Open Learning

What do you see as the promise of Open Learning as an emerging technology/pedagogy/philosophy?

I struggle with how to connect this idea of open learning that happens whenever a student desires with the more traditional classroom that tends to still be the norm in most American schools. How do you balance the two or is it one way or the other exclusively? John Coffey, in his Guest Editorial  for the journal Innovations in Education & Training International,  spoke about his 1977 article titled The Open Learning Movement”He stated that, “We have to try to persuade administrators and politicians to provide funding for setting up arrangements which will allow learners to study what they want, when they want and in ways that suit their circumstances and skills. Such apparent anarchy is too hard for administrators” (p.195). It definitely seems like a system that many schools would struggle to wrap their heads around. Especially, as Coffey goes on to argue that these schools have prescribed standards that may not necessarily align with what a student may want to learn about.

I also wonder how much students would utilize open learning platforms on their own. It may be that some would, but most may never opt for this type of learning unless directed by a teacher. I agree with “Open Learning in a K-12 Blended and Online Environments”, when it talks about K-12 Massive Online Open Courses being a way to, “Supplement student learning beyond prescribed courses and curriculum and to provide student exposure to diverse and cultural or international perspectives” (Graham p.11).  We use some open learning at my school now, such as Khan Academy, Moodle, and STEM, but I don’t think most of the students would be driven to use them without teacher suggestion. Maybe these systems are best used to enhance our practice, not replace it.

One thing that I found interesting in Zawacki-Richter’s work is the idea that learning within distance or open systems isn’t completely independent or individual. The author states, “Thus, learning is seen as a social process that is facilitated by interaction among learners and teachers. The provision of opportunities for interaction, communication, and collaboration between students and their teachers as well as among students, via electronic media, is seen as a constituent of distance education” (p.8). I am speculating, but I wonder if the failure of many students to finish MOOC classes is somehow tied to a lack of meaningful social connections within the learning environment. Having never actually experienced these classes, I do not know. They do seem like a wonderful way for internally motivated students to learn; however, for other students the open learning platform may not have the necessary structure for them to be successful. Is this because these students have been in a traditional system and are not ready for the internal motivation and organization needed to be successful in such a learning environment? If the K-12 system were to change and include more open learning, would these students then be ready to participate in open learning on their own as adults? I do not know the answer to these questions, but find them thought provoking.


Coffey, J. (2006). The open learning movement. Innovations in Education & Training International, 25 (3), 195-196.

Graham, L. (2014). Open learning in a K-12 blended and online. Handbook of Research on K-12 Online and Blended Learning Environments, 415-445.

Zawacki-Richter, O., Alturki, U., & Aldraiweeh, A. (2017). Review and content analysis of the International Review of Research Open and Distance/Distributed Learning (2000-2015). International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 18(2), 1-25.

8 thoughts on “Open Learning”

  1. Pepper,
    I too struggle to reconcile how I currently teach and how Open Learning would work in our education system. I am incredibly fascinated by it. I wonder, like you do, if we implemented this at a young age, would it foster and support that innate motivation to explore, learn, and grow? So that as they got older, they would not need as much prodding?
    I feel like we would have to move to a resume or portfolio system, students would have to show colleges, jobs, and any other application system, here is what I accomplished, created, and mastered while in school. It would be different for each student. Which is liberating, and over whelming all at the same time.
    I hope that this is not an all or nothing concept, I am unsure of how to jump head first into this. I love the idea of sharing open resources with colleagues. And I like the idea of giving student more choice and autonomy, just not sure what exactly this looks like yet!

    1. I love your comment, “Liberating and overwhelming at the same time”. I totally understand. We want to do things well and help each student in a way that they need to be helped. It is a bit like, “Wow, look at all these options and tools- Yippee!” and “Oh my goodness, I have too many options! What do I do?”

  2. Pepper

    I not only question whether students would be motivated to learn but also what they would be motivated to learn. Would they choose to learn appropriate material or materials that most of society would frown upon like bomb-building or how to grow and produce illegal substances.


    1. I think there would also need to be some traditional learning in there, because I’m not sure all students have a good idea of what they want to be when they are done with school. What happens if they choose something else when they are older, but they don’t have any of the background learning that they actually need?

  3. Hi Pepper,

    Thanks for a very thought-provoking post. I agree with you that most public schools in the USA are not currently the most likely to be open to a learning style that gives students a great deal of autonomy. I saw a video about schools in Norway recently that was really eye-opening because they do allow students much more freedom to direct their own learning, so I think it is possible.

    I’m not sure I agree with you about student willingness to use open learning resources. A lot of them do it all the time now, in the form of sites like YouTube and Wikipedia. The problem may be getting them motivated to use the resources for academic rather than personal uses.

    1. I think some students would be very willing to use open learning and, as you point out, they do all the time already. I just worry that they may not decide to learn things that will benefit them academically in the future.

  4. You bring up a few great points of open learning and the struggles that come with implementing it in the classroom. First, I hadn’t really registered the fact that open learning consists not only of great material for teachers to use but also materials that students can find to help lead their own learning. I agree that this won’t happen for students independently even though it seems that is what open learning is wanting for students. Now the second, students willingness to search out these open learning resources to help them with their learning path in whatever class. My students use many free apps, graphing softwares, homework websites, etc. to help them in their learning of mathematics. I definitely think some of these resources can be abused but I have found if a standard is in place for the students in using these resources, then (for most students) they will follow this standard. I have had to suggest to some students on when and where to use open learning resources but after that first, second, or third shove, my students got the hang of it.

  5. I agree that open learning is not necessarily just whatever any time the student wants to do something else. There have to be some parameters for it. But open learning in how we learn about something we are interested in now. If we want to learn how to do something new, we start by googling it and go from there, don’t we? Good blog.

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