By Kharied | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0On December 14, 2012, work began on A Bill of Rights and Principles for Learning in the Digital Age, published today across multiple platforms. The declarations are quite appealing, if generally unsurprising, and in whole the document neatly outlines principles, young and old, that might inspire the politics of teaching and learning in this hyper-connected century.

The Bill drops the MOOC bomb early on, but makes clear that its principles are about learners and modes of learning more generally. It deserves a read in full (it’s quick), but we’d like to pose a few questions of our own, highlight some of our favorite lines, and respond to one of the clauses (II.3, “Flexibility”). You can join the conversation elsewhere using the #learnersrights hashtag, and a hackable version (GitHub, license CC BY-SA 3.0) has been posted by one of the signatories, Audrey Watters of the Hack Education blog. [EDIT: P2Pu’s Philipp Schmidt, also a signatory, has posted a Google Doc version for direct editing; see here for details and check the comments for the seeds of an important discussion re: OER and MOOCs, as well as a couple peeks behind the committee’s curtain.]

N.B.: All quotations taken from the release version of the Bill at The Chronicle of Higher Education; photo credit below.

Some questions for your consideration

  • Do these stated student rights (and implied obligations for educators) reflect or speak to your personal learning experiences?
  • What is missing from version 1.0 of this Bill?
  • The document acknowledges that “this moment is fragile.” What do you predict for education in 2018? 2023? 2063?
  • Which rights are most important? Which will take the longest to realize?
  • The preamble states the signatories’ general goal, “to inspire an open, learner-centered dialogue around the rights, responsibilities, and possibilities for education in the globally-connected world” and articulates a fear that during this “fragile” moment we could end up “propping up outdated educational practices rather than unfolding transformative ones.” What possibilities do you see for the former? For the latter?
  • This conversation emerges from the relatively new world of open online learning. How will/should other education communities in the education world engage these stated rights and responsibilities?
  • Passionate educators (who are no doubt also lifelong learners) created this document. Who properly ‘owns’ this conversation going forward (and will the interested parties claim it)?
  • What questions are we missing?
  • In light of this document (which, it should be said, we don’t necessarily subscribe to or endorse), what do we at at need to do better?

Some favorite lines

  • “[L]earning, unlearning and relearning are as fundamental to our survival and prosperity as breathing.” (I.0)
  • “Online programs should…educate students about the various ways they can protect and license their data and creative work.” (I.4)
  • “Online learning can serve as a vehicle for skills development, retraining, marketable expertise.  It can also support self-improvement, community engagement, intellectual challenge, or play.” (II.2)
  • “The artificial divisions of work, play and education cease to be relevant in the 21st century.  Learning begins on a playground and continues perpetually in other playgrounds…” (II.5)
  • “Students have the right and responsibility to promote and participate in generous, kind, constructive communication within their learning environment.” (II.9)
  • “Open online education should inspire the unexpected, experimentation, and questioning–in other words, encourage play.” (II.10)
  • (What’s yours?)

On “Flexibility”

While we don’t remotely claim perfection, we believe that we’re making strides on virtually all of the dimensions laid out in the Bill (some will disagree, and we’ve got a distance to go…but we always knew that), but one that could cut a little close is here:

“Students should have many options for online learning, not simply a digitized replication of the majors, minors, requirements, courses, schedules and institutional arrangements of conventional universities.  The best online learning programs will not simply mirror existing forms of university teaching but offer students a range of flexible learning opportunities….” (II.3, “Flexibility”)

After all, we’ve quite consciously built our free offerings around the “majors, minors, requirements, courses” of the traditional higher education institutions. We’re proud, though, to provide an option for students to closely map their free online learning to their traditional learning, allowing them to work ahead, fill in perceived gaps in their education, challenge out of pre-requisites, or simply go their own way within a system that still holds a great deal of sway. At the same time, we openly invite students to hack our program of education as well, turning it to their own particular needs and goals, and our professional development program steps a bit outside the standard university curriculum and more into that of popular extension programs. Our courses are part of a diverse and rich new ecosystem of 21st century learning; we’re certainly happy to have helped found that community rather than stand alone and try to be all things to all people.

If we haven’t sufficiently encouraged learners to use our materials in creative, innovative, unexpected ways, consider this an official invitation: do take charge of your learning at; we may provide suggestions, lay out pathways, and organize materials, but you should determine when to take our advice and when to blaze your own bold pathways. We offer a tremendous prix fixe selection, but you can always dine à la carte.

Final Thoughts

Own your education, but share it freely and explore it thoroughly. We exist to radically expand access to learning by laying out clear pathways; many paths branch off, some of them more useful, more thrilling, more…whatever…than others. Few gates, few barriers. You’re welcome to stay on the main trail; the way you go is up to you!

Photo credit: kharied via photopin CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

3 thoughts on “A Students’ Bill of Rights — Joining the Conversation

  1. I think I might be more impressed with this “Students’ Bill of Rights” if students had been the ones making it. It’s not like this document says anything especially objectionable, but at least to me it feels like self-promotion on the part of those who’ve released it. Maybe I sound like the proverbial old man saying “get off my lawn!” here, but that’s what I took away from it.

  2. Steve – Come join us on the lawn! We welcome all learners, including grumpy old men like you.

    Seriously, I’ve been commenting on the document and my role in drafting it, in various places and really hope that there can be a version that more self-learners / fringe learners / informal learners feel useful. Online learning is on the agenda of every major university (and government) right now and it’s important that there is an alternative voice to the numbers, numbers, numbers narrative.


  3. And this came out Friday (I see from the comment stream, which I’ve yet to properly read, that Steve discovered it!):

    In hindsight, convening in a different fashion, presenting the Bill as open questions rather than statements, and (maybe?) releasing under CC0 (to play down the sense that anyone controls the narrative) would have resulted in a different discussion. But would that conversation produce more desirable outcomes?

    Maybe the vigorousness of the discussion is useful; it might even force the complacent and the busy (esp. among students) to jump in…we invert and extend old quote and find that “après le déluge, nous.”

    N’est-ce pas?

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