OpenLearning18: Course and Metacourse

I’ve been to plenty of doctors in my life, but one stands out, even now, because of the way he narrated the examination. Let’s say I went to him with a sore left knee. The first thing he would do was to palpate the right knee. Luckily, I didn’t interrupt him and say, “Not that knee, doc.” Instead, I waited a second, and in that space I heard him say, “Medicine teaches us to examine the healthy part first, to get a personal baseline with which to compare the diseased part.” Suddenly I learned something important about medicine in addition to learning something (as I eventually did) about how to ease the pain in my left knee. That small moment of meta made all the difference. It gave me a framework with which to understand everything from medical education to ways in which I could better monitor my own health and better practice my self-care.

I haven’t been to nearly so many attorneys in my life as I have physicians, probably because lawyers do not administer vaccinations (though they may help one negotiate immunity in certain instances–sorry, I just couldn’t resist). Nevertheless, one attorney in recent experience stands out because of a remark he made in a long-ish answer to a very short question. I simply needed a yes or no–or so I thought. When I got the somewhat longer answer, however, I realized that in fact I needed more than the yes or no I was looking for … but that realization involved waiting for the answer, thinking about it, and doing my best to grok it. When I thanked the attorney for the fuller answer, he replied that he typically declined to give yes or no answers even to simple questions, because the fuller context not only helped the client to understand the answer but also helped the client understand his, the attorney’s, reasoning. (It probably didn’t hurt that this attorney had a B.A. in philosophy from Berkeley, either.)

You can probably see where I’m going with these stories in relation to Open Learning ’18. It is true that the course is arranged topically, with single aspects or subsets of “open” discussed most weeks during the cMOOC. Nothing wrong with that, certainly. And I suppose there’s nothing wrong with folks parachuting in for the one week they’re most interested in. But the best part of the course, and one we focus on this week as our introduction, is the opportunity to consider “all the opens, connected.” This bigger picture, this meta-view, is where information becomes knowledge–and where our shared learning experience may also foster wisdom.

Ideally, we’ll emerge with a few powerful conceptual frameworks that help us make sense not only of “all the opens” out there right now, but all the opens that may emerge as we continue to experience the uncanny, sometimes liberatory, sometimes frightening aspects of the global, light-speed telecommunications network we call the Internet. That sense-making can then be fed back into the network in a truly virtuous cycle–a virtuous cycle that’s part of the optimism and energy within Open Learning ’17, Open Learning ’18, and beyond.

I hope this first week helps to make visible the crucial importance of this meta-perspective. We’ll touch on this meta-perspective throughout Open Learning ’18. And we’ll revisit it, full-on, when we get to the final week’s topic of Open Faculty Development.

Bonus for those who read to the end: a primary inspiration for this post is “The Why of Cooking,” an article that appeared last year in The Atlantic. In this wonderful essay I also learned of the extraordinary metacookbook called Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. In both cases, the analogies with Open Learning ’18 were irresistble, and yummy. For example, from “The Why of Cooking”:

I was … surprised, after roughly a year of searching, to find that there are very few books that concisely articulate the concepts that underlie good cooking, in a way that neither patronizes nor overwhelms. One might call what I was looking for “a metacookbook”—a book not about a certain cuisine or style of cooking, but about cooking itself—and I found good ones to be surprisingly rare.

So welcome to Open Learning ’18, course and metacourse, cMOOC and meta-cMOOC. And welcome to the feast!

Cooking Class

Photo by Patrick Mueller CC-BY 2.0

3 thoughts on “OpenLearning18: Course and Metacourse

  1. Right, as I mentioned in this blog post (, those who can participate fully will gain the most from the experience. I agree that it would be hard to see the connections between all the opens and get the “meta” experience if you pop in and out. I hope that anyone dropping in for pieces of OpenLearning18 would get a good taste of it and want more and would make plans to participate fully in OpenLearning19!

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