Before wecan start to think about course design for online environments, I feel that it is vital to have a definition of what we want to achieve: What is a successful learning situation? How can success be defined in connection to learning?

In defining this for myself, David Wiley’s TED talk from the 6th of March 2010 really inspired me. I will share it here so that you can get an idea of what I am referring to:

David Wiley on success in open learning environments.

At first, Wiley discusses the definition of open by referring to the 4 Rs: Reuse, Redistribute, Revise, Remix. According to him, all of these are part of the same process, and all of these need to be engaged with when dealing with education. According to Wiley, education “is really about sharing…and about being generous with other people…about giving” (ca. 1:08 fllg.).

No sharing = No education

As a consequence out of this definition, a successful educator according to Wiley is someone who shares “most thoroughly with the most students”. If we take this as the underlying definition of success in education, then there are a number of ways in which we may strive to achieve this goal:

We may make all material available to anyone online. We may invite colleagues from our own institution and others, both nationally and internationally to visit seminars in which we share new research findings. We would try to remove all fees for all groups of students. And so on.

But does this already lead to success? This question is more complex than it at first appears because success must be seen in its rhetorical context. Yes, the above would be ways to approach the second part of Wiley’s definition; it would make education inclusive and thus open for “the most students”. Many universities today have opened themselves up for greater inclusiveness by posting courses online, creating moocs, and allowing outside learners to participate. However, how are we dealing with the bit of the defintion that Wiley describes with the word “thoroughly”?

Does the fact that we have made material accessible really mean that we have created an inclusive learning environment? No, is my answer to this question. By opening the courses and sharing the material, we have only taken the first step. As educators, one of our main tasks is to transfer this knowledge to the students; we are mediators of knowledge, not just presenters. As such, a truly open and inclusive learning environment requires careful design of process and material.

Wiley beautifully defines education as a way to “give without giving it away” (4:30). Knowledge has the special property of not getting smaller when we share it. In fact, I would argue that a carefully designed learning environment can ensure that knowledge grows both for the giver and the receiver. If this beautiful capacity of openness in learning is not enough motivation to put our energy into careful learning design, then I don’t know what would be.