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A study of popular education approaches to learning in open and online courses

Tuesday 9:00-10:30 (2), Darwin Suite

Type: Short paper

Theme: Students as users and co-creators

http://www.coocs.co.uk #oer14 #abs47


Peter Shukie, Programme Leader BA (hons) Education Studies, University Centre Blackburn College, [email protected]



This study emerges from the early stages of a Community Open Online Courses (COOCs) action research project. The development of COOCs came from an interest in the ways that Popular Education models of learning (Freire, 1970; Horton,1990) with an emphasis on learners within a community above the institution and the curriculum, could utilise the promise of openness and sharing of knowledge. The project began from recognition of the transformative potential of MOOCs as a means of creating non-hierarchical routes of access to higher education. While MOOCs are seen as a radical departure from traditional higher education they are still dominated by academics and institutional support networks; both in terms of the people involved and the subjects delivered MOOCs are aligned with traditional positions of education, yet offer new forms of engagement. COOCs offers the role of teacher and learner to anyone with an interest in any subject. Roles of teacher/ learner are defined by the users, content and knowledge is selected based on personal enthusiasm, passion and interest. The openness of the courses suggests that access is only part of the issue and the models of learning rely on multiple readings of a social, economic and cultural landscape that insist on much more than replacing classrooms with web spaces yet leaving institutions in charge..


The project is ongoing as a cyclical action research methodology. This abstract and presentation will involve a discussion based on the first stages of setting up the website and the opening three months of engagement and use with a cohort of ten participants. The project is web-based and access is open to anyone with internet access. The research is based on participant narratives in the forms of blogs, a range of interviews in face to face and online encounters and a detailed evaluation of the web content and practices surfacing in the courses created.


Research at this initial stage suggests that open access allows a range of teachers to engage and highlighted a sense of freedom in what was taught, and how it was delivered. Those participants involved in institutional courses described the benefits of having a space to develop their subject interests in non-institutional space. Concerns about digital divide seemed apparent although presented this being more complex than purely one of distributive justice (Eubanks, 2011) and highlighted the complexity of people’s engagement with technology. While qualifications/ accreditation seemed less significant, there was a consistent theme around reward and acknowledgement. Accountability remained significant and it was significant that new forms of proving validity of the teacher role began to emerge. Communicative skill and reliability appeared more significant than qualifications and publications.


This short paper lays the foundation for continued work in exploring how online, open courses may lead to radical shifts in who teaches, what is taught and how learning takes place. It is a useful alternative to some of the discussion around MOOCs in that it prioritises openness not only in access to the learning, but also in who can create courses and what knowledge is. COOCs then, suggests a rethinking of pedagogy and learning/ teaching that relates to the Popular Education conception of knowledge itself being generated by a community that challenges the ownership of the learning institutions.


Eubanks, V. (2011). Digital dead end: fighting for social justice in the information age. Massachusetts: MIT Press.
Facer, K. (2011). Learning futures: education, technology and social change. London: Routledge.
Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum.
Horton, M. and Freire, P. (1990). We make the road by walking: conversations on education and social change. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Stewart, B. (2013). Massiveness + openness = new literacies. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning & Teaching. Vol.9, No.2, June 2013.

Recap recording

This presentation is available to view at https://campus.recap.ncl.ac.uk/Panopto/Pages/Viewer/Default.aspx?id=02b43a13-415c-4c87-a28a-945f30377ceb ©Univesity Centre Blackburn College 2014 Peter Shukie cc-by 4.0

Further details

Keywords: COOCS, MOOCs, Popular Education, digital divide, critical theory, pedagogy, community

Website: http://www.coocs.co.uk

Mr Peter Shukie, Programme Leader BA (hons) Education Studies, Univesity Centre Blackburn College

Twitter: @shukieone

Twitter abstract: Everyone can teach and everyone can learn. The promise of emancipatory learning spaces in open and online courses.