Learning in the Wild West of ‘Open’

west_film_landingLearning in the open—in a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) for instance is somewhat like the Wild West of the 19th century—undisciplined, with few rules and no regulations. These same characteristics have been used to describe learning in a connectivist MOOC [cMOOC], a form of open learning where there is no set curriculum, process, or particular method. Learning in the open with the world-wide web as the classroom is unsettling for many and overwhelming for most. But the rewards are rich; personal and professional growth that is hard to achieve in a face-to-face setting.

Definition Open Learning: learning based on independent study or initiative rather than formal classroom instruction [Oxford Dictionary]. In today’s learning context, open learning encompasses connectivism; a theory of learning that identifies learning as a process of creating connections and engaging within a network. Connectivism considers the world-wide web a platform for learning, with its nodes representing connections that are people, information, images or data. A connectivist MOOC is an example of an environment created with some structure to facilitate open learning.

Though learning in the open does not come naturally—one has to learn how-to-learn in an open environment. After participating in numerous MOOCs, it’s apparent that a very different and unique skill set is required; a different set of competencies than what is used in traditional learning environments. I recently shared strategies and tips for open learning in a webinar as part of a cMOOC, Open Online Experience, 2013. I’ve shared my slides from the webinar here, and outlined  essential skills for participants of the open—the Wild West of learning.

“I began this MOOC with the greatest of intentions…I found so much information however, that I am lost in the information overload.  I think that I am posting in week three, but I am not sure.” Comment from a high school teacher enrolled in a cMOOC that illustrates what most participants feel like in their first [or even] second MOOC.

Habits for Teachers of the Future
It’s hard to imagine what education will look like ten even twenty years from now, but the need to adapt beings now.  Though teachers and professors as subject matter experts hasn’t changed, nor will it anytime soon, the delivery formats for instruction and learning has. Contact North recently published ‘Seven Habits of the Professor of the Future’, an article that suggests the skills educators will need by 2020. The skills are varied, and face-to-face instruction is included.  But note the variety of the skills mentioned in addition to face-to-face teaching. Note also the emphasis on collaboration—collaboration on a massive scale, and creating new resources using a variety media. These habits connect to open learning. Learning in the open is the new way to learn, create, collaborate, assess, and develop, personally and professionally.

Skills for Open Learning
In practice however—what does open learning look like? Just as in traditional learning, this form of learning takes time and much effort, though tenacity, discipline and a keen desire to learn are traits of connectivism. Open learning is self-directed, where the learner sets his or her goals, creates a learning path, selects resources and tools accessible within a network. Within a cMOOC environment the learning experience is even richer, as a group of like-minded learners are learning collectively, connected together by a space or platform on the web, i.e. a wiki, blog or LMS platform. Making connections, both personal and conceptual are core elements of open learning. These latter skills are the most challenging, yet vital to open.

During the webinar Learning in the Open with OOE13 we discussed these skills and examined challenges with open learning. The consensus was that open learning is different from what most of us were used to; it can be chaotic, overwhelming and confusing. But how-to-be successful with open learning can be learned. Strategies discussed are in the slideshare below.

Closing thoughts
Learning in the open is non-linear, unpredictable and without guard rails that education institutions or companies create to structure learning in traditional settings. Learning in the open is the Wild West, a new frontier of learning, a new opportunity to grow and connect.  Though I’ve shared here how to embrace open learning and experience the benefits, the Coles notes version are as follows: 1) reflect and blog consistently about what you are learning, and 2) share and engage with others via a social media platform of choice—add value by providing quality resources, links and ‘nodes’ of knowledge.

Further Reading and Resources:

Image credit: PBS, The American Experience, artist Sloan

5 thoughts on “Learning in the Wild West of ‘Open’

  1. Great post, Debbie! I particularly agree with that fact that teachers need to change too. One thing that stands out is the fact the teachers will have to be accessible to their students, anytime, anywhere. As the article says- it’s a dreaded thing, indeed.


    1. Hi Judi,
      Yes absolutely – students [in many cases] expect their teachers to be available and accessible anytime and anywhere. For a large online course, a team is likely needed to field questions etc. in the off hours. Thanks for you comment Judi.


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