Learning in the open

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For someone who studies and works at a university with ‘open’ in the name, I’ve kind of always assumed that I was therefore involved in open education.  But this is only the case if you interpret ‘open’ in relation to the fact that there are no entry requirements and no selection procedures.

But recently, I have been studying material on ‘open education’ which has opened(!) up my thinking about what I understand open to be.  Now this is a BIG topic with lots of jargon like ‘open pedagogy’ and ‘OER-enabled’ and I can’t cover it all in one post.  Today I want to focus on the ‘openness’ of the artefacts that learners produce as we learn just to see where it takes me.

As we learn whether informally or formally, we create many artefacts – diagrams, notes, journal entries, assignments.  We also identify many useful references, videos, podcasts etc created by others.  There are times when we have to share an artefact with someone else – such as when we submit an assignment to a tutor for marking.  However, most of  these artefacts are kept to ourselves.  They are private, personal, unique to us.  As time goes on and our learning journey takes a different course hard copies get put in boxes or thrown away and e-copies get archived and rarely looked at or deleted.

In their discussion of assessment artefacts specifically, Wiley and Hilton (2018) refer to learning artefacts such as these as ‘disposable’.  This term makes me feel uncomfortable because it paints a very negative picture.  Reason and Marshall (1987) made a distinction that research can be for me, for us, and for them.  So my thinking is that learning can be the same (afterall learning and research are all about development of knowledge).  So rather than ‘disposable’, I’d like to think of these artefacts as ‘for me‘.  They aren’t a bad thing, at one point they had a purpose – to help our learning at the time – even if that is jumping through a hoop to get past a milestone towards some credit points.  That learning is what makes us who we are now, we shouldn’t be worried about creating things that have temporary and only personal value in that trajectory.

Even though I don’t like the term ‘disposable’, Wiley and Hilton (2018) key argument focuses on the idea that if learners are going to have to produce an artefact (like an assignment) then perhaps these artefacts should be ones that contribute to the learning of others. This idea does appeal to me.

In learning, we can create artefacts that help the learning of ‘an immediate circle’ such as a group of fellow students, members of a practice community or current workplace.  Wiley and Hilton (2018) refer to assessments that work this way as ‘authentic’.  I want to borrow from Reason and Marshall (1987) and say that they are ‘for us‘.  This can be a simple as a contribution to a forum thread or writing and sharing a link to a blog. We can also share collections of resources (referred to as social curation).  In formal learning, we may be involved in activities that ask us to produce and share something or even co-produce something – so called ‘object collaboration’. Participation in these conversations isn’t just about the individual learner, in contributing we contribute to, and shape, the learning of others (social learning).

In many ways, this is kind of how this blog site took off.  I started posting my thoughts about, and responses to, activities posed on a systems thinking module I was studying (TU812, now re-launched as TB872).  Others read my posts and I read theirs.  We convened back in a forum to compare our thoughts.  The module encouraged this to some extent and there was some provided ‘closed’ architecture for blogging which some used but a few of us decided to set up more public sites.

The thrust of Wiley and Hilton’s (2018) article builds to the idea that artefacts can (a) be public (i.e. ‘for them‘) and potentially also (b) can be licensed using creative commons thus contributing an open educational resource (referred to as ‘renewable’).  Years ago, when I set up this site I had no idea that it would be read by those beyond my immediate circle.  I had no idea that when the module I studied was re-written that my blog would get mentioned in the materials.  Each year, the posts that I wrote back at the beginning still get ‘hits’ as new cohorts of students study systems thinking.  My creation of something ‘public’ was a little experimental.  I added a creative commons license early on but I don’t think I have ever thought of this site as potentially being an ‘open educational resource’.  If I had thought of it that way – or been invited by the module to set it up that way – it would have been a very different thing.

What’s strange though, is that the gradual realisation that this site isn’t just ‘for me’ and ‘for us’, makes me more reticent to post.  One of the reasons I have had such long gaps between posting is because I have been feeling as if I should make sure things are ‘right’ and ‘well written’.  The very act of writing ‘for them’ feels really challenging and more time consuming – it’s like writing an assignment or a journal article.

As I write this, I’ve realised that I am not sure I like that burden because I actually miss the process of writing.  I miss writing a stream of thought and then reading it back to learn about what I think.  For some reason, committing to do this on a blog, rather than just a private journal tool, is important to me.  Publishing a blog is a way of marking a point in time – it kind of tells me I can put that stream of thought to one side for now.  Imagining there could be an audience means I don’t trail off into a set of notes and ill-formed sentences.  The site makes what could be ‘disposable’, much more durable.  Unlike assignments, I pick the topic and I decide the tone.  I can look back easily, link posts together and remind myself how my thinking has changed over time.

I see it as ‘learning in the open’ and whilst I love the idea that my posts could also be ‘for us’ and ‘for them’, I really don’t want to lose the fact that first and foremost they are ‘for me’.

Like many posts I write, this post has not ended up being about what I thought it would be about.  My initial intent was to argue that Wiley and Hilton’s terminology could be more positive if replaced by that of Reason and Marshall.  But then I mentioned this blog as an example and I started to explore my relationship with it.  That’s what I mean.  I have discovered something about me and my learning by just letting myself write. Better revise the title before I publish!


Reason, P. and Marshall, J. (1987) ‘Research as personal process’, in D. Boud and V. Griffin (eds) Appreciating adult learning: From the learners perspective. London, UK: Kogan Page Limited, pp. 112–126. Available at: http://jmarshall.org.uk/Papers/1987%20Reason%20and%20Marshall%20For%20me%20us%20and%20them.pdf (Accessed: 22 July 2023).

Wiley, D. and Hilton, J. (2018) ‘Defining OER-enabled pedagogy’, International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 19(4). Available at: https://doi.org/10.19173/irrodl.v19i4.3601.

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