By David Price

In my book, OPEN: How We’ll Work, Live And Learn In The Future, I argue that a relentless focus upon high-stakes accountability — through student testing and teacher evaluation — has done little to improve outcomes, and has de-professionalized and demoralized teachers.

On the other hand, the flourishing of social collaboration among educators offers hope for a profession under siege, because it’s through self-determining their own professional learning that teachers and administrators can both offset the worst effects of being told how to do their jobs and accelerate innovation.

After the failure of command-and-control, there is now a growing interest in self-managed work-groups, radical transparency and open learning systems as productivity and innovation drivers. What would that look like for educators?

Going Open

Open learning systems apply the same learning principles to their professionals as they do to their students. They understand that the only sustainable transformation in education has to be owned by the people who have to implement it: teachers. They have high expectations of the profession’s capacity to learn through transparent, shared practice, and of their ability to rise to additional responsibilities. They have the humility to accept that learning now happens everywhere, anytime, and they work hard to integrate informal learning into the formal environment.

Open learning systems, in the workplace, and in the formal learning space, share common characteristics.

They place an emphasis upon innovation through collaboration. For Professor David H. Hargreaves, “professional development and partnership competence are the soil in which collaborative capital grows.” Innovation will flourish if it is disintermediated: shorn of the externally imposed agendas and intermediaries that invite resistance and that de-professionalize teaching. It will also flourish if professional learning is collegial and self-determined. In an open learning system, teachers open up the classroom, not just welcoming colleagues, but also the range of entrepreneurs, technologists and industrialists who thus increase their investment in the future of the school, while at the same time connecting learners to the adult world.

Open learning systems should have low-entry barriers and be inclusive, welcoming diversity. They acknowledge that effective learning happens when knowledge is not seen as a finite resource, to be guarded jealously, but freely exchanged in cultures where vested interests and copyright are minimized. Open learning systems practice “radical transparency.”

Open learning systems need to promote the freedom to innovate, and therefore the freedom to fail. How many school systems would be allowed such freedom? Fear of failure paralyzes schools and system leaders and is our biggest innovation killer.

Most importantly, they prioritize autonomy and trust. Much has been said about the achievements of the Finnish education system, usually countermanded by the limited transferability of its lessons to less homogenous cultures. Their insistence upon trust in the profession and the autonomy that accompanies that trust could be adopted by any country.

As an industry, education is no different to any other, facing the immense challenges of a disintermediated, fragmented, yet socially connected, future. As an institution, government-led education bears similarities to the concept of universal suffrage. Both were always seen to be an unchallenged, essential entitlement. Young people, however, increasingly fail to see the point of voting, or of learning formally, and they have discovered other, more dynamic routes to both political activism and self-improvement. Tinkering with standards and structures will not win them back.

It is just possible that an alliance between parents and teachers, amplified through the voices of the students on the receiving end, may finally get the message across to governments — desperate to effect breakthroughs but not knowing what else to do — that we need some new ideas around here. I believe open learning systems may help to address those demands.

“Open” as a way of working, and living our lives, is winning. It is time we applied it to education.

David Price is an author, learning futurist and senior associate at the Innovation Unit in London, England. His new book is OPEN: How We’ll Work, Live And Learn In The Future is available on Amazon. You can follow him on Twitter at @DavidPriceOBE.

  • Tim Kubik

    Downloaded and looking forward to reading the book! Absolutely agree that immediate (I have a hard time with “disintermediated”) and unrestrained collaboration based on common interests is the potential difference when it comes to fostering innovation in education. Every teacher has their own, unique learning arc, and our challenge is to help them find, and then collaborate with one another in order to achieve the enhanced collaborative outcomes our students need.

  • john


  • Benjamin Small

    Very interesting article. Many of these suggestions make a lot of sense
    and have the potential to improve the way teachers teach, and students learn. The
    idea of opening up the classrooms through collaboration with other teachers, as
    well as the entrepreneurs, technologists and industrialists you mention, seems
    quite radical compared to the teaching styles employed today. However, this
    idea could lead to a more well-rounded education. It would give students
    exposure to many different viewpoints on a particular subject, as well as give
    insight into how a particular topic is dealt with in “real world” situations. It
    also demonstrates how much diversity there is in the way people can think about
    and interact with different ideas. Rather than there necessarily being one
    right answer, the students are able to open their minds and consider all of the
    viewpoints they are exposed to before forming their own opinions. Despite these
    potential benefits, I can see how many administrators would be unwilling to
    implement an open learning system. Fear of the unknown causes people to stick
    with what they have. Why risk it failing when they already have an option that
    has been successfully in practice for hundreds of years? There is also not much
    scientific evidence showing that an open learning system is superior to what we
    already have. However, it is an interesting idea that may eventually prove to
    be a better way to teach and learn.

    Here is in an interesting
    article that takes an in-depth look at the effects of collaboration among

    They found that teachers
    who reported a higher level of collaboration with colleagues also expressed a
    higher level of general teaching efficacy and of efficacy in enhancing
    students’ social relations, than did teachers who reported a low level of
    collaboration with colleagues. This
    finding does lend support to the argument for more openness and collaboration
    in the school system. However, they did not investigate the effectiveness of a
    truly open learning system in the way it is described in this article.

  • John

    The importance of not punishing students for failure, or possibly even encouraging failure is so key. Everyone has heard the rhetoric that ‘you learn from your mistakes’ and so forth. How many times have we heard that Thomas Edison did not fail 10,000 times, but that he simply found 10,000 ways not to make a lightbulb? We repeat this rhetoric over and over, yet there is a clear disconnect between society’s words and society’s actions (at least in terms of how those actions manifest themselves into education policy and culture). There is so much pressure to succeed (to get a high mark and so forth) that students almost have to be more concerned with “succeeding” than actually learning. And so much learning can occur through simply failing, yet students are not given many opportunities where failing can be done without serious repercussions. With such an emphasis on ‘succeeding’, students are precluded from taking intellectual risks in favor of taking the safest route they can find through the maze that is the education system.

  • Maya

    As a high school student today, I find the education highly illogical. It’s all about memorization. Memorizing facts, memorizing equations, memorizing definitions, memorizing, memorizing memorizing! This put students that aren’t good at memorizing things, at a disadvantage. This doesn’t mean they are dumb, it just means the system doesn’t work for them.

    I also feel that many teachers care more about whether or not I fill in the write bubble on the scantron then whether or not I actually understand the material. If students do well on tests, that means the teacher won’t be fired. Generally if students do well on tests that means the teacher is taeaching well and that is why they won’t be fired but that is not always the case. I’ve had teachers teach a section so poorly that everyone fails the test, and instead of reteaching the information they just don’t count the test, because if they did it would make them look bad.

  • thank you so much. in this modern era the system of education is change day by day. So it more competitive for the students to learn in future. it time for use there merit in education.with out this they can success in life. .. 

  • thank you so much. in this modern era the system of education is change day by it more competitive for the students to learn in future. it time for use there merit in education.with out this they can success in life.  ..

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