Friday, 17 August 2012

Learning is Open Source

So I'm preparing for delivering a keynote speech at Learn X in Melbourne in a week or two and my piece is entitled Emerging Learning Technologies; An Open Source Approach.  Two things strike me about that; firstly that it is a very fancy title and someone else must have come up with it (thanks Zack) and secondly that an Open Source approach is more than just about elearning and LMS it's actually about the way we learn first and foremost and importantly the way we teach too.

Firstly what is Open Source?  Surely OS just means free right?
Actually no, not quite.  Whilst it's true that the vast majority of OS software is just that, that's not the point.  You can download freeware or get free software (just watch out for the trial's that expire!) but that doesn't make it OS.  OS is about access to the code that the software is written in.  Having access to this means you can adapt what someone else has done to your own needs; it means you can make it your own, fix it, customise it and then.. well, then you can share it again, let someone else take what they want, let everyone benefit and get support or you can choose to sit on it if it makes you feel better (but that's not quite the open spirit).  So OS is more than free - it's freedom!

Learning is Open Source.  Modern learning theory will clearly identify that by far the largest amount of learning does not come from formal education but from copying others and experiencing doing things yourself.  So if you think about it, this is very much the same approach used in OS software.  When you learn you build upon what others have learned before you and their experiences, you then adapt it for your own circumstances to form your learning.  If learning worked the same was a corporate LMS you would ask someone about something you didn't know and they would either tell you nothing at all or show you the answer without giving you the working out and knowledge would still be the gift of the entitled alone.

Training is Open Source too.  If you take this model and try to teach out of original ideas only where would you be?  Each great person only saw further by standing on the shoulders of those that went before them and building on that, not returning to square one each time.  When I used to teach I would take the things I saw in other teachers, in other classes, in books I'd read and films I'd watched and make it my own.  I then shared that freely with others, students and teachers alike.  Not for my only financial gains or intellectual rewards, but because it is the very nature of learning.. it is Open Source.
The same goes for this blog, it's all my own work (I know hard to believe) but the ideas and the learnings that come together in my babble has come from a variety of people, many smarter and more educated like than I am.  (as a side note I think it's amusing that Open Source has a TM next to the logo).

And here comes the point.  If learning is Open Source, if teaching and training are Open Source, if the very nature of understanding is Open Source.. Shouldn't the systems you use to teach, train and learn on be Open Source?  I mean, who wants a system built into a corporate model that isn't remotely connected to the model of function it supports?  So for learning technologies if you're not in Open Source are you out of touch as well?

Long live Moodle, Totara, Mahara and actually the different things that they will become that are far and away better than the original products because (again) that's the nature of Open Source.