Open pedagogies: Transforming and empowering learning

The open movement has been defined as:

An informal, worldwide phenomenon characterised by the tendency of individuals and groups to work, collaborate and publish in ways that favour accessibility, sharing, transparency and interoperability. (Couros & Hildebrandt, 2016, p.145)

A feature of the open movement which is gaining increasing exposure, is the concept of open educational practices (OEP). Open educational practices make explicit the understanding that education is about the sharing of knowledge.

Sharing knowledge does not diminish it; like a flame, sharing only creates more light and heat.

The term open educational practices describes the “creation, use and reuse of open education resources, open pedagogies, and open sharing of teaching practices” (Cronin, 2017, p.1). These practices are made possible at scale through networked technologies (Weller, 2014).

In this post, we will look more closely at the concept of open pedagogies, which to me, is ‘where the rubber hits the road’. This means that open pedagogies are the ways in which educators can truly demonstrate their commitment to open education, through a variety of practices which enable accessibility, sharing, active participation in learning and the use of open educational resources.

There are many ways in which educators can build open pedagogies into their practice, however before that can happen, we need to understand what in fact we mean when we use the term ‘open pedagogy or open pedagogies’.

Understanding the concept of open pedagogies begins with the notion of ‘resisting the definition’.

“We might think about Open Pedagogy as an access-oriented commitment to learner-driven education AND as a process of designing architectures and using tools for learning that enable students to shape the public knowledge commons of which they are a part.  Open pedagogy is a site of praxis, a place where theories about learning, teaching, technology, and social justice enter into a conversation with each other and inform the development of educational practices and structures."

Resisting definitions can make us feel uncomfortable, however the concept of open pedagogy is constantly evolving, and reflective of the ways in which education itself is constantly changing. A firm definition will limit its capacity to morph as it needs to in order to meet the needs of students and educators.

As the image above explains, open pedagogy is an access oriented commitment to learner driven education. It is also a process of designing the architectures (structures or models) and using (and choosing) the tools that allow students to employ agency and autonomy in their learning. Open pedagogies recognise that we are all learners together in the process of developing a shared public knowledge commons. This belief connects strongly with the concepts of connectivism and connected learning, which reflect contemporary ways of understanding learning within environments of information abundance.

There is an impressive array of research and openly shared reflection on open pedagogy. Rather than reproduce this wonderful work, I will provide a top level summary of some of the aspects of open pedagogy which are expressed in the words of De Rosa and Rajib (2017). I have also curated some of the best resources and have included this at the end of this post for your future reading, as well as linked to a key reading or expert on each of the different features of open pedagogy discussed below.

Open pedagogy is access oriented

Consider access and equity by choosing resources and pedagogies that reduce barriers – including economic, technical, social, cultural and political factors…

  • Using Open Educational Resources to reduce economic costs
  • Choose technology with accessibility features so all learners can access content
  • Consider equitable times and places for learning which consider students’ personal, cultural or economic needs
  • Maintain and encourage respect for and understanding of cultural differences in choice of content and in pedagogical approaches

Maha Bali writes extensively and authoritatively on the importance and value of access oriented education. If you are interested in open education beyond this course, I would definitely encourage you to follow her work and to engage with her open activities online. You can get an idea of just some of the ways in which accessibility can be improved by reading What is Open Pedagogy by Maha – open here and scroll to the second entry, which is hers.

Open pedagogy is learner driven

Consider how students can exercise greater agency and autonomy in their learning and learn through creation as much as (or more than) consumption:

  • Student negotiated/directed curriculum – allow students to contribute their thoughts and ideas as to what areas of curriculum to focus upon
  • Production centred learning – not all learning must be through consumption; active, constructionist learning opportunities are often richer and more authentic!
  • Student curated resources – challenge students to contribute resources which the cohort will learn through – an exercise in information literacy as well as content knowledge.
  • Kill the ‘disposable assignment’ : “assignments that add no value to the world – after a student spends three hours creating it, a teacher spends 30 minutes grading it, and then the student throws it away.” David Wiley

Making the leap to learner driven pedagogy takes courage and may be a significant change – but it doesn’t have to be a complete flip in practice. Begin by introducing small elements of choice or active learning and build from there. For a great list of ideas for developing learner driven pedagogy in higher education, check out

Designing architectures for open pedagogy

Enabling learner driven pedagogy is often through the design of architectures that enable active participation, the development of community and connections with others:

  • Provide an online space for conversation, feedback and support
  • Create learning experiences that require student contribution for learning
  • Consider inviting and encouraging connections within and beyond the cohort; consider peers from other universities, experts, the general public… (a unit Twitter hashtag can be a great way to achieve this!)

Learning can be openly shared and community within and beyond the cohort encouraged – here’s an example of a Master of Education unit that I designed using open architecture:
LCN600 Open Connected Learning

Tools to encourage open pedagogies

Take advantage of the affordances of open, accessible and connected social technologies that mediate learning through knowledge construction and sharing; however do not view open as neutral:

Engaging with open pedagogy means moving beyond the Learning Management System, and engaging (where possible) on the open web. This is no easy feat, and is not always possible or even appropriate. However Jesse Stommel presents a thought provoking challenge to consider how we might break out of the walled garden in this chapter of his excellent book, An Urgency of Teachers.

Understanding our part in the public knowledge commons through open pedagogy

Overwhelmingly we are seeing the need to transform our understanding of learning. Open pedagogy recognises students as fellow learners, and education as richer than a simple transactional process where students are consumers and teachers are the producers or holders of that knowledge. It values the humanity within education.This transformation also challenges us to reflect upon the way we relate to and understand the role and identity of the student. If we are all learners together, then a pedagogy of kindness such as the one Catherine Denial describes makes perfect sense.

From the post:

“My graduate education encouraged me to think of students as antagonists, always trying to get one over on their instructors. I was urged to be on the lookout for plagiarism, to be vigilant for cheaters, to assume that the students wouldn’t do the reading, and to expect to be treated as a cog in a consumerist machine by students who would challenge their grades on a whim.”

Catherine Denial shares how a pedagogy of kindness, entailing believing students, and believing in students has transformed her practice and her personal experience of teaching.

In conclusion

This post is but an introduction to the concept of open pedagogy.

If you would like to share this post as a presentation, you can access slides which include this information here.


Couros, A., & Hildebrandt, K. (2016). Designing of open and social learning. In G. Veletsianos (Ed.), Emergence and innovation in digital learning: Foundations and applications (pp. 143-161). Edmonton, AB: Athabasca University Press. doi:

Cronin, C. (2017). Openness and praxis: Exploring the use of open educational practices in higher education. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 18(5), 15-34.  doi:

Weller, M. (2014). Open scholarship. In M. Weller (Ed.), Battle for open: How openness won and why it doesn’t feel like victory (pp. 135-151). London: Ubiquity Press. doi:

Banner image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Curated Content

Below you will find links to interesting and useful readings by a range of experts, researchers and practitioners who share their thoughts and reflections on open pedagogy.

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