It's better to burn out than it is to rust ~ Neil Young

blog Week 7

Learning Design/Design Learning

Here is a list of the BIG IDEAS covered in my blog:

  • Do adults expect a different learning experience than adolescents?
  • What aspects of higher-ed open course work can be scaled for K12?

The focus this week was on the components necessary for creating an engaging open course in higher education, as delivered by Alec Couros at the University of Regina (Education, Curriculum and Instruction (EC&I 831: Open, Connected, Social).  We were asked to read a book chapter overview of his experience – Couros and Hildebrandt (2016) Designing for Open and Social Learning and discuss in a synchronous session with Dr. Couros as a guest participant.

Reading the chapter, what caught my attention first was that Couros started studying the “perceptions, beliefs, and practices” (p. 144) of the open movement in 2003! The internet was barely introduced just a decade prior to that – myself remembering my first introduction to dial-up modem downloading in a school library in the early 90s – which made this quote laughable: “Several technical barriers were identified (software not available, suitable, or mature; sparsely available content).” (p. 145) Yeah! I would imagine so.

Where do I find myself on the spectrum of open movement positions? From the perspective on one K12 educator, I think the “open-source zealot” position is untenable for the average educator (kind of like being a true vegan is untenable for the average person).  The time, energy, and personal resource that need to be put into that level of scrutiny of components, and the required dedication to the ideal is just too much for most.  I am comfortable adopting the more general/practice “hobbyist” position.

Moving forward into the theoretical framework supporting Couros’ course construction, I did take issue with the learning theory discussion section that outlined the adult learning theory (also known as andragogy). In the overview of this theory, developed by Malcom Knowles, Knowles contends “adults generally possess different motivations for learning and have acquired significant life experiences” that influence learning. (p. 147) This is not the point I disagree with; however, it is the “principles for adult learning” that are bullet-listed in the paragraph that followed.  The four key principles suggest that adults “need to be involved,” are most interested in subjects with “immediate relevance,” and prefer “problem-centred” learning over content-oriented. (p.147) I am gob smacked!  What a unique set of principles that can surely only apply to adults! (My sarcasm should be evident here).

In the reading we have done as part of our group project on improving engagement in mathematics, the suggestions for classroom culture and practices that best improve and promote engagement in adolescents, are the exact same.

Research by Skilling et al. (2016) outlines that engagement improves in educational environments that support autonomy, relevance, interest, and interpersonal connections within activities. Further to this, Gasser (2011) found in his comparative study of math education across nations, that engagement is stimulated under instruction that is student-led, problem-based, and inclusive of collaboration time.

These are universally human learning needs – they are not adult specific, and I put no stock into “adult learning theory” beyond the obvious point that adults come with more prior knowledge and experience, and possibly different motivations.  Good learning design is not age specific.

A second interesting point is how much influence the EC&I 831 course, and Couros’ associated work, had on the professors of my current higher-ed program.  His suggested use of student blogs, feed aggregators, and Twitter are the same tools that have been promoted and/or demanded in every course of this program.  Couros’ stress on the importance of building and expanding a “global audience” (p. 151) and “personal learning network” (PLN) (p. 154) has also played an important role. Others points like suggestions of major assessments, frequency and type of course interactions, and the importance of student review and critique of peer blogs, have been implemented in my course work over the year – sometimes down to the letter.

Some of activities that Couros and Hildebrandt outline for open teaching are possible for K12 educators.  Integrating free and open content and media is possible, as is promoting “copyleft” idealism.  Students should, and in my experience are, exposed to ideas surrounding copyright law and fair use.  I also appreciate and promote both in my classroom and in my practice what the authors identify as “gift culture.”  Educators and students should embrace this idea of sharing and collaboration through openness and transparency of both process and product.

All of the outlined ideas for an open course sound great, and having these components adopted in my course work has made for a most engaging and enjoyable experience in this program, yet I am still struggling to see how this can be scaled down to fit a K12 class (in my case high school).  While blogging and Twitter are easy to incorporate, my concern lies with the creation of a personal learning network – in a larger social sense, and the private/public aspect of these ideas.  As I wrote in a previous post, I will always choose private over public when it comes to my students and courses.  I don’t have the head space or inclination to wade through the fine print of the contracts, discuss with parents, hold meeting, ask for approval, or get consent. Couros and Hildebrandt speak powerfully about the importance of PLNs to  create “sustained, long-term learning” (p. 157) and “social bonding” (p. 156), and I have experienced this first hand this year, but can Couros’ points be scaled back to be a school-wide PLN, as opposed to something larger? Will a school-based community still satisfy as a PLN?

I do support and will continue trying to incorporate and improve aspects of Couros’ course design – particularly:

  • Advocating for, and integrating free and open content where possible
  • Developing reflective, student-centered, and diverse instructional strategies
  • Modelling openness, transparency and connectedness
  • Participating and developing collaborative gift culture

And perhaps doing these things qualifies me as an open “hobbyist.”  But taken together and with my reluctance to navigate the public/private and safety waters, I am still left with a more general question: Can promoting open be small and still meaningful?



Couros, A., & Hildebrandt, K. (2016). Designing for open and social learning. In G. Veletsianos (Ed.), Emergence and innovation in digital learning: Foundations and applications. Edmonton, Canada: AU Press. Retrieved from:

Gasser, K. W. (2011). Five Ideas for 21st Century Math Classrooms. American Secondary Education, 39(3), 108–116. Retrieved from

Skilling, K., Bobis, J., Martin, A. J., Anderson, J., & Way, J. (2016). What secondary teachers think and do about student engagement in mathematics. Mathematics Education Research Journal, 28(4), 545–566.


Image free from Pixabay: “Technology Classroom” by LTDatEHU






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