Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Learning vs marketing when it comes to open

So... here's the thing... I haven't blogged in ages because I had an experience a while ago which really put me off blogging... but... I feel the need to write down some notes about a thought that's troubling me about open education at the moment.


Look at me! I went all caps lock and everything just then!

Right, where was I? Okay... The troubling thought. I am currently at ALT-C and it's been a good conference so far, which is great. And there is a lot of talk about openness. Which is also nice.

But... I keep on hearing the phrase 'the benefit of open practice is in raising your profile'.  It is the slightly more personal version of 'institutional reputation building' and it has an ugly auntie called 'establishment of brand identity'. And some how it is all over 'open'.

I don't get it. Well, I do. In a cynical marketing kinda way. But I can't really reconcile the whole brand identity thing with how I felt when I started to share learning resources more than a decade ago. It didn't cross my mind about the marketing opportunity. I just felt it was the right thing to do. That other people might benefit from something I'd created. It was fun to create things and I liked hearing that others found them useful. I loved it when someone would volunteer to write something for me because they wanted to contribute to the resources I'd created. I loved the fact that I got to play and explore new ways of sharing stuff... and other people were kind enough to give me feedback and support me in doing it.  I would think about things that I'd found tricky, write something about it... and then share it. If there we're mistakes, someone would inevitably tell me and I'd happily make corrections.

I learned loads by being open. I made connections.  I reflected on what was important to me educationally. It was an outlet for creativity and thinking.

It was not driven by a marketing strategy. Ever.  I never thought to myself that it was a self-promotion opportunity. I wanted to be helpful, to be useful.  Until someone unlocked my love of learning, I didn't realise how important those things would become to me.  And the thing that unlocked that love was when I got the chance to make a difference to the way a course was being delivered when I was a mature student. Someone listened. Someone found an idea valuable.  Someone gave me a chance to make a difference.  Someone told me not to call myself 'only a student' and a lightbulb went on in my head.  It was an amazing empowering feeling.  It changed my life. I wanted to help others feel that feeling. And I started to share openly. And when I started to teach, I carried on doing that with my own students.

I guess that my point is really that it troubles me that open has become much bigger news lately. FutureLearn, Coursera, Kahn Academy etc... the big boys are paying attention and beavering away to create MOOCs. And over and over again I hear presenters utter those dreaded marketing-laden words about brand identity, sector positioning, profile raising. And the motivation for being open is wrong.

If you're not truly open in your practice. If you don't really believe that it's worth doing for your learners.  For your networks.  For your community. For your own satisfaction and development. Then, you will only get a formulaic attempt at education. And it is not really about learning.

You have to give a monkeys. You have to care. Don't you? You have to believe, right down to your toes, that learning is where it's at.

Learning is messy.  It is creative.  Messy.  Chaotic.  Passionate.  Amazing.

And it isn't dragged along by a marketing strategy which wants to increase its marketing share in some misguided manner.

The fact that those who should share a passion for learning are spouting a marketing strategy when talking about their forays into open is unsettling.  Really unsettling.
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