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Why Open: a Grand Tour

I know. It’s been a while. Any way, anyone who has followed this blog before the hiatus will know that it’s the place I use to chart and reflect upon my learning, learning that’s mostly occurred in online environments that have the label ‘open’. Indeed, I started this blog as a requirement for POTCert – an open online course. However, what I didn’t realize at the time was that open didn’t just refer to the course access but, to quote Jim Groom, is an ‘ethos’ and, not sure who I’m quoting here, is also ‘a way of being’ too. Because, you see, since agreeing to blog, agreeing in effect to ‘learn in the open’, that’s what I’ve steadily become, I’ve become an open learner, an open practitioner if you like.


The P2PU online course, Why Open, examines the question of openness, and starts by asking “what do you think ‘openness’ is”? There’s been many answers: access, re-use and re-purposing, sharing, collaboration and transparency etc. but, as I’ve already intimated, for me openness is a ‘way of being’; it’s a way to engage in learning, not just learning that’s visible on the open web, but a way to engage in learning that acknowledges the vulnerability and risk that’s inherent and asks the learner to recognize and embrace this. After all, in order to learn you’ve got to put something ‘out there’, thus exposing your ignorance, your difference, your half-baked understanding, your radical position – whatever. In this sense, openness is also about sharing; it’s about putting something out there for mutual benefit, for learning together.

OK, so seeing as I’ve been greatly shaped by these online open learning experiences, I now want to fully understand the whole notion of open, the range of notions. I’ve heard comments like “the battle for open has been won“. However, it wasn’t me that was doing battle; I’m just lucky enough, and able enough, to reap the spoils. I want to understand open more fully because if, as I’ve just read in Jenny Mackness’ blog, “open is going to become the ‘name of the game’ in education”, then I’d like to be more knowledgeable on the topic, more able to effectively engage in open practices, more able to support open learning and be a more assured and convincing advocate of openness, if open is the appropriate option in the given situation. After all, open is not easily going to be the default mode for everyone. It’s not exactly a walk in the park – learning in the open is complex, risky and emotional; good job it’s also rewarding and fun.

Coming up over the next few months are a raft of good courses that relate to open; I hope to sign up and take a “Grand Tour”.

Why Open? by School of Open on P2PU – Aug 10th to Sept 5th (open archive)

Open Knowledge: Changing the Course of Learning by Stanford Online – Sept 2nd to Dec 12th

Open Research by OER Research Hub on P2PU – Sept 15th to Oct 12th

Connected Courses. Active Co-Learning in Higher Ed. Sept 2nd to Dec 14th

Hopefully, I’ll be a good open learner and share my reflections here.

Image source:Project 365 #303: 301009 Blink And You’ll Miss It!

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Signals of Success and the EMOOCs Summit #emoocs2014

Earlier this week, I was in Switzerland at the EMOOCs Summit. I was there, along with Paige Cuffe, to present a collaborative paper entitled ‘Signals of Success and Self-directed Learning’. It seemed a little weird at first, considering that this time last year I had barely cut my MOOC teeth (who had?), and I’d certainly never presented at such a conference before or had a paper published (collaborative or otherwise), so testimony to the power and possibilities that MOOCs and open education can afford and, more importantly for this story, testimony to the power of connection for collaboration and ongoing learning that’s now possible in this new era of learning.

Reflecting individually, collectively and openly
Paige Cuffe, Iwona Gniadek, Briar Jamieson, Penny Bentley, Helen Crump and Sheila MacNeill –
“How do learners define success in a MOOC?”

So what’s the story? As you might know, this time last year I participated in OLDSMOOC and you might be forgiven for thinking that once a MOOC has finished that is it that, the learning is over, but not so because via the OLDSMOOC hashtag and other various social networking activities, connections made in the MOOC continued; the true awesomeness of which was realized when, six months after the MOOC, a group of us responded to a tweet from one of the OLDSMOOC design team wondering if anyone was thinking of submitting a paper to the EMOOCs conference. Hey presto, what do you know; spontaneously and enthusiastically out from the internet emerged six individuals to reflect on their learning and to deliberate what success in a MOOC meant to them. You can read the full paper in the conference proceedings here (p.18) and get more of an insight into our back story in the video below:

The premise of our paper is interesting in that it tries to go beyond institutional evaluations and measures of success to offer an alternative perspective to the pervasive discourse about completion rates and dropouts in MOOCs. Hence, in the conference session entitled ‘Dropouts in MOOCs’, I was heartened by the findings presented by Tharindu Rekha Liyanagunawardena that shows that “MOOC participants are challenging the widely held view of dropout, suggesting that it is more about failing to achieve their personal aims”. Yay!!

On the other hand though, I was a little dis-heartened because although there was a session devoted to connectivist style MOOCs at the conference, cMOOCs seemed to be something of a Cinderella topic. Don’t misunderstand me, there were some excellent presentations given pertaining to cMOOCs (Christine Sinclair, p.245 and Jutta Pauschenwien, p.277) but the overarching concerns of the conference seemed to be xMOOC oriented with concerns about platform provision, production quality and costs and the optimum way forward for higher education dominating.

Not that the conference was all about higher education, indeed one of the four tracks was dedicated to business. I’m glad I opted to go to the panel discussion in this track, ‘MOOCs as a training instruments for employees and partners’, because it really was excellent.

The panelists:

  • Donald Clark, Plan-B Learning, UK
  • Ralph Wieser, SWISSCOM, Switzerland
  • Gregor Erkel, Deutsche Telekom, Germany
  • Marcelo Di Pietro Peralta, WIPO, Switzerland
  • Yannis Angelis, Fresenius Kabi, Germany
  • Carl Dawson,, UK

Certain of their application and with a can-do beta attitude, the panelists were very convincing in aligning MOOCs with vocational skills, competency, CPD and lifelong learning for a corporate market, which was in stark contrast to the presentation entitled ‘MOOCs: an alternative perspective’ given by Debra Humphris of Imperial College, London who didn’t really seem to say what purpose MOOCs might serve and whose institutional policy was to go away and formulate a strategy.

It’s widely agreed that MOOCs are a phenomenon of transition, pointing the way to some future landscape of learning. Right now though, the term seems to signal different things to different people with discussion easily conflating learning contexts, learning cohorts and pedagogies for learning.

In the policy track session, ‘Bringing new challenges to Higher Education’, that I attended on the last day, Gerhard Fischer, Center for Lifelong Learning, University of Colorado noted that many reflections on MOOCs seem to be based on economic and technical perspectives rather than on perspectives of learning science. He suggested that in the main MOOCs are currently geared towards ‘learning about’ and to topics for which there is a known answer, as opposed to ‘learning to be’ and when the answer is not yet known.

Overall, I enjoyed the experience of attending the conference and learning something of the flavor and the fervor of MOOC development and debate, but I think what I was struck by the most was that despite the general nod towards social learning there is a real lack of awareness or understanding for learning in networks and distributed learning environments. Attending the conference as just such a learner (or researcher) made me wonder if I belong to a secret sect because so many people seemed oblivious to these developments.

Image source: Davinia Hernández-Leo.

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Rhizomatic learning: metaphors, synergies and semantics #rhizo14

Rhizomatic learning, an open course with Dave Cormier, started on P2PU this week (or is that last week now?). Actually, it seemed to start before the course was officially launched because there was a real flurry of activity appearing beforehand in my inbox via Facebook and Google+ notifications and alerts, which didn’t let up once the course got going either. Such is the interest in this topic. Any way, I didn’t have time to check in to the course right away and find the content or the discover the task at hand but I was getting the gist via the conversation and postings in the channels mentioned above (oh and via the #rhizo14 hash tag on Twitter, of course), so that’s the reason for the sequence of my reflection here.


Firstly, I was struck by the dominance of the the rhizome metaphor within the initial discussion, and what plants are in fact rhizomatic (rhubarb, ginger, licorice…). Hardly surprising, I hear you cry; the clue’s in the title. However, that’s the botanical metaphor associated with rhizomatic learning; it’s the metaphor for “the learning process”. But what I’m interested to learn more about, what’s drawn me in (see previous blog post), is the anthropological metaphor that’s associated with rhizomatic learning; the nomad as metaphor for “a rhizomatic learner”; this is how Dave explains it:

The nomad is trying to do what I call ‘learning’. Not the recalling of facts, the knowing of things or the complying with given objectives, but getting beyond those things. Learning for the nomad is the point where the steps in a process go away.

It’s what Wynton Marsalis calls ‘being the thing itself’.

Nomads make decisions for themselves. They gather what they need for their own path.

In order to create an educational system that allows for nomads we can’t measure for a prescribed outcome.

All of this resonates with me completely. I feel rhizomatic. As such, I’m really keen to explore this further.


Also, I’d like to explore the relationship and/or similarities between Rhizomatic Learning and Heutagogy (self-determined learning). At this point I was grateful to Penny Bentley for asking in the Facebook group, “is there a difference between Rhizomatic Learning and Connected Learning?” Dave Cormier replied by saying that there’s “overlap” but rhizomatic learning is “messier”. Thanks. However, the handy part about the conversation was the mind map posted by Adeline Wall Avril (see below) as it illustrates that a core purpose of rhizomatic learning is to “make learners responsible for their own learning”. So, yes, there’s plenty of fruitful synergies to explore here.