Coming to you live from Newcastle, UK, I’m going to live-blog the panel discussion.  Questions will be in italics and answers in regular text (by initial). The participants are:

  • Allison Littlejohn, Glasgow Caledonian University
  • Mike Sharples, The Open University
  • Jonathan Worth, Coventry University
  • Torie Eva, Pearson
  • Alan Levine, CogDog IT

Motion: “Based on evidence from your work, is ‘building communities of open practice’ a way forward for lifelong learning?’ Each panel member will present ideas with questions shared over Twitter for the discussion – you can see the tweets at

Allison Littlejohn began by outlining a vision paper about learning in 2020 that was recently written with the idea of open communities as a point of orientation.  They thought about the difference between solitary and social learning.  Learning can be structured (both by learner and teacher) or unstructured.  The example was given of a writing group, members of which exhibit diverse learning styles:  self-study, independent study of areas surrounding the core curriculum, etc.  They then share their experiences of the different learning contexts that they inhabit.  In open communities of learning:

  • The learner is in control of choices about their learning
  • Learning contexts are continually in flux
  • Education organisations radically open up
  • Other types of organisations become more consciously involved in learning
  • Accreditation and assessment must adapt to reflect these differences

Each of these presents their own risks: image

Mike Sharples then took the stage to talk about the transition from what currently is to what is in the process of becoming: image We might summarise this in terms of the sustainability of the open movement:  building communities around resources and the practices with which they are associated.  The Open University’s Open Science Laboratory and the iSpot project are examples of how the development of communities of learning has been supported.  In these communities expertise is valued and shared: but expertise is necessary from the start in order for knowledge transmission to be facilitated.  Localising these communities can take quite a lot of effort.  The FutureLearn initiative is focused on developing communities for lifelong learning – part of this is about sharing experiences of learning just as much as sharing materials for learning. Access should be seen in terms of learning communities, not just resources:  it should also be social and run across science and the humanities.  Open learning toolkits can help this, and the affordances of mobile technologies are increasingly being used to support citizen inquiry.  Sharing what has been learned is also important, and platforms are being developed to support this. The central issues:

  • How do we understand the practices of inquiry, sharing, and lifelong learning
  • Developing truly open resources which are sharable and discoverable
  • Creating viable and sustainable communities

Jonathan Worth took to the stage and briefly described his history as an  editorial photographer, noting the impact that the internet has had on this profession.  The abundance of images facilitated by digital technologies meant that the techniques he had learned we no longer relevant.  In the end he ‘crowdsourced’ the course, making it open and seeing the number of participants swell to thousands within weeks.  Now, the Phonar class doesn’t take place in a room but through virtual discussion (primarily on Twitter). Mobile technologies provide new opportunities for previously unheard voices to become audible.   Similarly, making the World Press Photo Academy open meant that the class expanded exponentially up from 10 hand-picked students to include many thousands around the world.

Victoria Eva spoke next on behalf of Pearson (who publish a range of books and other educational materials).  At Pearson, ‘open’ is interpreted as:

  • Open licenses
  • Open content
  • Freedom to experiment
  • Leveraging open data
  • Improved access
  • Collaboration
  • Open services
  • Open APIs
  • Shared learning resources

[I wasn’t clear how all these things are supposed to fit together into an overall vision…help me out if you can in the comments… ] ‘Open’ does not (and, by the sounds of it, will never) mean ‘free’ at Pearson. Some examples of open practice at Pearson:

  • Plug & Play
  • Pearson Catalyst for Education
  • OpenClass
  • MOOC Assessment
  • Acclaim Open Badges
  • Pearson Collections

Efficacy is a new approach at Pearson which tries to measure impact on ‘improving someone’s life through learning’.  This is intended to be a shared approach which is based on collaboration.

Alan Levine began with the refrain ‘… now for something completely different’, using no slides and taking a different spin on the motion. His deconstruction the assumptions of the motion:

  • Is anyone against lifelong learning?
  • What are ‘open’ practices – we can talk about resources, courses, etc but openness is a lot broader
  • The web is changing everything:  commerce, social media, big data, etc.  It’s a kind of potential energy which has yet to be fully tapped
  • ‘Building communities’ – are they really built?  Don’t they happen spontaneously?  Are planned communities really communities?
  • The problem of providing evidence for learning happening in particular ways
  • Underestimating the chaotic and unpredictable nature of ‘real’ learning

We need to emphasize the openness of educational opportunity by encouraging learners to organise and empower themselves…


Q. How does FutureLearn encourage openness?

MS: FutureLearn encourages partner institutions to make their materials as open possible in accordance with their local restrictions.  All learner-created content is licensed CC-BY-NC.  There is an openly published ethics framework agreed by all partners.

Q. How difficult is ‘open’ in a commercial environment?  Can they co-exist? VA: I think they can definitely co-exist, open is not the same as free.  There will also be closed proprietary system and the trick is to strike a balance between open and premium models:  call it a ‘blended’ solutions. AL: Tomorrow he will be talking tomorrow about applying open principles within a variety of organisations. MS: In a commercial organisation there are some things that can’t really be opened up; but in terms of learning practice and educational content all can strive towards open learning communities.  There will always be legacy content or other content which is not openly licensed, but disregarding this would restrict access to good quality resources.

Q. What are the potential drawbacks of social learning? AL: Human behaviour can often go lead to unpleasant (and unplanned) consequences. JW: The future is not in charging for content – we need to think more in terms of learning experiences.

Q. How can organisations be more open? MS: There are lots of new collaborations which are exploring these possibilities – it’s an exciting time.

Q. Is there a ‘dark side’ to being open? Andy Lane responded from the floor to note that many people are no better off in terms of access than they ever were – we can assume that this is helping when it might not be.  MS noted that people need to be inculturated into change, which can be intimidating.  VA noted industry fears about the longer term consequences of openness.  AL acknowledged the radical and liberating possibilities within openness, suggesting we should encourage people to engage with their fears.   JW wondered whether there could be any reason for resisting lowering the barriers of entry to education.    AL suggested we might formulate this better as enabling learners to raise themselves.

My own tweet (not a question) was picked up next:.

 JW suggested that we should work within existing communities.  VA argues that communities can be built and people reached out to. MS noted that we should be encouraging the self-facilitation of communities!