The Open Learning Revolution Begins Its Evolution


It’s been 10 days since the Open Learning Revolution Event in Sydney. During that time I’ve been collating notes, following up impressions, and reflecting on what was an exhilarating evening. I felt honoured to be provoking and co-facilitating such great educators. The Twitter hashtag #openlearningrev ended up trending in Australia, prompting some curious spamming….but that’s another story.

We asked people to come together, partly in response to Ken Robinson’s call for a ‘learning revolution‘, and the subsequent Tedx Education Revolution event in London. My opening argument was that the learning revolution is already here – it’s just social, not formal. So, collectively we looked at how schools and businesses can create innovative learning environments, based upon what we’ve seen happening in the social space.

Prof. Susan Groundwater Smith set the context for the evening brilliantly (you can read her talk here) and rightly warned of the dangers of ignoring those who may not have access to the social tools which have done so much to change the way we learn informally.

The gist of my provocation was that too often we focus on the technology and not the values and actions which the technology makes possible: we look at the media, when we should be focusing on the social. I summarised four key values/actions: Share, Open, Free, Trust and cited lots of examples where innovative companies had changed the way they did business, or how social enterprises had altered people’s behaviours, as a result of these ‘SOFT’ characteristics.

Think of the way millions of people have regained control of their lives through health and well-being forums; the way companies are adopting cultures of ‘radical transparency’ because it not only makes good business sense, it’s become impossible to keep secrets any longer; the freedom to fail which companies like Google (with a 36% failure rate for new innovations) or 3M espouse, or the ‘Results Only Work Environment’, ¬†which grants employees the freedom to work where and when they want, so long as they do what they said they were going to do; and the re-affirmation of trust which makes all of this possible. My point was that we were told that these values and actions were for suckers – guarding intellectual property and keeping systems locked-down was the only business game in town. Similarly, schools couldn’t trust their students, partly because no-one trusts teachers, and accountability becomes what’s left over when trust has been removed.

But the genuine revolution which we’ve seen happen socially (and it’s as much an intellectual revolution as a technological one) has confounded all the experts and naysayers. Great learning takes place with every retweet, every TeachMeet and every Open Space technology ‘unconference’. And those comapnies, schools and universities who are daring to embrace the notion of a Global Learning Commons are seeing performance (financial and academic) flourish not flounder, through removing the physical and psychological ‘enclosures’ which we’ve all inhabited for far too long.

When I asked people what was stopping us from bringing these values and actions into our own places of work, the answers were enlightening: a lack of courage and vision; a focus on the individual, not the group; hierarchies belonging to an industrial age; and the ‘protection’ of knowledge, as a means of protecting empires. One great teacher in a Sydney school said that he couldn’t think of a single instance where Share, Open, Free, Trust could be found in his school.

One of the unique features of the evening was the mix of people,and the learning they’re responsible for. Teachers shared ideas with company learning officers, social entrepreneurs and museum educators. These kinds of exchanges rarely take place, but I firmly believe this is how we get innovation to scale up quickly – by looking outside our immediate enclosures.

Businesses that are going ‘social’ and schools that are becoming more open and democratic, are taking the lessons learned in the social spaces, and putting them into formal learning, with outstanding success.

There just aren’t nearly enough of them. But, if we can spread the ideas which bounced around the room that night more widely, then we might start to see the kind of changes Ken Robinson called for.

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