Stephen Downes is one of the key knowledge persons in my learning network. He has a wonderful information harvester (gRSShopper, which I am going to integrate as soon as I get it running - almost there and I will gladly share it once it is up and running). Stephen sticks to the principle of open / free learning and ... he builds his own path in life (a very tough path to walk on). To me Stephen Downes is to learning what Henry Rollins is to music, they simply to their thing and if you don't like... so what. Great spirit.
Although I have been reading what Stephen shared for years, this was the first time I could hear him in real life. And it was enlightening. I do not know why, but sometimes I need a synchronous physical location to come to the next level of understanding. I sometimes think the physical presence of a brain connects to other brains in the room. Let's say a synapse dynamic that surpasses the neurons in the personal brain but can jump in between other brains ... well, strange beliefs make good dreamers.
In his presentation he focused on the difference between what he saw as free learning, and where Open Educational Resources (OER) and its propagators stand. That topic is of interest as I got involved in some conversations three months ago with the people of OERu. Stephen made some very interesting points in that the people of OERu still work with a model that is based on the industrial educational model: assessments (multiple choice, etc. but assessments seldom indicate the state of knowledge within the learner), they allow accreditation, but only from institutes within the federation around OERu ... What Stephen suggested was that free learning assessment should be by engagement, assessment by community impact so to speak. Great idea.
He proceeded to say that learning is a matter of growth, not accumulation (agreeing with that, each day a learner will proof that the whole is bigger than the sum of its parts. And that our knowledge is distributed across neurons, it is not fixed. This is a statement he made years ago, but I am only starting to feel the implications of this sentence as I relive it day by day. At times I really think the universe can be brought back to a simple set of interchangeable rules and one is ... growth, which is essential to learning.
This is his presentation and you can also view it on his website with audio, here :