This chapter presents new methodologies designed to facilitate language acquisition in open learning communities via open educational resources and knowledge mapping. It specifically focuses on the OpenLearn project developed by The Open University. This offers a virtual learning environment based on Moodle platform with free educational materials and knowledge media tools such as the instant messaging MSG, the Web videoconferencing application, FlashMeeting, and the knowledge mapping software tool Compendium. In this chapter, these technologies and mapping techniques are introduced in order to promote open language learning. Ways in which teachers and students can make use of these OpenLearn tools and resources are discussed and some benefits fully described.
Introduction: The Open Learning Movement And Language Learning
Open content resources have been growing rapidly, opening up new possibilities for active language learning. Free innovative tools, open access content, and collaborative learning strategies provide new opportunities for learners engaging in widening communication and collective construction of knowledge (Willinsky, 2006; Cedergren, 2003). These new resources and new methodologies can bring new ways to foster meaningful learning.
The Open Content Initiative is a growing movement in the promotion of open learning which involves institutions, universities, researchers, teachers, and scientists in the free access to world knowledge resources (O’Mahony & Ferraro, 2003). Its aim is to provide free access to quality teaching materials from the public domain from which open educational resources can be customized, improved, and shared with local communities. These can be personalized to match local contexts and cultural aspects such as language, level of study, pre-requirements, learning outcomes, and so forth (Downes, 2006; Dholakia, King, & Baraniuk, 2006; Jarman, 2006).
Open learning communities are defined as a set of people with common interests who interact collaboratively in order to learn together. There are five important features in an open learning community: open products, integrity, transparency, non-discrimination, and non-interference (Reagle, 2004, 2006). Open communities are open to receive new members, share information, reconstruct knowledge, and learn together developing open products. Participants ensure the integrity of the process and their contributions. They are transparent in self-organizing, making their own rules and defining their process. They do not discriminate between people, individuals, or groups. Members can interact and work under their own understanding or conceptualization without interference. They are active contributors (Aigrain, 2004; Stadler & Hirsh, 2002).
Open learning environments can be considered a new methodology for informal learning. Academics, teachers, and students alike can benefit from the Open Educational Resource Movement. Teachers can select high-quality materials, use free tools and resources, and engage their students in open learning communities in order to develop skills such as:
Selecting extra and relevant learning materials,
Managing their own learning,
Contacting new fellow students, and
Developing learning communities.
More specifically in language learning, open communities can be very useful in promoting meaningful learning. Students can become active learners by:
Communicating with people from different countries,
Practicing the language in real situations,
Sharing their personal context and creating meaningful opportunities for learning, and
Using technology collaboratively to improve their understanding together.