Exploring the relationship between learning design and OEP

Another year and another institutional grant opportunity around openness. This year the focus is on Open Educational Practice and is

designed to raise awareness and understanding of open educational practice (OEP) across USQ and to provide the opportunity for USQ academics to experiment with OEP in courses and programs.

What follows are some early ramblings that have arisen from discussions with various folk about whether or not we might submit an application.

What is Open Educational Practice (OEP)?

I think getting common agreement on an answer to this question will be a major challenge, and not just for us.  Stagg (2014, p. 154) writes

There is evidence to also suggest that OEP is, after ten years, neither widespread, nor well-known (Conole, 2013; Conrad et al., 2013

Wikipedia, amongst much else, offers this on OEP

Open educational practices (OEP) are teaching techniques that draw upon open technologies and high-quality open educational resources (OER) in order to facilitate collaborative and flexible learning.[1][2] They may involve students participating in online, peer production communities [3] within activities intended to support learning [4] or more broadly, any context where access to educational opportunity through freely available online content and services is the norm.[1] Such activities may include (but are not limited to [1]), the creation, use and repurposing of open educational resources and their adaptation to the contextual setting.[4][5][6] OEP can also include the open sharing of teaching practices[1] and aim “to raise the quality of education and training and innovate educational practices on an institutional, professional and individual level”.[7]

What might we do

Initial interest is focused on actually trying to share and re-use open content between different contexts.  Not just making content open (OERs), or using open content (OERs) to produce our own teaching materials, but exploring how, if, and what happens when you try to set up an OEP ecosystem between educators (what about learners? hopefully they’d be included) in different contexts.

So far we’ve identified three possible “contexts” in which we might be able to explore

  1. Between similar courses within a single institution
    One likely participant teaches a course to pre-service teachers based on the Technologies learning area. Another colleague and I have been tasked with developing a course for another program to help pre-service teachers learn about both the Arts and Technologies learning areas. Can we engage in a bit of OEP between these two courses? Not to mention the two cohorts of learners in each course.
  2. Between similar courses between institutions.
    There are other Universities that teach similar courses. Can we engage in a bit of OEP between these courses between universities? Not to mention the different cohorts of learners?
  3. Between universities and teachers.
    In-service teachers may benefit from what’s done in these courses. In-service teachers could definitely help improve what’s done in these courses. Can we engage in a bit of OEP between teacher educators, pre-service teachers, and in-service teachers.

#3 might be a step too far in a year long project, but…

Learning design

When this rough idea was circulated one of those included mentioned some commonality with some earlier work on “Implementing effective learning designs”.

I’ve always been a bit of a learning design skeptic, but off I went to explore this idea. Cameron (2008) was amongst the first papers I came across. The research questions in Cameron (2008, p. 45) certainly resonate with my early thinking about this project (in the following, I’ve replaced “learning designs” with “open educational practices”

What open educational practices can be readily adopted by particular disciplines as templates for best practice?
What pedagogical issues emerge from the implementation of open educational practices in particular contexts?
How can identified barriers to academics’ adoption, adaptation and reuse of open educational practices be overcome?
How can the adoption of effective open educational practices be facilitated by the use of supports and scaffolds, such as, a learning activity planning tool?

The last one is a bit of a stretch, but these still appear to be in the same ballpark.

Learning designs are descriptions of learning and teaching processes that are known to be effective. By abstracting what is known to work into a learning design it is hoped that these designs can be communicated and shared between teaching staff, especially staff who do not have expertise in designing learning. It is hoped that learning designs can act as a pedagogical framework that will help teachers create enhanced learning. This is done by customising the generic learning design in ways appropriate to the context.

If this description is somewhat appropriate, then learning designs are about producing abstractions of good practice and then encouraging others to customise those abstractions to their context. I wonder about the level of tacit knowledge involved in creating those abstractions and the gulf it produces between the creators and users of learning designs.

OEP versus Learning design

As mentioned above the notion of OEP is very much up in the air.  The understanding I’m using here is that OEP is about making the practices I use, and subsequently the artefacts I produce, in my teaching open for others to see, consider, reuse, and re-purpose. Unlike learning designs, it won’t be going through much of a process of abstraction.

What is being shared will still be very contextual. It will be bundled up with the assumptions that I and my environment bring to my teaching. Assumptions that will range from the administrative, technological, pedagogical, etc.

This will make it very difficult for other people to understand what I’ve shared, let alone understand why it is the shape it is, let alone reuse what is shared in their context. This could perhaps all fail.

However, if someone takes the time to engage with that contextual baggage, perhaps they may learn a different way of thinking about a problem. Or better yet, by engaging with my practice they might pass on to me a different way of thinking about a problem.

By sharing the very different models we bring to the act of teaching (and learning) we have to revisit and perhaps remodel our conceptions of teaching. i.e. to learn.

I’m not sure that the use of learning designs require the same level of learning. Since its an abstraction with context removed, does this makes it easier to reuse a learning design than to engage in OEP? Does this also mean that you a likely to learn less by reusing a learning design?

If the contextual difference between those engaging in OEP is too much, does this decrease the likelihood of OEP being adopted and having an impact?

What if you were sharing heavily contextual OEPs within fairly similar contexts, would this impact adoption and impact?

What are the contextual factors that influence adoption and impact?

Design funnels and complexity

Just before I started writing this I read this blog post from Dave Snowden summarising some thinking about Complexity Theory and design thinking. The post suggests that design thinking (emphasis added)

is appropriate in the complicated domain of Cynefin and to some extent as a complex to complicated transition method. But it falls down in the complex domain. A parallel point is that it originates in, and is appropriate for, product creation but starts to have problems in a service environment. The points are linked because service is nearly always complex, product complicated

The post gives an overview of some difficult territory which I need to read and ponder more. But what strikes me is that it can be argued that teaching is a service, not a product. Thus design thinking, if you accept Snowden’s argument, is probably not appropriate for teaching.

Also, at some level the production of learning designs follows a logic similar to design thinking. It aims to understand the complexity of teaching and reduce it to a complicated collection of learning designs that can be reused.

OEP (using the definition above) is about opening up the complexity of teaching so that you can see what others are doing and more easily question, share, and repurpose what they do in your context. i.e. learn.

The problem is that the modern neo-liberal university doesn’t really want to accept and work with complexity. That’s too uncertain and impossible to manage. It wants/needs to reduce complexity to obviousness or complication (using words from the Cynefin framework). Preferably complication because that’s the realm of the expert.


Cameron, L. (2008). Implementing effective Learning Designs : An overview of an ALTC Competitive Grants Program project. In L. Cameron & J. Dalziel (Eds.), 3rd International LAMS & Learnign Design Conference (pp. 43–49). Sydney. Retrieved from http://lams2008sydney.lamsfoundation.org/pdfs/04b.pdf

Stagg, A. (2014). OER adoption: a continuum for practice. Universities and Knowledge Society Journal, 11(3), 151 – 164. doi:10.7238/rusc.v11i3.2102

One thought on “Exploring the relationship between learning design and OEP

  1. Pingback: Open educational practice beyond the institution? – The Weblog of (a) David Jones

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s