What is an open decentralized course?
Many of the assumptions that existed during the creation of the educational system are being challenge by the internet and emerging technologies.
- Do we need textbooks?
- Do we need courses?
- What can learners now do for themselves that educators had to do in the past?
- Can transparent classrooms/courses increase learning opportunities by bringing in peripheral participants?
During the last few years, growing numbers of educators are experimenting with open online courses: David Wiley, Alec Couros, Stephen Downes, Dave Cormier, and others. (looking at that male-centric list, I wonder if anyone could direct me to open courses being taught by females??).
I've had experience with open courses in teaching CCK08/09 with Stephen and emerging technology courses with Dave. I think the process is effective for involving learners and extending course discussions well beyond typical closed courses. But, for learners new to the process, the experience can be a bit disconcerting.
So, what is an open decentralized course?
Based on work that I've done with Stephen, and open decentralized course is built on a connectivist model of learning: emphasizing learner autonomy, reducing barriers to connection forming, emphasizing participation, sensemaking and wayfinding through social and technological networks, and encouraging serendipitous connections through diversity (of ideas and participants).
But what does that mean, practically?
Instead of creating a course with readings/content structured fully in advance and with discussions and topics centralized in a learning management system, open decentralized courses allow learners to participate in any forum and format they prefer. For example, if a learner has a blog, she can post all course information on that blog. There is no need for her to participate in the course discussion forum. Conversations, discussions, and course content are decentralized. These elements are pulled together through various forms of aggregation: RSS, Google alerts, Twitter search, and so on. It's a simple idea, but for learners that have been conditioned to find all pieces of a course neatly packaged by the educator, it's disorienting at first.
This approach to learning emphasized the process of the course as much as the content. The skills needed to function in distributed/decentralized environments are formed through the course itself. Put another way, the course is a platform. The content APIs and social opportunities are limitless - influenced only by the individuals participating and their creativity. As a result, the course is not a completed object before the learners arrive. The course structure is a platform on which the learners will build and create.
This model makes sense primarily through participation and experience. Decentralized courses are a bit confusing initially, but the value of personalized and adaptive learning are soon evident...