Open pedagogy and a very brief history of the concept

The good folks at #OER17 have accepted my conference proposal on our University of Guadalajara faculty development program, which I positioned in the proposal as an example of an open pedagogy approach to faculty development.  However the proposal acceptance is contingent on one thing:  it was noted that I don’t define or link to any scholarly resources on open pedagogy, a very fair point and very useful feedback. And a bit sloppy on my part, if I’m quite honest.

This lead me down a rabbit hole this week, digging around for scholarly work on open pedagogy.  The big surprise – although probably not to Vivian Rolfe who did a masterful job of a presentation at OpenEd16 this year digging into some history of open  – is that the term open pedagogy dates back to the early 1970s, where it was actually quite a thing in Quebec and France.  But does it mean what we think it means?

One of the oldest references comes from Canada’s own Claude Paquette, who in this article from 1979 states that open pedagogy has already been in place for almost 10 years, and lays out some foundational principles in his paper as well as this one from 2005.  His 1995 paper talks about open pedagogy with a historical distance that can only be appreciated if you’ve embraced a novel idea and watched it succeed and fail simultaneously. Consider this passage for example:

La nécessité d’une rupture avec la pédagogie encyclopédique charmait les plus progressistes et les plus innovateurs d’entre nous, alors que les tenants de la rénovation pédagogique ne cherchaient que quelques nouveaux trucs pour enjoliver la pédagogie de la bonne réponse sans en questionner les fondements et les pratiques.

The necessary rupture with textbook pedagogy charmed the  most progressive and most innovative of us, while those for pedagogical renewal were only looking for new techniques to liven things up without questioning the foundation and practices.    (my translation)

Paquette outlines 3 sets of foundational values of open pedagogy, namely:  autonomy and interdependence; freedom and responsibility; democracy and participation.  He goes into some detail about these, but us ed tech folks will recognize some of the themes – individualized learning, learner choice, self-direction, – to name a few.  He even talks about “open activities” as the big innovation in open pedagogy, whereby students simultaneously use  their multiple talents in learning situations, and this process of learning is “interactional” (aka social and connected).  For Paquette, open is very much about learner choice, (albeit for him this is really about creating a classroom environment where this can be optimized).  Good stuff right?

Of course, this becomes much more fascinating if you consider the sociopolitical context in which these ideas were playing out.  Quebec had just experienced a cultural revolution which lead to a rupture of the stronghold of the Catholic church on pretty much all of Quebec society, and from which emerged, among other things, an educational reform and establishment of a CEGEP system in Quebec (tuition free post secondary colleges).  This is significant in that prior to this rupture, post secondary  education was largely accessible only to the (English) elite, and public education pretty much ended at age 14.

Meanwhile in Europe, there were similar educational reform ambitions and the language education world had embraced ideas of autonomy and self-direction in reaction to a number of sociocultural currents, which are nicely wrapped up for us in this 1995 article by Gremmo and Riley.  There are quite a few gems to consider in here in the context of how we talk about open and open pedagogy currently.  For example, the abstract starts us off with a bang in situating autonomy and self direction against a backdrop of:

minority rights movements, shifts in educational philosophy, reactions against behaviourism, linguistic pragmatism,wider access to education, increased internationalism, the commercialization of language provision and easier availability of educational technology (p.151)

Plus ca change…

Another gem discusses the role of technology in facilitating autonomy:

(4) Developments in technology have made an undeniable contribution to the spread of autonomy and self-success. The tape-recorder, the fast-copier, TV and the video-recorder, the computer, the photocopier, magazines, newspapers, fax and e-mail, all provide a rich variety of tools and techniques for the implementation of self-directed learning. In institutional terms, the facilities have been gathered together to form the resource centres (mediatheques, sound libraries, etc.) which will be discussed below. However, experience shows that the price of autonomy is eternal vigilance: there is a strong and repeated tendency for the introduction of some new technology by enthusiastic “technicians” to be accompanied by a retrograde and unreflecting pedagogy. A grammar drill on a computer is still a grammar drill and if learners are given little choice (or no training, which comes to the same thing) then it is a travesty to call their programmes “self-directed”. (p. 153)

Again, some familiar themes are discussed in this article:  flexible learning, vast increases in university population, wider access to education, internationalism, commercialization.

So how does this compare to the foundational principles on which the current open pedagogy movement rests?  At the moment, the current strand of open pedagogy seems to be defined by its use and creation of open materials. Consider for example this description from the OE consortium.

Or this poster for an event at CUNY.

Or this blog post from David Wiley, where he discusses the disposable assignment.

In other words, open pedagogy is currently a sort of proxy for the use and creation of open educational resources as opposed to being tied to a broader pedagogical objective.  Of course, this isn’t to say that the OER movement lacks foundational values and broader objectives – if anything, so much of the 1970s open pedagogy and autonomy world seems to resonate.   In fact, I find it quite fascinating that the authors of this post on the 8 qualities of open pedagogy seem to arrive at a similar place as our 1970s counterparts.  But it does raise the question as to whether we are being ambitious enough in our articulations and aspirations for open pedagogy.  And to Vivian Rolfe’s point made at OpenEd 16, are we are paying enough attention to voices of the past?

Oct 2, 2019 Update:  I have two other later posts on this topic: and


  • Clint Lalonde

    This post makes me feel like I should have paid much closer attention to French in high school. Wow. What a find. I have always had an edtech blindspot when it comes to Quebec, but this post makes me realize that this anglophone is missing out. This is great context. Thanks for taking the time to write it.

    I have been struggling with open pedagogy and the way it is being defined, specifically with how closely it is connected to resources. This helps, and I’ll be diving into Google Translate to help make sense of the source documents.

    • admin

      Thanks Clint, glad you found it useful. Paquette had a few publications but they aren’t available digitally so a bit difficult to get. There was also a whole array of 1970s alternative pedagogy that was popular in language education world that I’ve been meaning to write about, because guess what? It’s essentially ‘experiential’ language learning.

  • Amanda Coolidge

    Tannis- I am fascinated by this conversation. Learning from the past, listening, paying attention to what has already been done and theorized and while reflecting on these conversations- making changes now that will impact the future.

    • Clint Lalonde

      Last Thursday I spent the day at the Digital Pedagogy Student Showcase. These are students enrolled in various Digital Humaities programs and courses at UVic and SFU. Almost all of the projects they created were openly available on the web. They were working on the open web, creating really useful resources, and very intentional in the fact that they wanted their work to be open. But none of the projects were openly licensed (I am not sure why that was). It got me thinking – are these examples of open pedagogy? The resources are not openly licensed, but the work is being done in the open on the web and visible to the world. Students are interacting with the world with real, meaningful projects. Authentic learning experiences adding value to the world. But not openly licensed. To me, these projects felt like open pedagogy, which got me thinking about how I define open pedagogy and what the important characteristics of open pedagogy are to me. I am still working through this, but I think I that the key piece for me of open pedagogy that makes it open pedagogy is that student meaningfully interacting on the open web with, potentially, the world.

      • T Morgan

        I think the 1970s definition of open pedagogy (or pédagogie ouverte if you prefer) would say it is. Defining something by its license is useful but also risks rendering a practice to a technical definition, something that needs to be checked off. The 1970s spirit behind open pedagogy was learner control and emancipation, flexibility, self determination and access. Open licenses are a tool but shouldn’t be a gate keeper IMO.

  • Jim Luke

    Great stuff. Thank you. I found this just after my own post trying to draw a distinction between the openness applied to resources/materials and openness as applied to pedagogy. I think they had it right back in the seventies. Open pedagogy is about the freedom of the student to learn and to interact/connect with the world. It’s independent of the resource licensing. Our great opportunity now, which they did not have in the seventies or eighties, is to use the open web to facilitate that student freedom, interaction, and connection with the world.

  • Dan McGuire

    I started teaching in an “Open School’ in 1996. We were building on a tradition that had been created in the early 70’s here in Minneapolis. The documentation of that process and its development is thin, unfortunately; we were doing it, not documenting it. The huge opportunity of Open, IMO, is the affordances that technology, Creative Commons licensing, and OER bring to the tradition of open education.

    • admin

      Hi Dan, thanks for that example. I wonder if Open School means the same thing here in Canada as it did in the US? Another rabbit hole to go down. I agree with the opportunity of open…all of those things are tools towards a greater endeavour, and after the virtual panel on Open pedagogy yesterday, I’ve been thinking a lot more about all the various traditions of open education.

      • Dan McGuire

        ‘Open School’ actually looked and still looks differently at each of the Open Schools within the Minneapolis Public Schools district. There is no enduring documents that define Open School in the U.S. and certainly no one making sure that anybody is adhering to any such document even if one might exist someplace. I think a repository of Creative Commons licensed resources, or OER, offers the possibility of a new kind of Open School. The issue for me then becomes how we communicate about how those resources work in the classroom and how we share our revisions.

        • admin

          I would love to know more about this Open School example, and I think what appeals to me about the comments in this post is that it provokes thought about leveraging some of the great things about radical 1970s thinking about pedagogy with the benefits of the ‘new’.

  • Don Presant

    Hi Tannis, great addition to the dialogue that I found via Stephen Downes.

    I agree that the conversation about open should be more open to alternative viewpoints, that we we should be more “ambitious in our articulations and aspirations for open pedagogy.”

    My particular viewpoint (or hobby horse), shaped by 15 years connection with the world of ePortfolios and PLAR/RPL, is that open *recognition* needs to play a part. I push back against Quality 7 of the 8 qualities linked above:

    7. open: unmeasurable outcomes — Traditional outcome measurement implies the learning is static and closed.

    This is actually a closed statement of values that leaves out learner choice. What if the autonomous learner *wants* to be assessed and recognized in order to achieve their goals? How are we supporting their choice? And yes, *traditional* outcome measurement is static and closed, but does it have to be traditional? Why not open *assessment*: self/peer/360, co-constructed?

    Beyond that, why not open recognition, that you can carry forward toward your goals and to help transition into new communities and contexts? This is why I work with that progressive, transferable recognition technology that I won’t name here (but whose initials are “OB”.)

    In a “I’ll see your 8 and raise you 2” vein…

    What are your thoughts about the 10 dimensions of open education outlined in the recent “Opening up education” report EU’s JRC Science for Policy:

    The framework is designed to help institutions organize their strategy and support for open education. I’ll paste a high level list here:

    Core Dimensions (what)
    1. Access
    2. Content
    3. Pedagogy
    4. Recognition (I was happy to see this!)
    5. Collaboration (community of practice.. maybe should be transversal?)
    6. Research

    Transversal Dimensions (how)
    7. Strategy
    8. Technology
    9. Quality
    10. Leadership

    It’s a framework not a manifesto, so it’s not necessarily inspiring, but I’m interested in your and others’ thoughts about how useful it is. Paul Stacey had a hand in it and Grainne Conole helped with a feeder document.

    Sorry about the length of this comment – I should probably have written my own blog post.

    • admin

      Hi Don,

      Thanks for this comment, and no apologies needed for length…this isn’t twitter after all!

      My immediate reaction to this statement:

      “What if the autonomous learner *wants* to be assessed and recognized in order to achieve their goals? How are we supporting their choice? And yes, *traditional* outcome measurement is static and closed, but does it have to be traditional? Why not open *assessment*: self/peer/360, co-constructed?”

      …is to say that this also existed in a 1980s version. Self-directed language learning had a whole component on how the autonomous learner could co-create (with a language counsellor) or self create assessments for their language learning (I’m referring to the work of Leslie Dickinson here). Self access learning centres had a role in providing and facilitating that in the pre-internet days, which is why self-directed language learning (where technology was already prominent) became a much more exciting field when the internet appeared. In other words, open existed in pre-internet days, but so much more became possible with the internet and better technology.

      That aside, thank you for linking to the JRC document, and especially because I got a lot out of the section that distinguishes credentialing from recognition. There were many things in this document that I found useful and I need to spend more time in it. And of course, I’ve been learning a lot from you in an area that previously wasn’t interesting to me, and you continue to force me to question my assumptions about this area.

  • Tony Bates

    Congratulations, Tannis, on an excellent blog post. I agree that open pedagogy is not technology-dependent and is a much broader concept and has a much longer history than OER.

    I much appreciate your looking back at what went before. Of course you can always go back even further.

    In the 1960s, Oxfordshire County Council in England had introduced a curriculum for its elementary schools that involved what I think we would today describe as an open pedagogy. This involved inter-disciplinary group project work that required children as young as seven doing their own research, using the books available in their school libraries (or at home), other resources available to them such as the local environment, parental knowledge, and also their own imagination. The team work was critical with a good deal of choice left to the students to decide who did what and what to cover for a particular project. The teacher’s role was to ensure that the student work involved reading, math and critical thinking, but also art work and other forms of expression, including oral reports on their project. The teacher intervened where students needed help, but this usually came as a request from the child or the group rather than interference by the teacher. The work groups were deliberately created to mix up older and younger children, and students of different abilities. Projects often extended over more than one day of full-time teaching.

    This approach was taught to me as a student teacher at the Institute of Education at London University and I also used it in my first two years of teaching in a small rural school in Worcestershire, with over 40 children in the class ranging from ages 7 to 11. I thought from a subjective point of view that the results fully justified the approach – all kids developed rapidly, were highly engaged and motivated to learn, and many did well in the selective 11+ exams. I still think this approach is even more relevant today at university-level, where students can bring a wider range of skills and prior knowledge, and develop problem-solving and knowledge management skills s well as lerning how to work collaboratively and take responsibility for their own learning.

    The teacher’s role was critical and needed great skill in ensuring that every child was engaged and learning. I had to track every child’s progress and contribution at the end of each project. It was not a random activity for students, but carefully structured by the teacher to ensure that ‘the basics’ were covered.

    I’ll be honest. I don’t feel knowledgeable enough about open pedagogy and how it is being discussed today, and whether my example from the 1960’s would meet with the criterion of open pedagogy now being discussed. Is the 1960 teaching approach an example of open pedagogy? I’m not sure. Sometimes labels can be less than helpful. At best this kind of pedagogy is a means, not an end. The end is relevant, in-depth, engaged learning. There are probably lots of ways to achieve this and open pedagogy is just one. But it must surely be broader than just the use of a specific technology.

    Thanks again, Tannis, for a great post.

    • admin

      Thanks Tony, for adding to the richness of examples of ‘radical’ pedagogies of the past. It’s like can’t stop at one, and you hope that more will be in the bag.

      In reading your example, I was reminded of a 1980s New Brunswick second language learning experiment for ESL in the francophone elementary that created libraries of self-access language materials but very little instructor teaching (for a variety of resourcing issues). The research showed that students learned as much or more than the control group that had traditional language teaching. It’s not nearly as broad or radical as your example, but similarly it was constructed on the notion of children being capable of being taught to be autonomous learners, in charge of their own learning.

      The program you described sounds like something I’d love to be part of my own kids’ education. And yes, why can’t this be part of present day higher ed, and if it is what is that example? (Alan Davis was describing to me the Empire State College approach, which sounds like a close example of this in action in higher ed, but I have to dig into that a bit more).

      So, what happened to all of these great examples of ‘open’ pedagogies? What lead to their demise? Austerity? The introduction of quality assurance or accountability measures? Efficiency? I wonder if this is something that needs to be explored in order to not repeat history with today’s versions of open.

  • Simon Ensor

    Thanks Tannis.

    I find myself in between the lines on language education and autonomy (as an EFL Teacher). Very useful to go back and look at how the term “open” has been harnessed…

    • admin

      Hi Simon. I left the language ed field some time ago, but I did my MA on self directed language learning and autonomy. Who knew that these worlds would converge, but I have gained new respect for some of the pioneers of these approaches in language ed and I may revisit this in more detail.

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