Reclaim Open Learning

better online learning for higher ed

The Open Master’s

September 19, 2013 by Courtney Santos

Alan Webb, The Open Master’s, P2PU
Tim Woensdregt, The Open Master’s NL, De Universiteit
Marien Baerveldt, The Open Master’s NL, De Universiteit
Sydney Brouwer, The Open Master’s NL, De Universiteit
Jacob Levin, The Open Master’s Bay Area

The Open Master’s started as an experiment by a group of community members in Washington, DC to create for ourselves what we otherwise might have gotten from a traditional university community–e.g. goals to work toward, accountability, and a community of dedicated learners–but felt we could not. Some could not rationalize or afford the price tag of going back to school, or simply weren’t sure it would give us what we wanted, if we could. Some wanted our studies to build on the work we were already doing locally. Many were already learning individually through digital resources or local skill-sharing. But all of us had experienced some of the common challenges of self-directed learners everywhere; getting lonely or bored, staying motivated, or finding focus. Given the modern reality that content is not hard to find, but dedicated peers and structure are, we drew inspiration from historical grassroots education movements like Chautauqua Study Circles; we dreamed that creating our own higher education together as adults should be as easy as starting an AA group. We formed, essentially, a local club for self-directed learners. We started holding regular dinners, workshops, and studios. We pushed each other to write and peer-review year-long learning plans, publish personal statements and blogs, commit ourselves to goals, hold presentations, and help each other find resources and mentors, all of which constitute a growing list of tools and practices that make up the choose-your-own-adventure art we practice in the Open Master’s of being social, self-directed learners.

In the year since we launched, the Open Master’s has grown from one community in Washington, DC–with about 30 people between the ages of 16 and 38–to three. A second group has been running in the Netherlands for six months now, and a third is just forming in San Francisco. This has been led entirely by volunteer catalysts and builder teams in each location. Our members have a wide range of interests; from entrepreneurship to farming; Buddhism to creative writing, and new groups are explicitly attracting a wider age range of members to bring more inter-generational mentorship into the community. We are attracting interest from catalysts in other cities–from São Paulo to Charleston–and are honestly a little overwhelmed thinking about what supporting each of these groups will look like. Based on what we have learned so far, though, we know it will include: keeping up the habit of documenting and sharing successful strategies between groups, and continuing to build and grow the shared commons of our time, resources, and skills, to address our needs collectively. One original goal that has shifted is that, although many of us were initially attracted to this project by the idea of creating a peer-reviewed award that would recognize members’ work as equivalent to specific, traditional degrees, being able to achieve our goals and find the community and structure we were craving from the start has turned out to be extremely valuable on its own, and has become more important to us than having a big gold star at the end. Whatever form of recognition we create may now be evolving to simple peer-awarded honors for the most creative and inspiring paths our members have pioneered for themselves, both to capture their stories and to share and illuminate new paths for others.

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