Towards a Social Learning Space for Open Educational Resources

Towards a Social Learning Space for Open Educational Resources

Rebecca Ferguson (The Open University, UK) and Simon Buckingham Shum (The Open University, UK)
Copyright: © 2012 |Pages: 19
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-0300-4.ch017
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This chapter examines the meaning of “open” in terms of tools, resources, and education, and goes on to explore the association between open approaches to education and the development of online social learning. It considers why this form of learning is emerging so strongly at this point, what its underlying principles are, and how it can be defined. Openness is identified as one of the motivating rationales for a social media space tuned for learning, called SocialLearn, which is currently being trialed at The Open University in the UK. SocialLearn has been designed to support online social learning by helping users to clarify their intention, ground their learning and engage in learning conversations. The emerging design concept and implementation are described here, with a focus on what personalization means in this context, and on how learning analytics could be used to provide different types of recommendation that support learning.
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The focus of this chapter is on the development of a social learning space by The Open University (the OU), a UK-based university with a strong emphasis on distance learning. For over 40 years, The Open University has worked to be ‘open as to people, as to places, as to methods and as to ideas’. In practice, this means that more than 1.6 million people worldwide have studied with the university since it opened in 1969, and that the OU is at the forefront of new methods of delivery and new forms of pedagogy (The Open University, 2010). The aims and principles of the open educational resources (OER) movement therefore align well with the university’s mission, and in 2005 it set up OpenLearn, a large-scale experiment in open content that offers free access online to an increasing number of the university’s resources.

Good-quality resources are important, but it can be difficult for learners to make use of them effectively. The Internet is awash with information; learners need to locate useful sites quickly and to be able to judge their reliability. Social media offer endless options for personalization, but without challenges learners are likely find it difficult to move out of their comfort zone in order to explore new ideas and material. Synchronous and asynchronous communication are both increasingly easy, but learners need ways of moving from generalized chat to focused learning conversations. It is currently all too easy for learners to become lost in the ‘cloud’, brushing against each other but never meeting, sharing or locating resources and then losing sight of them forever.

Despite these challenges, online learning around shared resources also offers new opportunities for partners to collaborate by carrying out work together (Dillenbourg, 1999). Collaboration requires more than the effective division of labour that constitutes cooperative work. It involves coordinated activity, a continued attempt to construct and maintain a shared conception of a problem (Lipponen, 2002). In order to work together to solve a problem or perform a task together, participants need to negotiate mutually shared or common knowledge (Littleton & Häkkinen, 1999). Collaboration involves more than being in touch, sharing an online space, or asking the same questions, it is an interaction in which participants are focused on coordinating shared meaning (Crook, 1999). It therefore does not take place automatically within an online space, but needs to be planned for and supported.

Both these challenges and these opportunities suggest that learners need more than access to high-quality resources and a range of communication methods – they need support in order to engage effectively in online social learning.

This chapter therefore addresses four central questions:

  • Why online social learning now?

  • What do we mean by social learning?

  • What distinguishes a social media space tuned for learning?

  • The emerging design concept.

In order to do this, it first examines some of the different models of openness and how they relate to education, before going on to identify principles of and approaches to online social learning. The chapter ends by describing SocialLearn and how it has been designed to make use of the opportunities and respond to the challenges posed by an open online educational environment.


Models Of Openness

We are in a period of transition, as we realise how deeply the Enlightenment, industrial era has shaped our worldviews and, specifically, our educational practices. For many, this is the opportunity for new policies, pedagogies and practices to emerge which more aptly reflect what we now understand about how we learn, what we should learn, and who may access learning. These changes have the potential to support disruptive innovation within education (Christensen, 1997), introducing new products, tools and services that will prompt many more people to engage as learners. The OER movement is a significant part of the reshaping of the landscape, challenging taken-for-granted assumptions as part of the ‘Open’ movement.

Four disruptive dimensions of Open as a paradigm shift are:

  • Open Intellectual Property

  • Open Economics

  • Open Communities and

  • Open Data Standards.

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