As I recently learned, the term “Open Pedagogy” has been used for decades. Lately, there have been numerous attempts to try and define it, and those discussions have led to some really interesting clashes in point of view among educators and open advocates. For the purposes of this post, rather than try to come up with a new definition that I think everyone should use, I’m simply going to describe the first thing that came to my mind when thinking of “open pedagogy.” And giving credit where credit is due, this idea is certainly not a wholly original one, as was likely in my mind in the first place as a result of reading an idea previously shared by my colleague Steve Phillips.

My immediate thought when considering, “What is Open Pedagogy?” was, the ability for learners to shape and take ownership of their own education. While this is a very learner-centric view that some might not necessarily associate with the “practice of teaching” (and therefore maybe not even as a pedagogy of any kind), I do think that there is still a large role for teachers and educators in supporting this view of open pedagogy that may place it in the same realm of other models. I also believe there is a need for OER and other aspects of Open Education to enable individual learners to actually practice open pedagogy in this way.

Here then is a short, non-comprehensive list of things that I think are needed to support this idea of open pedagogy in practice—which I hope, and am quite sure, is taking place somewhere.


Active observation on the part of instructors and institutions

Learners are never going to be able to fully shape and own their educational experiences and journeys if they are being lead lockstep down a path. This is not to say that some students don’t want and need more direct guidance than others, but simply that for those learners who seek to actively participate in open pedagogy, there needs to be a similar level of restraint and willingness on the part of educators to be open to the idea that a student may be able to find a viable alternate route from point A to point B when attempting to learn and demonstrate their understanding of something. In such cases, the role of the educator should be to observe, monitor, and assist when needed, but otherwise to give learners the freedom to make important teaching and learning decisions for themselves.

Beyond just a willingness to accept that students might be able to put together, say, an alternate assignment, reading list, syllabus, or perhaps a full course of study, educators who support this idea of open pedagogy should actively encourage this behavior from their students. However, encouragement does not really suffice if not coupled with some level of support and guidance. This leads to the next needed item…


Open Pedagogies

Yes, in order for teachers and learners to effectively engage in the practice of “Open Pedagogy”, some “Open” pedagogies must be available. While it is easily conceivable that students will be able to develop their own learning plan (and potentially learn much more in the process by doing this), it is less apparent that they will be able to do this without some models to work from. The most direct way that an individual can facilitate this is to, of course, make their own teaching plans for a subject (which may not have originally been designed to be taught using an open pedagogy) open and available to any and all students to reuse and change to suit their learning styles, interests, and needs. Even better would be to include access to those pedagogical models and influences that led to the creation of that teaching plan.

In this way, an individual learner will have a better sense of how a teacher may have designed their course to support students, or where the teacher’s style does not fit their own learning style. Using this information, learners will be more prepared to make choices that could positively affect their own learning outcomes. In an ideal world, students practicing this form of open pedagogy will also have access and permission to build off of the pedagogies of countless educators beyond those that they interact with on a day-to-day basis. And, for those of you who enjoying getting meta, imagine a scenario where students adapt the open open pedagogies of those students who came before them!

For individual educators and institutions as a whole, another important aspect of being open in this regard is being very clear about the expected outcomes of a learning path. Learning for learning’s sake is noble and beneficial, but when their are financial strings attached (like tuition, room and board, and time spent not earning a wage), learners should be able to point to something tangible that they’ll get when finished. When those goals can be articulated—such as with the issuing of college credit or a degree—there are likely already going to be some necessary and articulated outcomes. For open pedagogy to work, students need to know what those outcomes are and how they were decided upon, or else they have little chance to design a learning plan that will prepare them appropriately.


Support of OER

Lastly, the successful, equitable, and longstanding practices of open pedagogy will be unlikely to exist without the concurrent existence of OER. Those of us working in Open Education already know that OER  (as compared to the use of restrictive, copyrighted, and usually expensive learning materials) can help with issues of access when applied to traditional models of education while not diminishing the quality of education or the chances for student success—see, for instance, the paper published by Fischer et al.

Access to high quality OER is even more necessary with open pedagogy if there is to be any expectation that students self-curate and adapt learning resources in a way that will also prepare them to meet stated learning goals. Therefore, if we as a community are going to support open pedagogy, we must also support the continued development of OER by publishing new OER materials, vetting and adopting existing OER, or updating and improving OER, just to name a few. Access to high quality learning materials should not be limited to just those who can afford them, or those willing to violate copyright and piracy laws in order to benefit from them.

Photo via Billie Grace Ward, modified | CC BY 2.0

This post was written in support of the “Year of Open” and in particular, the month of April’s “Open Perspective: What is Open Pedagogy?