Confusion at the start

When I first read that we would be examining “Open Learning”, I had the impression that we would be discussing topics closer to “customised learning”, perhaps mostly due to the definition I Googled (see Fig. 1) but also due to articles such as Lewis (1986). Hence, I envisioned learning about how to design courses that: (1) students could access independently, (2) engage in activities asynchronously, and (3) have some level of control over what and how they wanted to learn. For example in Hannafin et al. (1999), which discusses instructional design to create technology-enhanced, student-centred learning environments.


Fig. 1. The Oxford definition of “open learning”.


So I was a little lost when Maha Bali started talking about vulnerability and permissions. I thought it was just a conceptual introduction and continued to wait for her to start discussing teaching techniques and approaches. However, she then moved on to discussing social injustice and combatting it with “intentionally equitable hospitality” (Bali et al. 2019), which was the end of her seminar. I was completely confused! I smiled, said my goodbyes to everyone, and sat there befuddled! What had I just listened to was not at all what I had expected to hear. This was also closer to the topics that my PBL group focused on, discussing (without giving away too much) concepts such as democracy and equal opportunity.


Putting it together, and teasing it apart

I then set about trying to reconcile these contradictions. I suppose my initial expectations, as a relatively new lecturer, focused on skills that I wanted to pick up—and this was the focus in the early days of Open Learning in the 1990s. It seems to me that things have since moved on to looking at what we want to use these tools to achieve in today’s social context: equal opportunity, equity, justice, universal access.

I agree that these are good and lofty goals! But at the same time, I do still need to learn more about the learning tools and design strategies that enable individualised learning—perhaps what would be seen as the more mundane aspects of the topic. I would just need to learn these, keeping in mind the higher values that we hope to advance through their use and the implementation of Open Learning.



Bali, M., Caines, A., Hogue, R. J., DeWaard, H. J., & Friedrich, C. (2019). Intentionally equitable hospitality in hybrid video dialogue: The context of virtually connecting. eLearn, 2019(5).

Hannafin, M., Land, S., & Oliver, K. (1999). Open learning environments: Foundations, methods, and models. Instructional-design theories and models: A new paradigm of instructional theory, 2, 115-140.

Lewis, R. (1986). What is open learning?. Open Learning: The Journal of Open, Distance and e-Learning, 1(2), 5-10.

Topic 2: Open Learning – sharing and openness