Imagine a a world in which all information was easily and freely accessed by anyone who wanted it. That is the promise of the internet, and the theory of it is intoxicating, especially for those of us who love knowledge. In “Open Learning in K-12 Online and Learning Environments,” Graham, et al ask, “Rather than thinking of public education as a burden that schools must shoulder on their own, what would it mean to think of public education as a responsibility of a more distributed network of people and institutions?”
If education were to become a truly public concern, it is feasible to think that the public would begin to actively care about it. That alone would be a boon to our society. There is also the potential for open learning to encourage collaboration and networking between educators and learners (Graham). Whats more, in a system based on open education, work done by educators that might otherwise be lost, will be readily available for future generations (Carey 2011).
This model of education can work at all levels and in a variety of learning endeavors. For example, in her TED talk, “A Garden in My Apartment” Britta Riley describes a self-watering window garden that was developed based on crowd sourcing. She came up with an initial model which was subsequently developed and modified by collaborators from around the globe.
Or consider the case of the University of Montreal which developed an online game called Phylo that is being used to help solve a complex problem in the study of DNA.
Looking at examples like these, we can’t help but sing the praises of open learning, but these are ideal situations, and humans rarely live up to their highest potential.
It is true that open learning holds in it the promise that educators and students might learn from each other with content they co-create, but open learning is really just another name for collaborative learning, which need not exist only in an online environment. The tradition of a symposium model naturally lends itself towards collaboration and mutual learning.
One must also ask themselves what will become of the “expert” or the professional in a world where everyone is invited to contribute equally. What also of the expert’s research and findings. On one hand, the idea of making findings available is alluring because of the boundless possibilities that may come from it. On the other is the question of propriety.
We can say that no one owns or should have the right to own knowledge, but what do we do with a system in which an academic must use knowledge to build their reputation. Do we ask them to give it all away?
What about privacy?
Consider for a moment the case of Henrietta Lacks, whose cells, taken without her knowledge in 1951, became one of the most important tools in medicine, vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, and more. Henrietta’s cells have been used by scientists all over the world, including one man who was awarded a Nobel Prize for the work he did with them, and yet her family is so poor they cannot afford to buy health insurance. Worst of all, a few years ago a team of German scientists published the genetic sequence of the cells which is in direct violation of the family’s privacy.
What about people who use openly available information to do terrible things, like build bombs or commit crimes?
This is a long way of saying that open learning is a complicated issue. A LOT of good can come from it, but so can some bad. Perhaps one day we will live in a world in which open learning is the norm, and if that world is to be successful, we are going to have to establish a framework that supports fair use over free for all.
Carey, K. (2011, May 15). The Quiet Revolution in Open Learning. The Chronicle of Higher Education. [Web log message]. Retrieved May 24, 2017 from http://www.chronicle.com/article/The-Quiet-Revolution-in-Open/127545/
Daniel, A. (2012, April 19). Games & Genomics: Crowdsourcing DNA Research. PRI. [Web log message]. Retrieved May 24, 2017 from https://www.pri.org/stories/2012-04-19/gamers-genomics-crowdsourcing-dna-research
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.