Friday, March 20, 2009

Open Source and Active Learning

My friend Bryce Bunting wrote the following in a comment on my long post about open source and active learning:

Maybe the value of open source learning sites is for learners that are not in a position to have the university experience. I'm thinking here of someone in a rural location who would love to attend a university class, but won't have that opportunity. For this type of learner, open learning might be the next best thing. To expect open learning to enhance what happens within the walls of a classroom, however, may not be realistic.

Bryce may be right. Given the recent widespread interest in open-source learning, though, it seems as if it will be an ever bigger part of the conversation about learning and higher ed. If that is the case, there are three potential implications:

1. the movement for open source learning trumps the movement for active learning and so open source gradually undermines interest in/need for campus-based learning. As a result more and more students become like the rural student Bryce writes about above. Traditional higher ed atrophies. (Of course this may happen anyway, for economic reasons. But my guess is that if the economy weakens traditional higher ed it will weaken the open source learning effrts too, most of which rely on either a for-profit model or the largesse of a traditional institution of higher ed.)

2. the movement towards active learning trumps open source learning, and so the real growth area in the future is for traditional higher ed to find a way to add active learning to open source learning in rural/isolated areas, or for non-traditional students.

3. active learning and open source learning become allies, or at least hit a rough balance. As a result campus-based learning finds better ways to use open source stuff in the classroom and curriculum, and open source learning does a better job of developing and providing access to active learning opportunities. Both sides win.

Right now the outcome is uncertain, so there is opportunity for campuses and entreprenuers to push the field in one way or another.

1 comment:

Bryce said...

I love the idea of open source educators finding ways to integrate active learning and open source elements.

Another issue here is differentiating between open content and "free" content. Some proponents of "open source" learning seem to define it as both open and free. This seems like a great ideal to work towards, but I wonder how innovative open source will ever be if it is always free.

For those hoping to design learning that is both open and free, the challenge will be finding ways to fund that sort of work. Integrating open source and active learning seems like something that will take a lot of time and money. Unless those designers are much more altruistic than most of us, I think they will want to be compensated in some way. That doesn't necessarily mean that the learner has to foot the bill though. Think of what Pandora and others have done to provide web 2.0 technology at no cost to the user, by relying upon ad space. But, that may open up a whole new debate about whether we should sell educational space to commercial entities.