Grand Challenge in Open Learning

During Open Education Week, the JISC UKOER evaluation and synthesis team, Lou McGill, Isobel FalconerHelen Beetham and I, are   collecting together ideas for a Grand Challenge in the areas of Open Education or Open Learning. This is following on from my work  with the EU-funded STELLAR Network for Excellence in TEL in developing ‘Grand Challenges’.

A Grand Challenge is about taking the areas of Open Education and/or Open Learning to a new level. It’s about focusing global attention on a specific problem – a problem that is important but has not been solved. Through a Grand Challenge, we identify a problem, link  people and disciplines to build new concepts  and  innovative solutions. Each Grand Challenge should be defined by a problem state­ment, rather than a solution, which is stated simply, measurable and time bound.

Identifying how realistic and desirable a Grand Challenges might be is complex. Every Grand Challenge brings together ideas and concepts from different disciplines to help solve some of the biggest problems associated with Open Education and Open Learning. The likely impact of each on human learning is governed by a complex interplay of factors including:

Contextualisation – Groups of people directly involved with each Grand Challenge will bring to the project their practices, cultures and values, grounding emerging ideas and solutions in known ways of learning and working. A high degree of contextualization embeds the research and outputs within specific settings, reducing the risk of solutions not being taken up. Conversely, a high degree of contexualisation makes the abstraction and diffusion of concepts to other settings more complex.

Interdiciplinarity – Inclusion of a wide range of disciplinary groups within a Grand Challenge enriches the outputs and solutions generated through the project. At the same time, the knowledge generated through the project is likely to be more abstract and less easy to apply directly to solutions across a range of different contexts. Consequently, projects with a greater the number of disciplines tend to be more complex and incur a higher the risk that the outputs will not be adopted widely.

Timescale – The timeframe for the impact of concepts and solution on human learning is proportional to the complexity of the Grand Challenge. Complex, interdisciplinary projects will require a longer timeframe for the adoption of solutions, as knowledge is diffused across and interpreted by different stakeholder groups.

Let me know your ideas for a Grand Challenge in Open Education or Open Learning by writing a short problem statement. Outline the context, disciplines required to seek solutions, timescale and measures (ie how we will know the Grand Challenges has been completed).

For example:

By 2022 learners will be able to use and contribute to all knowledge from publicly funded projects. The project will include researchers from  information, organisational, social and learning sciences, computer and material scientists as well as research funding bosdies, schools, colleges, universities, health services, museums, NGOs, legal entities  and government agencies. By 2012 all public projects will be asked to identify how learners can have access to and can contribute to the project knowledge prior as a condition of a funding agreement.

One thought on “Grand Challenge in Open Learning

  1. Helen Beetham

    Hi Allison, I think I like your suggested grand challenge too much to want to contribute an alternative suggestion.
    But in relation to that challenge, I wonder if ‘learners’ are the only stakeholders that publicly funded projects need to consider? Potential users of research data in medical, legal, geographical, political (etc etc) fields may not be interested in ‘learning’ outcomes but in access to knowledge for other personal and social outcomes? So are open knowledge/open education/open scholarship practices blurring the boundaries between ‘learners’ and other kinds of knowledge-users??

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