Learning Paths and #OER: Trends and Opportunities
This article explains a set of tools developed in order to describe learning activities and learning paths transparently, so that it becomes easier to determine whether they are aligned with the desired learning objectives and are interchangeable (or have interchangeable components). A learning path is defined as a set of one or more learning activities aimed at achieving certain learning objectives. Our argument will make clear that the challenge we face extends beyond the integration of OER within existing curricula, and that we need to view OER as a single source for learning and personal development, alongside many other non-formal and informal sources for learning (CEC, 2000).
Given the extent and fragmentation of the OER options, it is not easy for instructors and learners to find their way and make the best choices. The problem is not specific to OER, however, but even applies within the relatively structured range offered by institutions within the sector of formal education, not to mention the broader context of lifelong learning. This does not mean, however, that OER cannot be an important incentive for revising the existing infrastructure: “The open-source model will offer much more flexibility, though still maintain the structure of a major en route to obtaining a credential. Students who aren’t interested in pursuing a traditional four-year degree, or in having any major at all, will be able to earn meaningful credentials one class at a time” (Harden, 2013). Harden draws a parallel with the music industry: it used to be that you had to buy the whole album, but now you only need to buy the tracks that you really want to listen to. In that connection, Harden notes that in the United States 40% of all college students are adult, non-traditional students. The parallel with the music industry may be illuminating, but it only goes so far because in order to know whether you want to buy a track you only need to listen to it, and buying it requires only a small investment; that is definitely not the case when someone is investing in education and their personal development. A uniform, transparent and interoperable model for describing learning paths can contribute to more effective choices in this area.