through collaborative information networks and who learn as they go depending on what they need to know.  Due to the tech industry’s financial success, for some, the traditional view of formal education has shifted to one that values real-world experience, creative and divergent thinking, and skills in collaborating, sharing, and demonstrating work process and product, quickly and effectively.

Focusing on schools as the primary “institution” for education, the most obvious potential for open learning is how the role of students and teachers will change and certainly improve through the shifting of pedagogy and practice that accompanies an open learning environment.  The learning experience will also be transformed and the institution of school could potentially become a hub of learning rather than the source of learning.  Graham et al. (2014) suggest “the possibility of creating a sustainable open learning ecosystem by promoting interdependence between educators, learners, and society.”  And some institutions and organizations are making great progress in developing frameworks, tools, and processes for open education and educators.  I’ve been exploring the OER Commons website which is a great resource in combining resources and networking to share educational tools, materials, and ideas on a global scale.  There are already many schools that have been supporting open learning spaces and experiences within their schools or districts but teachers may not have the permission or capabilities to implement open learning beyond their school district.  Before schools (and teachers) can embrace “fully” open learning environments, organizations such as the OER Commons can help to lay a pedagogical and practical foundation for teachers to engage in open learning and sharing.  Teachers can first participate in the process of open learning through these collaborative networks and then begin integrating the concept of the “open” into their classrooms as they get more comfortable and skilled in their professional practice.

Obviously new and emerging technologies will also play an important role in enabling open learning environments and experiences to be accessible, effective, and meaningful to learners and educators.  If it all still really feels a little too “out there” then open learning definitely fits within our definition of an emerging technology (or concept) because we still don’t quite understand where it is headed and it has not even begun to reach its potential.


Graham, L., LaBonte, R., Roberts, V., O’Byrne, I., Osterhout, C.  (2014).  Open Learning in K-12 Online and Blended Learning Environments.  Retrieved from:  https://www.academia.edu/10311797/Open_Learning_in_K-12_Online_and_Blended_Learning_Environments

OER Commons.  (2015).  Open Educational Resources.  https://www.oercommons.org/

The Higher Education Academy/JISC Open Educational Resources programme.  (2013).  What are Open Educational Resources.  Retrieved from:


2 thoughts on “What can open learning do for education?

  1. Open learning is definitely a change from traditional learning. That was one of the main ideas that went through my head while writing my blog this week. It will be a tough concept for K-12 organizations to embrace. I’ve seen some of that challenge within my school district with blended learning. There are some teachers who are trying it but they are few and far between. One of the math teachers at my school decided to try flipped-learning with her classes two years ago. Many of our teachers thought it was a fantastic and interesting idea. She offered to help them get started but no one took her up on her offer. The interesting part was that she had a few students who were pulled from her class by their parents because they didn’t like this way of teaching. They weren’t ready for it. I truly believe this fear of the unknown will diminish as more teachers opt to think beyond the traditional classroom. As industry continues to alter their hiring practices like you mentioned, I believe more people will be open to non-traditional educational opportunities, including public school systems. I just hope I’m ready for it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree that it will be a tough concept for K-12 organizations to embrace and implement. It was very hard for me to truly understand on a kindergarten level. I had difficulty figuring out what it would or could look like for me as a primary teacher. I still am not sure of how to have open learning in a kindergarten or first grade classroom. I get the concept in general, but I’d like to figure out how I could use it. I agree with Scott, that more people will be open to non-traditional education opportunities and I am worried about being ready for it too.

      Liked by 1 person

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