Beatles & the Open Context Model of Learning

To Your Future;

To build the future requires transformation. The future is not “the same as the past only more intense”. As Lennon says in the song Glenn Beck has just attacked in 2010; “You say you want a Revolution well; YOU KNOW”; Answers about the future will not be found in the tramline pedagogies we were raised on. Transformation means qualitative change. A key element of that change however lies within the affordances of new technologies and the interactivity and social participation that they enable.

Social participation is not a phrase that readily springs to mind when talking about education. Education relies on the old certainties of subject disciplines, experts and traditional institutions, none of which are “fit for context” in a participative Knowledge Economy. And education rewards those that follow the old ways of doing things, like learning by rote, and getting A* grades; academics are “A-level students on steroids” not change agents; but they could be.

A lot of my stories reflect the coercive forces always at play in education and how I responded to them. I have been both caned and awarded a year subject prize for my schoolwork so I found education fairly random. A lot of my practice as an educator was concerned with brokering learning opportunities out of education systems. The key moment in my learning life is told in the story Glad All Over and occurred shortly after the BBC TV began Top of the Pops to capitalize on the Beatles phenomenal success. It reflects an argument with a friend who said the Beatles weren’t the best because they weren’t at the top of the charts. After much reflection I realised it was up to me to decide what has value, and that wasn’t a chart, or even a qualification. Consequently I have been thrown out of a few educational institutions as a result. But they were wrong!

I believe that my understanding of learning and education derives from my own experiences, my reflection on that experience and from discussing that experience with others. As a founder member of the Learner-Generated Contexts I was involved in the original two meetings when we both arrived at our formulation of the future of education, “a coincidence of motivations leading to agile configurations” and in doing so shared the guilty secrets of our personal histories of learning.

It turned out that despite our eventual collective educational success we had all experienced pretty bleak learning “failures” from which we had mapped our own ways forward. I notice that this quality is now being actively promoted as “resilience” and we are a resilient group. In fact the back story of the Group, with its dark Dickensian overtones, is possibly more interesting than its theoretical formulations, if perhaps less useful educationally.


The Learner-Generated Contexts Research Group has a back story. Originally a number of us were part of the technical group advising the DfES on the Cybrarian project which produced a prototype social media tool in 2003. This was a Facebook for learning produced a whole year before Facebook. The DfES rejected it, partly because the term social networking site didn’t exist but also because nobody in government knows anything about technology. We were outraged and shocked and eventually formed lastfridaymob (named in tribute to Smart Mobs) as a pressure group concerned with identifying criteria which would help government select useful public ICT projects; they need to be interactive, participative and creative.

lastfridaymob was an interesting mix of researchers, social entrepreneurs, policy makers and new media gurus but after a couple of years of being ignored Rose Luckin said that if we refocussed she knew how to make a Research Group work.

A Coincidence of Motivations leading to Agile Configurations

The Learner-Generated Contexts Research Group started with a number of assumptions having evolved from this social media group. Education needed to be creative, interactive and participative and it would be occurring in a post-web 2.0 world with all the tools that provides. User-Generated Content we took as a given, and our work in social inclusion indicated that “access” was just a starting point what mattered was interest and appropriate content. Consequently we decided that what we were interested in was context appropriate learning, what we called a “Coincidence of Motivations leading to Agile Configurations;” a learner-generated context. Actually what we are probably most interested in is in supporting learning-generated contexts.

Some other Underpinning Ideas (for reference)

Learner-Generated Contexts Group ideas didnt come out of nowhere, our ideas were shaped by our earlier work. Between us we have developed or worked on the following ideas and concepts; Social networking, Ecology of Resources and participatory design, Community Development Model of Learning, Participative Media Literacy, An Information Architecture for Civil Society, developmental e-maturity, Metadata for Community Content, the Social Shaping of Technology and the Networks, Services, Users (NSU) model of technology change.

Open Context Model of Learning

We arrived at the formulation that we now call the Open Context Model of Learning online using a pbworks wiki collaboratively, and you can see the draft version and its evolution online. We realized that we needed a learner-centred pedagogy and prepared it for the first Open Learn Conference at the OU in 2007 hopefully to show that community how you could apply LGC principles to their work on Open Education Resources (OER).

John Seeley Brown was the keynote speaker at the Open Learn Conference and I dragged him along to our workshop. He called our presentation “the most exciting thing happening in England!” Yanks, hey; don’t you just love them; it is “the most exciting thing happening in Britain” John! But thanks anyway…

Another LGC back story is that we had each typically worked in more than one educational sector and collectively had worked across all education sectors, so our view of the Open Context Model of Learning is that it is an approach to learning that can be applied in multiple contexts.

But the point of this exercise comes from the belief that understanding learning involves a narrative and I have tried to present a narrative that is about my learning and which also reflects The Open Context Model of Learning. I have tried to select stories that capture something that I learnt at the time, often inspired by The Beatles who presented an alternative narrative of learning to me (see the “Learning…With The Beatles” entries on 9 after 909 for more on this).

The Open Context Model argues that learning is a combination of subject understanding, collaboration, social processes and creativity, and that part of the process of implementation involves addressing what we call the PAH Continuum, as Thomas Cochrane has done at Unitec NZ (image 13 on Prezi).

The PAH Continuum

Pedagogy Andragogy Heutagogy
Locus of Control teacher teacher/learner learner
Educational sector schools adult education doctoral research
Cognition Level cognitive Metacognitive Epistemic
Knowledge Production Context Subject understanding Process negotiation Knowledge Production Context

We argue that teaching to the PAH Continuum means that Pedagogic, Andragogic and Heutagogic issues need to be covered in the learning process. Pedagogy is teacher-lead and designed to inculcate subject understanding. Andragogy, usually associated with adult education, is about developing collaborative learning skills in learners, which is the critical factor in learning to learn. And don’t forget that everyone does want to learn, but perhaps not your subject and perhaps not in your way. Heutagogy is about being creative, about understanding form (or subject discipline) and then learning how to play with it, to create innovation. Normally we only allow artists and post-doctoral research fellows to this and then only a little, but we could all learn how to do this, even if we don’t. Perhaps teach a history of technology with a focus on the innovation process? Maybe require your students to contribute to wikipedia, or spot an error, and substantiate their post.

The Beatles and the Open Context Model of Learning

When I started writing the posts called Learning…With The Beatles I used to think that “all you need is heutagogy,” but in fact I realized that “all we need is andragogy”, and the heutagogy will follow. We need more collaboration-driven learning, we need co-creation and co-design strategies, we need new professional skills in educators and we need to enable learning and creativity in our learners.

The past isn’t linear; the future hasn’t been built

I am interested in understanding the disrupted narratives of our own learning as we turn the past into an arrow and see the present in a predictable arc from the past. It isn’t and it never was. But when we think that way we then see and expect the future to be built in a linear and predictable fashion, yet we study the great disruptions in history, Sarajevo (twice), 9/11 , the English Civil War, the American revolution, 7/7, climate-change, and so on and then produce a smooth historical tapestry. So is the future about One Laptop per Child or One Laptop per Village, embedded or distributed, augmented or virtual, industrial or ecological, nation-state or bio-region, man-made or natural, Examined or Trusted, political parties or mafia driven, peaceful or terrorist, financial or post-financial models of exchange, global or local, representative or participative? If your pedagogy doesn’t provide answers to these questions then I suggest you might need to start using the Open Context Model of Learning, reconceptualising education and becoming more collaborative.

Learning Futures Festival Online – Core Questions for discussion;

Presentation on Slideshare

1. What line most resonates in any story?

2. Why does this line resonates?

3. Tell us what a story about a learning experience this reminds you of.

4. What can we learn from your story?

Process (Stories on Scribd)

Day One; Four Stories, context, characters and engaging with secondary schooling

Day Two; Four Stories, school, friends and achievement

Day Three; Four Stories, school and preparing for life after school

If you enjoyed the stories more than the theory you might like the full version of them in 63/68 A Visceral History.


Draft version of Open Context Model of Learning

Beatles Stories and Discussions; try the tags “Learning…With The Beatles” and “Open Context Model”

LGC Film on yoodoo; “The Future of Learning”

Interactive Digital Inclusion Centre (click enter);

LGC NING site;

Policy Forest;

Comments below appreciated

1 Comment

  1. August 3, 2010 at 4:41 pm

    BBC Radio 4 has broadcast a 30 minute ‘great lives’ programme about Lennon. Apart from two gaffes (IMHO) from the otherwise exemplary John Harris, this is a good biog. There is no podcast (because of rights clearance, presumably) but it is broadcast again on 6 August 2010 so I hope this reaches all Fred’s fab friends before then. The web site is

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