Thursday, February 19, 2015

Three Things Learning Practitioners Can Learn from the Open Source Community

As I listened to the TED Radio Hour “What is Original?” I kept wondering what originality really means in today’s age of building on top of what is already there.

Back in the early days of modern science, the scientific method was new, and you could discover new scientific truths by observation – in your backyard, or in a home laboratory. Even in those times, getting together with other like-minded people in a cafeteria was a ritual frequented by the scientists.

Today, we live in an age of endless sampling and borrowing. Virtually everything we build is based on the work of those who came before us.

So, what can we, as learning practitioners, learn from the open source community?

For one thing, not every piece of content has to be an original creation. If there were a way of openly sharing small pieces of content for repurposing and reuse, with due acknowledgement to the author, it would help build high quality curricula faster.

We could evolve standards for learning technology together, making it easier for systems to interoperate and exchange data.  When Elon Musk decided to give away Tesla’s patents, he did precisely this – he diffused proprietary knowledge into the broader industry so that as the ecosystem grows, Tesla in turn gets further ahead.  While this appears to be philanthropy, it is sound strategy.

And finally, we could celebrate new ways of contextualizing existing pieces of knowledge. For example, e-learning developers could openly share learning interactions built for teaching core concepts, and others could modify those interactions to illustrate specific applications of those concepts.

Open source community boasts of several collective accomplishments in the field of software. There is no reason learning professionals cannot repeat that success in education. Or is there?

Inspired by TED Radio Hour “What is Original?” Part IV (18 min)