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Are you familiar with open learning as an approach to education? Are open learning and open pedagogy the same thing? What does open pedagogy look like in practice?

Open Learning

In a report prepared by Saide (2000) for the South African Department of Education, the authors dispel certain misconceptions about open learning that have developed over time.

Firstly, open learning is not the same as distance education. The idea of open distance learning creates a false expectation that all distance learning is open. There are many instances of distance learning that do not provide open access or lead to success. In addition, face-to-face learning can be open. Open learning is an approach that has the potential to promote openness within a whole educational system.

Secondly, open learning is relevant to all fields of education, not just adult education.

And finally, open learning goes beyond opening learning through isolated, individual educational projects.

'The principles of open learning provide a set of benchmarks against which all aspects of any educational system (international, national, provincial, or institutional) can be measured. This process can lead to improvements in the underlying design of such system, because it can remove unnecessary closure and consolidate closure where it is important to the efficient and financially viable functioning of the system.' (Saide, 2000) 

In this report, Saide (2000) suggests that,

'open learning [is] an approach to education which seeks to remove all unnecessary barriers to learning, while aiming to provide learners with a reasonable chance of success in an education and training system centred on their specific needs and located in multiple arenas of learning.'

Open Pedagogy

There has been much debate about the link between open pedagogy, open educational resources (OER), OER-Enabled Pedagogy (Wiley & Hilton, 2018) and open educational practice (OEP). 

In an article published in the International Journal of Open Educational Resources (IJOER), 'Towards a Working Definition of Open Pedagogy,' Witt (2020) proposes a working definition of open pedagogy as  'any pedagogy informed by the practitioners’ conscious identification with the open movement, open access, and open educational resources.' He suggests that OER-enabled pedagogy and open educational practices address the how, [and] open pedagogy addresses the why.

In this spirit we want to share our conception of open pedagogy as part of an open learning approach. We are interested not only in what open pedagogy means, but also in the why and the how. We use a set of open learning principles to help us understand why open pedagogy is necessary, but also what it means in practice.

Open Learning Principles

Over time, Saide (2019) has developed and adapted a set of open learning principles and categorised them as follows:

1. Increasing access for success 

  • Learners have meaningful and affordable access to opportunities for lifelong learning.
  • Unnecessary barriers to access are removed.
  • Wherever appropriate, learning provision is flexible, allowing learners to increasingly determine where, when, what and how they learn, as well as the pace at which they will learn.

2. Enabling success

  • Providers create the conditions for learner success through learner support, contextually appropriate resources and sound pedagogical practices.
  • Learning processes centre on the learners and contexts of learning, build on their experience and encourage active engagement leading to independent and critical thinking.

3. Continuing success

  • Prior learning and experience is recognised wherever possible.
  • Arrangements for credit transfer and articulation between qualifications facilitate further learning.

The intention is for educational practitioners to apply these principles as part of an ongoing process of evaluation and improvement, to develop meaningful educational opportunities, regardless of the 'mode of delivery' used.

Open pedagogy is not just about open content

Wiley (2013) spoke about open pedagogy as “that set of teaching and learning practices only possible in the context of the free access and 4R permissions characteristic of open educational resources” (Wiley, 2013, final paragraph). Conole (2010) defined open educational practices as “a set of activities and support around the creation, use and re-purposing of Open Educational Resources (OERs)”. So open pedagogy (and open educational practices) assumes access to content and resources in the form of OER.

For us, access can mean many things. Hegarty (2015) associated open pedagogy with attributes such as participatory technologies; people, openness, trust; innovation & creativity; sharing ideas & resources, connected community; learner generated; reflective practice; and peer review. So, we need to think about access to technology, or access to data, for example. Particularly in this time of Covid, when most students are online (if they have access to data and technology) and remote we also think of access to people — each other and their lecturers.

What about access to the learning process? Think about university students you know of who struggle with reading, either because most, if not all, of the reading is in academic English and they do not have the experience of reading those kinds of texts. Or the student who has an educational background that has not prepared them well for post-school study. You may be thinking about a student who has work experience, but not in their direct field of study. For these students, access is about language, level, and what students already know. 

In our view, open pedagogy asks the question: how do we provide learning opportunities for students in ways that remove barriers to access, and scaffold and mediate learning in ways that support students to succeed?

Understanding open pedagogy

At the heart of our understanding open pedagogy is understanding how people learn. One of the open learning principles for enabling success is that,

'learning processes centre on the learners and contexts of learning, build on their experience and encourage active engagement leading to independent and critical thinking' (Saide, 2019).'

We have developed a set of requirements for giving practical expression to this principle.

People learn by doing things that lead them to construct their own new knowledge. Reading, creating a mind map, doing an interview, planning a learning session, creating a model, doing an experiment, or teaching a class are all examples of being actively engaged in the learning process. If an action is facilitated or mediated in some way, students begin to understand and reflect on their action, and in that way start to internalise what they have learned.

Telling or transmitting information results in limited learning. For deeper learning to occur, people need to engage in a meaningful activity and then reflect on what they have done to learn something from it. This is an active rather than a passive conception of how we gain new knowledge.

Learning is structured around key activities that build up into identified learning pathways. There are structural links between programmes, modules, units and activities.

An important concept in open pedagogy is the idea of three presences: social presence, teacher presence and cognitive presence.

The most important thing you can do to make online learning accessible, meaningful and successful is to engage students in supportive and collaborative active learning. Create a presence. Create a set of learning activities that engages students in meaningful thought (cognitive presence), discussion with other students (social presence) with you as a critical and compassionate guide (teacher presence). Saide (2020)

Let’s explore the following activity template to unpack open pedagogy a bit more. Scroll down in the block to use the interactive template.

Open pedagogy and open learning principles

Stop and think

Which of the open learning principles are supported by our concept of an open pedagogy?

Our concept of open pedagogy supports student access to active learning, supporting them to reflect, think critically and solve problems. In open pedagogy, the materials “become a mediator” (Moll & Drew 2008), facilitating a conversation between and amongst the students and the teacher and supporting progress through the identified learning pathways. Open pedagogy supports students to succeed and equips them for critical lifelong learning.

Are you open?

Additional Resources

For further ideas about activity based learning, access the following online module: Designing Engaging Learning Activities

Conole, G. (2010). Defining open educational practices (OEP) [Blog post]. http://e4innovation.com/?p=373

Hegarty, B. (2015). Attributes of open pedagogy: A model for using open educational resources. Educational Technology, 3-13. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/ca/

Laurillard, D. nd. Learning Design

Mhlanga, E. 2009. Enriching online learning experience: the three ‘presences’, Saide.

Moll, I & Drew, S. 2008. Learning, a learning spiral and Materials Design, SAIDE, WIP.

OER Africa. 2020. Online assessment: How do we know if students are learning successfully?

Saide. 2000. Open Learning in South African General and Further Education and Training: Report Prepared for the South African Department of Education, May 2000.

Saide, 2003. What is a Learning-centred Learning Centre? p26.

Saide, 2019. Open learning principles Enabling successful learning

Saide, 2020. Quality Online Teaching and Learning, an online course

Wiley, D. (2013, October 21). What is open pedagogy? Iterating toward openness [Blog post]. http://opencontent.org/blog/archives/2975

Witt, A N. 2020 Towards a Working Definition of Open Pedagogy, IJOER, https://www.ijoer.org/towards-a-working-definition-of-open-pedagogy/

What's New

What have been the experiences of African Open Educational Resources (OER) initiatives focussed on higher education? What can we learn from these experiences? Although the concept of OER initially gained publicity in the Global North, OER are gaining traction in Africa. OER Africa researched several African OER initiatives to assess their long-term contribution to establishing sustainable OER practices in African higher education.

What have been the experiences of African Open Educational Resources (OER) initiatives focussed on higher education? What can we learn from these experiences? Although the concept of OER initially gained publicity in the Global North, OER are gaining traction in Africa, with an increasing number of OER initiatives focusing on areas such as OER advocacy, practice, and research. Today, the concept has been mainstreamed around the world, as exemplified through the unanimous adoption of the UNESCO Recommendation on OER in 2019.

OER Africa researched several African OER initiatives to assess their long-term contribution to establishing sustainable OER practices in African higher education. This work explored their effectiveness and identified lessons to enable better development and support of OER practices. It also helped to deepen OER Africa’s understanding of professional development needs amongst African academics to enable more effective OER practices.

To do this, we developed case studies on eleven African OER initiatives in higher education to gain an understanding of the effectiveness of each initiative, followed by an analytical summary report. The report collates the findings from the OER initiatives , highlighting the implications of the findings for better development and support for effective OER practices.

Access the case studies and report here.


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 Access the OER Africa communications archive here

Museums tell ancient and recent histories as they collect, safeguard, and make accessible artefacts and specimens that they hold in trust to inspire and enable people to explore, learn, and enjoy. They continue to evolve in their roles and contribution to education as they embrace open access and Open Educational Resource (OER) principles.

Image courtesy of Abdullah Elhariry, Unsplash (Unsplash licence)

Museums continue to evolve in their roles and contribution to education as they embrace open access and Open Educational Resource (OER) principles. Museums are joining the open access movement by, for example, providing high-resolution downloadable images free of charge to maximise the ability of people to interact with, share, and reuse their collections.  

Museums tell ancient and recent histories as they collect, safeguard, and make accessible artefacts and specimens that they hold in trust to inspire and enable people to explore, learn, and enjoy. All museums support education as they provide unique prospects and platforms to engage students in their spaces and through their exhibitions, presentations, lectures, and discussion sessions on history, science, mathematics, technology, medicine, arts, politics, religion, humanities and social sciences, among others.

The Shenzhen Declaration on Museums and Collections of the UNESCO High-Level Forum on Museums from 2016 promoted the educational role of museums and the adaptation of museums' contents to provide a variety of formal, non-formal, and lifelong open learning experiences through universal accessibility for various audiences and removal of barriers to disadvantaged groups and persons with specific needs and capacities.

Learning about history and culture includes learning about all the aspects of the human ‘being’ and their day-to-day life. For example, if a student visits a museum and explores an exhibition dealing with historical figures or events involving aviation, the student is likely to be intrigued to want to learn more about flying which may not have been introduced as a vocation in the classroom. In such a case, the museum experience could well be an initial influence on future life choices of the students.

Museums are adopting open access to increase public engagement with their collections, introduce news areas of operation, and collaborate with creators and other institutions of learning, including universities, colleges, and schools.

The challenges of COVID-19 lockdowns in the past two years left museums without visitors, prompting them to accelerate digitization of their collections and adopt open licences for learners and academics to access their holdings as part of their learning or academic research. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly 1,000 cultural heritage institutions around the world have adopted open licences to provide virtual access to their collections and resources.

Open access for museums refers to efforts made by museums to digitise their collections allowing for the creation of virtual exhibitions and databases or libraries, which are accessible online, containing high-resolution downloadable collections of digitised images of artefacts and information resources, including text, photos, movies, audio files, maps, graphs, and links to other sites.

Some of the digitised museum collections for Africa and African resources include the following:

African Online Digital Library (AODL) – AODL is an open access digital library of African cultural heritage materials created by Michigan State University in collaboration with museums, archives, scholars, and communities globally.

Smithsonian Open Access National Museum of African American History & Culture – The Smithsonian Institution is the world’s largest museum, education, and research complex, with 21 museums and the National Zoo—shaping the future by preserving heritage, discovering new knowledge, and sharing resources with the world. The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture is exclusively devoted to the documentation of the African American life, history, and culture. The museum has collected more than 40,000 artefacts. The images and data are in the public domain under the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) licence, allowing use, transformation, and sharing of the open access assets without asking permission from the Smithsonian.

COM Library - African Art – This hub of open access resources for African art features Google Arts and Culture content from over 1,000 leading museum and archives that have partnered with Google Cultural Institute to bring the world’s treasures online. 

Adoption of open access and OER principles by museums increases the diffusion of knowledge for both education and information. It helps students, researchers, and education providers access unique material locked up in museums all over the world. Open access can also help provide the education sector in Africa access to some of Africa’s artefacts in many museums in the global north collected during colonialism.


Related articles:

OER Africa coordinated a project with members of the Network of Open Orgs, a coalition of organizations that meets regularly on implementing and supporting the UNESCO OER Recommendation. The project involved a collaborative effort among several members of the Network to develop a set of seven research summaries that explore the success of OER.

Advocates of Open Educational Resources (OER) often promote their perceived benefits, such as increasing access to educational materials; improving scalability and circulation of resources; and providing opportunities to adapt resources to suit learners’ needs and contexts. However, the past five years alone have seen significant shifts in education systems. Transformative forces such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, leaps in technology development, and global economic reconfiguration mean that now more than ever, education systems need to remain dynamic and responsive.

Key to this responsiveness is ensuring that there is ongoing research on the actual benefits of using OER, so that we can gain a comprehensive, measured understanding of its implementation, benefits, challenges, and lessons. Such research can provide insight on how to most effectively implement the goals of the UNESCO OER Recommendation.

Within this context, OER Africa coordinated a project with members of the Network of Open Orgs, a coalition of organizations that meets regularly on implementing and supporting the UNESCO OER Recommendation. The project involved a collaborative effort among several members of the Network to develop a set of seven research summaries that explore the success of OER. The summaries were then analysed to extract key findings, which were presented in a short report.

The Network aims to make such analyses an ongoing activity to remain abreast of OER implementation around the world. Ultimately, this will assist in realising the goals of the OER Recommendation.

Access the case studies and summary report here.