VI International Seminar on Open Social Learning (V): The Role of Open Educational Resources in Personal Learning

1 December, 2009

VI International Seminar of the UOC UNESCO Chair in e-Learning

The Role of Open Educational Resources in Personal Learning. Stephen Downes. Senior Resercher for the National Research Council of Canada.

Notes from the Open Social Learning, organized by UOC UNESCO Chair in E-Learning and held in Barcelona, Spain, on November 30th and December 1st 2009.

Open educational resources are the words that people use in a conversation that is personal learning. OER are produced by some people and used by others, but they are not giving them back, there is no feedback.

Personal learning can be thought in different ways. Learning is thought of from the perspective of the learner, not from the perspective of the institution, not from the perspective of the content to be taught. Personal learning is more about an individuals’ growth and development, expressed in terms of skills and capacities, but it’s more accurate (for various reasons) to think of it as being like literacy.

In this sense, personal learning environments are best thought as an ecology in which learning takes place, with the student in the center, but is in fact a mesh or a web of interconnected students. Connectivism, or collective knowledge supposes that knowledge is created and shared by an interconnecting community of learners, and it is distributed.

The learner participates and engages in a community. Participation is guided by personal interest and motivation, not staged, no hierarchy of interaction. Beginners jump into new things and try them. Then they need to discover what is wrong searching for additional resources. But the content is not the point; the content is the place where learning occurs. There is no linear structure, order, no beginning, no end, it’s a mesh.

But: why? What pedagogy purpose is served by open sharing? It lays on the nature of knowledge itself. The traditional view describes “science” (and knowledge) as a set of propositions, such as: learning is the remembering of the body of these facts and principles. But facts and principles are dynamic, not static; furthermore, in chaotic systems, facts and principles do not exist. On the other hand, the functional view of science describes it as a set of procedures or practices. It amounts to the teaching of methods or rules rather than facts. This creates the danger of emphasizing process rather than results.

So, science can be also described as conversation. A conversation with nature (experiments, tests, etc.), or a conversation among Scientifics (vocabularies, ontologies, etc.). Science is connecting, becomes essentially from forming connections. Scientists are literate in this kind of conversations, they recognize patterns, and they see what other scientists see.

Personal knowledge, shared by an interconnecting network of neurons (the less common way of representing knowledge), is also distributed, but ineffable, it cannot be expressed in words. But neural networks offer a possible metaphor; as they create associations, follow several rules and so.

Learning can be seen as a combination of the remembering of facts but also as creating connections between facts. By manipulating words in conversations we are in the middle of a learning process. But we must pay attention to the vocabularies we are using. Is it the same for publishers and students? We need to move from mention to use, we need to be speakers, as only as speakers we will be part of a conversation, that is, learning.

Therefore, we cannot produce knowledge for people. OER beneficiaries are, surprisingly and ironically, the people who produce the resources. So, why do we fund universities to produce such knowledge? The only sustainable OERs are those produced by the learners themselves.


What is the value of sharing for learners? Once they have learned something, why sharing it?

You produce connections in your mind by doing, so sharing is a good way of establishing a conversation and, therefore, learning. And not only between two people, but many.

Don’t you need a map or something in order to start learning? What about if there are different things to learn?

There is not a “best way of learning”, it depends on the situation. Learning is not just picking rules and applying them to a problem. It’s “pattern recognition”, recognizing patterns of connectivity as a whole. Chess players at a master level apply rules but they “see” or perceive the match as a whole.

What about pragmatic teaching? …When you expect to observe results at the end of the teaching process…

We are mixing learning, evaluation and management there. If we are interested in checking that an individual is able to perform something, is that really evaluating the learning process? But the ultimate beneficiary of learning should be the learner, not the teacher / manager.

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