Posted by: crumphelen | December 27, 2013

2013, a year on the global learning commons.

Do you have books just lying around on your Kindle, clicked and downloaded back in the mists of time because they seemed to have something important to say then forgotten, or simply left upstream as the river of information kept on flowing passed? I thought you might, so have I (quite a few actually). Well, an airport lounge always affords the opportunity to paddle back and take a look; this is how, as I embarked on my Christmas travels, I came to read “Open: how we’ll work, live and learn in the future” by David Price and subsequently came to put this blog post together as a kind of end of year review.

Although the New York Times might have labeled 2012 the “year of the MOOC”, for me it was most definitely 2013, just take a look at my blog posts. I think I participated in 8 or 10 altogether, at least half of which I either completed or participated in to a large extent. However, I don’t think I’d like to remember the year as just being synonymous with MOOCs. After all, I was active in many online communities as well as kept busy attending to my personal learning network, so I’d rather like to think of 2013 as the year that I discovered the “global learning commons”. But what do I mean? According to the author of the aforementioned book, the global learning commons is something that

encompasses the ‘ecology’ of learning: the relationships we have with each other; the creation of an hospitable habitat for learning; how we cultivate the evolution of learning in communal, social environments, [and] transfer it successfully to others.

I like this idea because it gets away from what’s become almost ceaseless noise about MOOCs and their platforms/sponsors to put the spotlight firmly on learning (three cheers!!). That is, learning across a variety of environments in which open is a fundamental feature, learning that’s personally driven by passion and/or purpose and open in the sense of not just open access but in the sense of open values and actions too. In truth though, this notion is quite contentious because openness signifies the battle being fought for the control of knowledge (hence, the reference to the commons with its historical connotations and its antithesis, the enclosure); the idea also signifies a switch in thinking from teaching to learning, or pedagogy to heutagogy, which is equally contentious.


Medieval Open Field and Common Land System

Shaping how we interact online in the global learning commons, where collaborative participation abounds, are four inter-connected and consequential values making up the acronym SOFT: share, open, free and trust. Sharing appeals to people’s sense of altruism; they freely share with no sense of return other than maybe a little recognition, which in turn encourages reciprocity and requires that we’re open. Free can mean many things, but the notions that sit best with me here are “free to roam”, wherever your passion/purpose takes you, and “free to fail”. Trust is best thought of as “in ourselves we trust”, which gets us away from the plethora of institutions that we’ve recently lost trust in and away from the “command and control” mindset of the industrial era.

It’s these values and actions that are thought set to become increasingly important because they allow knowledge to flow freely and quickly, facilitate collaboration and in turn promote innovation. Looking back over my own participation for the year, I can certainly vouch that these values, actions and outcomes are to the fore in the informal social learning environments that I’ve been engaged in. And what’s more, it’s the learner that’s calling the shots. However, this shift is largely being experienced not in education or the workplace but in individuals’ social space. It’s true. Using my experience “in the new learning landscape” and telling of my learning journey “beyond the walled garden“, I’ve presented at a couple of education conferences this year and both presentations clearly illustrate this. In addition, I’ve recently collaborated, as part of a small international group, on a paper that’s been accepted for the European MOOC Summit in Switzerland in February, which again is proof of new and innovative things that can happen in open environments, or the global learning commons. I’ll blog about this at a later date, maybe after the conference, because it’s been an interesting learning experience, one that none of the group had prior experience of or that none of us could’ve have been prepared for, not in the management/logistics of the endeavor nor in its potential for cooperative learning.

So now, with all this in mind, it kind of begs the question of me, “so now you know (about the global learning commons, or learning in open online environments), what are you going to do about it?” This is the “transfer it successfully to others” bit that was mentioned in the quote above. Good question. Because like I said earlier, this is happening in the informal social space; I’m not a big shot in higher education (just a limpet on the underside), I’ve not had anything to do with learning in the workplace for over a decade and in the day job I teach adults that education didn’t do right by the first time and that “accidents of geography” now similarly place on the wrong side of the digital divide.

Looks like that’s the challenge for 2014. I’ll keep you posted.

Image source:

References: Price, David (2013). OPEN: How we’ll work, live and learn in the future. Crux Publishing. Kindle Edition.

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  1. Hello again! Really enjoyed this post too – I have been finding the commentary on MOOCs very interesting too; it’s particularly fascinating after having participated in a few (although nowhere near as many as you – 8-10 is insane! Love your attitude towards learning > and that’s another ‘open’ that I think is relevant: being open to new and different learning experiences).

    I definitely agree with your take on this, and thanks for sharing the 4 values from David Price’s book (sounds like an interesting read!). It’s interesting to note that many of the major MOOC platforms don’t really hold these values (share, open, free, trust) in practice. These values are generally only seen (in the way you describe) in connectivist style MOOCs. And it does seem to me that beyond those who have actually experienced them, there’s a real lack of knowledge and understanding about what cMOOCs are, and consequently, the relevance of these values. (A lot of people ‘out there’ are still just getting their heads around the concept of – and even the term – MOOCs).

    I think your concept of ‘free’ and spelling out what this means – beyond just in terms of cost – particularly ‘free to roam’ and ‘free to fail’ – is immensely important. Because, judging by all the commentary about ‘MOOC failure rates’ and suchlike there is a massive misunderstanding about the whole point of MOOCs as SELF DIRECTED learning experiences: this means (regardless of whether they’re xMOOCs or cMOOCs) that the INDIVIDUAL gets to decide their level of participation and whether they complete it as prescribed – or not. Harping on about the low completion rates absolutely misses the point and really just annoys me. Aside from that, it’s tiresome. There are WAY more interesting things about MOOCs to comment on! (as you have done here). Anyhow, that’s my rant for the night – thanks again Helen, really enjoying your posts!!
    (…and wishing you a fantastic new year – look forward to hearing more about your learning adventures…and perhaps even going on another with you sometime!).

    • Hi Tanya, thanks for taking the time to drop by my blog and comment. Yes, I agree, it’s very difficult for people who have not experienced (and mastered) connectivist MOOCs /learning to fathom what we’re talking about. It’s almost a learning mindset.

      Another bugbear of the MOOC discussion is the kind of derogatory reference to the cohort of learners that MOOCs attract. That is, they are invariably already university educated and often postgrad at that. I got news, just because you got a university education does not mean that you stop learning, or wanting to learn, to keep your knowledge and skills current and to learn for self fulfilment, or whatever. I think what this kind of thing reveals is that for some interested parties MOOCs are supposed to deliver undergrad university education en mass and at low cost. It fails to acknowledge and honour real lifelong learning, which is v. hypocritical. Hey, a bit of rant brewing here myself I feel, so I had better leave it there.

      Yeah, hopefully we will go on more learning adventures together in 2014. Looking forward to hearing about your master’s journey as it progresses.

      All the best for now,

  2. Hi Helen,
    Interesting blog. I like the notions of free to roam and free to fail. I think that the language we use around learning is very powerful and as Tanyalau points out focusing on low completion rates as a criticism of MOOCs would seem at odds with the framework informing them. It seems that even within paradigms that espouse learner centredness etc., there is still a very narrow definition of learning operating and possibly an assumption of a linear nature of learning.
    I am just beginning to explore MOOCs this year, and the opportunities opened up by global learning networks.I don’t think I will compete with you on number but will make a (late!) start.


    • Hi Margaret

      It’s great to connect with you here on this blog and I’m thrilled to hear that you too are up for a few MOOC adventures in 2014…and beyond.

      Yes I agree. Over all, learning is too narrowly defined and it’s complex and messy nature is insufficiently acknowledged. In fact, one of the topics that I’m hoping to explore further this year, rhizomatic learning, seeks to redress this. Rhizomatic learning approaches acknowledge that learners are different with multiple experiences, that learning is messy with no set beginning or end; it also proposes that in an age when information is abundant and change is constant that the community becomes the curriculum. Thinking like this gets me so excited. And, as luck would have it, a MOOC on the very topic kicks off next week. I’ll post the link(s) here in case it strikes a chord with you.

      Rhizomatic Learning – An open course #rhizo14

      Rhizomatic Learning – The community is the curriculum

      All the best

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  5. […] funded by the Carnegie foundation. There was a lot of information available including press and blog articles suggesting that this initiative has high visibility and […]

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