Transparency in open learning spaces

I was recently reading an article by Thomas Mackey related to transparency in open learning environments. In it, he draws together some compelling evidence related to transparency being a catalyst for fostering interaction and participation.

It got me thinking about how our online experience is increasingly tailored to suit our needs, and that the systems we rely on are increasingly geared toward giving us a sense of connectedness, but often only the perception of openness. Perception for most of us, may as well be reality.

Social media in particular seems increasingly intent on helping us to surround ourselves with we want to see, what we want to hear, and that’s not always what we need. In the same way that buying a newspaper that does not cover world news increases the likelihood that we will be one more step removed from those events. Even search results are increasingly presenting us with results that we are more inclined to anticipate.  When I search simply for ‘news’, because I live in Melbourne, Australian news websites dominate the results.  Search engines recognise my geographic location, and try to give me the results that appear to be more relevant to my personal circumstances by default. Whether I’m keen on that or not.

We’re comforted by what we’re familiar with. Being aware we are being increasingly cosseted and cocooned by the networks we surround ourselves with is an important consideration when looking at learning networks.  Recognising the difference between true openness, and perceived openness will also I predict, become harder and harder in the race to anticipate our needs. There is after all, money in it, big money.

Mackey states, ‘the openness of systems is related to the openness of society itself and how people use technology in communication with one another and as a collaborative practice.’  In terms of learning systems we need to be challenged, we need broad interaction and participation in order to form views that are well rounded and robust. 

I’m an avid Twitter user and use it as my primary form of Personal Learning Network.  I find I’m far more inclined to seek out people involved in education using this medium. I’m drawn to people in my field for obvious reasons, but I make a conscious effort, a deliberate effort to look for people involved in broader fields. Social anthropologists, people involved in psychology, those that hold opposing views to my own.  I have to, otherwise the people I look to for discussion and dissention, the people I rely on to challenge and inspire me, end up only being those that for the most part, tell me what I want to hear.

As we work to develop new networks that allow us to learn and prosper online, strong consideration must be given to the encouragement of a broader view. How do we achieve this?  The best way to ensure a wider view, is to encourage the broadest feedback possible. In reaching the broadest most diverse groups, we are better able to test our assumptions and be challenged. We must endeavour for example, to work outside the existing LMS structures we are working within, to seek out greater peer feedback, to engage in the broadest discourse possible.


How can we achieve this? One way I think that it’s likely we can achieve it is the same way mass marketing businesses are accomplishing it. Transmedia distribution.  We cannot rely exclusively on our individual networks, nor can we seek out feedback from a closed network, or even rely on a network we perceive as open. 

Transmedia campaigns use multiple forms of media to reach a broader audience. A message is packed in numerous forms, video, blog post, asynchronous forum spaces etc to ensure it reaches an audience at multiple points. There is no reason that education cannot leverage the same approach to draw on a wider audience.

The additional advantage, is that in packaging our considerations into multiple forms of media, we are drawn to consider how each of these forms of media might best represent the ideas we are presenting. By packaging and repackaging our work on a subject, we are forced to approach it from multiple angles, to consider how each audience will consider a topic from that unique perspective. 

It’s just one approach, there are many others, but it is one I feel that has a certain place in any successful online learning environment.





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