Today I watched Gardner Campbell‘s brilliant keynote speech for the Open Education conference in Vancouver which he delivered in October 2012.

This was one of the extra resources for  week 2 of the mind-expanding  E-Learning & Digital Cultures MOOC .

Campbell talks a lot about how what we mean by education and creative thinking. These topics have gotten deeply imbedded, lost or confused as a result of the plethora of open online courses. If you believe the hype, which he doesn’t, these offer a magical panacea to issues like quality, cost and accessibility in Higher Education.

The widespread availability of information (i.e. knowledge) on the Internet could, on the face of it, suggest that the dream of a tailor-made education for all who want it has become real possibility.

Wordle based on key terms in Gardners's talk.

Wordle based on key terms in GardnersCampbell’s talk.

Campbell strikes a note of caution to counteract such bold claims. He highlights The Edupunks Guide as one example of a DIY online resource that appears to offer very little in the way of quality ‘further education’. Sites like these, he argues, are more about challenging the elitist education system rather than offering a meaningful alternative.  Campbell sees the danger of the concept of ‘open education’ leading quite literally to a free for all to become what he calls “an open access brothel of non learning”.

As an alternative, the inspiration for many of his ideas comes from a book of essays called Steps To An Ecology Of Mind by Gregory Bateson. This has guided him to the notion that we should not be talking about education solely in terms of being ‘open’ but as a means of ‘opening’ our minds to creativity and freeing us up to embrace new habits of being.

Following this line of thought, he looks at educational models not as they relate to ‘schoolers’ but to ‘yearners’ – those who are willing and able to think differently in response to the challenges of the rapidly changing world.

It is a wonderful, multi-layered talk that doesn’t offer glib solutions to the difficulties facing higher education institutions but provides plenty of illuminating ideas and examples to back his argument that the only limits to what is or is not possible come from our imagination.