Open-source learning is an emerging education practice that allows students to capitalize on the scope and power of the Internet to create and manage their own learning experiences and produce interactive material that is available online to everyone. The term was coined for this context in 2009 by David Preston, a teacher who developed the principles, tools, and techniques that are being used in a growing number of K-12 schools and colleges.
In an open-source learning environment, individual students work with the guidance of a teacher-mentor to explore and create concepts, source materials, and research to develop their own learning experiences, primarily with online technology. Students form socially dynamic learning networks online and in the local community, communicating and collaborating by using in-depth online research practices, blogs, social media, and other interactive tools.
As a result, students create and manage interactive learning material that is available online to everyone, generating and sharing value that extends beyond the traditional K-16 curriculum. This deeper and more engaged involvement results in significant improvement in academic achievement; it also creates many opportunities for traditional performance evaluation of objective production, including formative and summative tests, as well as alternative assessment of portfolios, which can include a variety of artifacts, including transmedia presentation of content and the learner’s choices related to platforms, media, and design.
In an early presentation on the value of open-source learning, Preston wrote,
- "Everyone loves learning. At the core of our DNA we are hardwired to learn, to explore, to crave to understand, to absorb new information. We are most engaged when our learning is internally driven, personally meaningful, and purposefully guided.
- "Devices will never replace or even compete with the learning benefits of human interaction. However, the Internet is an organizer, amplifier, and information accelerant that feeds our desire to learn with powerful tools that allow us to create our own paths of inquiry and share what we learn. Search is magic. Expert teachers instruct on demand in two clicks. We can collaborate with anyone in the world. Information has never been more engaging, accessible, and customizable.
- "But 'learning' and 'school' are two different things.
- "Current curriculum and teaching, even when delivered with the tools and media of the information age, do not fully engage students or prepare them with the skills they need to prosper in the 21st century.
- "The challenge confronted today by the education establishment is not just simply integrating new technology into the school system. In order to encourage customization and innovation, and in order to empower students to embrace and engage with the learning process and the culture they’re preparing to join, we must abandon some of the fundamental assumptions that school has been built on for a thousand years."
The practice of open-source learning transforms teachers and students into what Preston calls "educational entrepreneurs" – students who not only receive and use information more effectively than in traditional teaching models but also create new knowledge, opportunities, competitive advantage, and value in the community and the marketplace.
Teachers and students as networked partners
Using the tools and training developed by Preston, open-source learning becomes an interactive process that transforms teachers and students into networked partners in creating and sharing knowledge. Teachers become networked facilitators for student innovation. Teachers serve as mentors, guiding students through an exploration of the curriculum, connecting students with information and people that can help extend their work, encouraging expressions of learning for all in the network to experience, and collaboratively evaluating the efforts and achievements of the students throughout the course of study.
Two years of data indicates that open-source learning students show higher levels of participation in classes, are more likely to apply for scholarships and register for Advanced Placement (AP) courses and exams, and are enthusiastic during and after the completion of their classes. The tools and techniques of Open Source Learning trains students to be innovators, and helps them build positive online presence—essential skills for progression in 21st century academics and careers.
Through open-source learning, students receive information, produce knowledge integrated into their own learning experiences, and create benefits for others. Students' self-generated creative output developed through open source learning include online essays, blogs, audio-visual works, graphic presentations, reference material, remixes, games, collaborative ventures, and software applications. The open-source learning approach has been implemented as a combination of classroom interaction and online work, and in completely virtual settings.
According to Jane Kagon, founder and executive director of RFK-LA, "Open Source Learning, by its very definition, is an intrinsic structural component of a learner-driven social justice curriculum." Creating equity in education produces tangible, measureable results that demonstrate substantial change in teacher effectiveness and student achievement.
Since open-source learning was first implemented in English courses at Ernest Righetti High School in Santa Maria, CA, ongoing evaluations have consistently shown that students are overwhelmingly positive about the open source learning environment. In addition to the enthusiasm generated among students (including many who are often hard to engage in traditional classroom or online settings), open-source learning has been shown to build skills and literacies that are increasingly relevant in the workplace, society, and educational institutions. These skills include: knowledge of technology and networks-as-social-systems, collaboration, creativity, communication, critical thinking, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A growing number of K–12 schools and colleges are adopting open-source learning principles and practices.
David Preston, PhD, is a teacher, author, and management consultant whose work explores issues involved in learning, community leadership, and organizational dynamics. Preston has taught at every level of public education, from pre-school programs in inner-city schools to advanced graduate seminars at research universities.
In 2004, Preston began teaching high school English courses. He integrated discovery learning and technology, and developed tools and techniques that merge the vast capabilities of online technology with traditional classroom studies. In 2011 he introduced "The Open Source School" conceptual model at the Institute for the Future in Palo Alto, CA. Since then Preston has presented open-source learning concepts and use cases at the Digital Media & Learning Conference, Computer Users in Education, The O'Reilly Open Source Conference, and TEDxUCLA.
Preston has appeared with students in online conferences with authors and researchers at the Macarthur Foundation's Digital Media & Learning Hub at University of California, Irvine. In 2013 Preston began writing about Open Source Learning and contributed a chapter to Howard Rheingold's Peeragogy Handbook.
- Preston, D. . “5PH1NX: 5tudent Peer Heuristic for 1Nformation Xchange.” In The Peeragogy Handbook (Howard Rheingold, Editor). http://peeragogy.org/case-study-5ph1nx/
- Preston, D. . "Will This Blog See Tomorrow?" http://drprestonrhs14exposcomp.blogspot.com/2013/08/will-this-blog-see-tomorrow.html
- Open Source Learning: Overview
- A recent cohort's first impression of Open Source Learning ("Will This Blog See Tomorrow?”) 
- Learner reflections in video ("We Are Superman") 
- Online conference with MacArthur Foundation's Digital Media & Learning Hub 
- David Preston presentation on Open Source Learning at TedxUCLA 
- Sample learner reflection on Open Source Learning 
- Blogs by Open Source Learning Members
- Use Cases
- Presentations and Media
- Santa Maria Joint Union High School District, June 12, 2013 
- Interview with Howard Rheingold 
- Macarthur/DML conference with students 
- TEDxUCLA presentation on Open Source Learning by David Preston 
- Roy Christoper interview with David Preston 
- Steve Hargadon compilation of Open Source Learning materials 
- "We Are Superman" video 
- Open Source Convention program entry 
- Entry for Computer-Using Educators Conference, 2012 
- Sample course blogs
- Student/course highlights
- Sample online conferences
- Cory Doctorow 
- Bryan Alexander 
- J.P. Bouvet 
- Students learn to mindmap  and collaboratively produce a mindmap of William Gibson's interview in The Paris Review ; redone in 2012-13  with a new map 
- A student teaches online security 
- Author/blogger Roy Christopher joins the class for an online conference 
- Students create an international microfinance fund with strategic partners in Africa