<span class='p-name'>Open is Serendipity</span>

Open is Serendipity

TL;DR version: I discuss my evolving understanding of "open" learning in online spaces. I examine the serendipitous nature of open, and see an extension from my earlier connection with "open is an attitude."

Over the past month I’ve spent a lot of time with colleagues trying to make sense of “open.” Much of this thought process I’ve documented in detail here on this blog. I’ve also had the privilege of speaking with others as I scale up the Digitally Literate shows. Over this time I’ve been trying to figure out what “open” means to me.

Open is an “attitude”…and…

My thinking about open was really pushed by something that Doug Belshaw mentioned in one of the Mozilla Web Lit calls from about a year ago. It’s motivated my thinking so much that I’ve quoted (and misquoted) him several hundred times online. I’ve also held an entire episode of Digitally Literate trying to figure out what he meant. Doug mentioned during one conversation that it was just something silly that he mentioned under his breath…but I think not. I think it was brilliant and dead on. Open really is an attitude. The more that I think, work, and play in the open, it is an attitude. You have to have a mindset to think, trust, and react in an open space. There is no rule book for open learning, open teaching, open publishing, etc. You just need to trust yourself, speak up, and latch on to others that think the same way…using the Internet as the connective media. I think Doug nailed it…and I totally agree, but I think it is missing something.

What is “serendipity”?

What I think it missing from my understanding of “open” is serendipity. Serendipity is defined as a “fortuitous happenstance” or “pleasant surprise.” Wikipedia goes on to discuss how difficult serendipity is to define, and the presence of this word in science, learning, and exploration as we make discoveries by accident and sagacity. Serendipity is a knowledge construction process in which it pays to tap into the “tacit and often highly subjective insights, intuitions, and hunches of individuals.” Finally, Wikipedia makes note that “serendipity” is a crucial element of the grounded theory method in social science research. In this Strauss and Glaser build off of the book The Travels and Adventures of Serendipity by Merton and Barber in which they discuss the “facets of serendipity in everyday chance encounters.” Much of this framing of serendipity is reflective of the nature and substance of the online informational space and our interactions within.

Serendipity? Really?

Naturally, I initially thought I was nuts. I first started thinking about this connection, and trying to fund the perfect construct or term soon after TTT episode #386 and I once again botched a definition of “open.” Serendipity popped up, and hasn’t left my thinking. I went online to see if, in fact, I was nuts. Much to my amazement, there are a lot of people talking online about “serendipity” in learning, and in these online spaces.

In a fascinating “web essay” Jim Gritton discusses the  intersections between learning theory, online spaces, and serendipity. John Whitmer discussed his learning process, and spending some time “getting lost” on his way to his dissertation. In a fantastically comprehensive article, Lawley and Thompkins discuss ways to maximize serendipity for the purposes of learning, and enacting change. Maha Bali discussed the connection between serendipity, learning, and what (could/should) be the future of higher ed in a great post.

John Seely Brown discussed “shaping serendipity for learning” in one of his fantastic videos…and more importantly A New Culture of Learning by Thomas and JSB. Supposedly, “engineering serendipity” is all the rage in Silicon Valley as well.

Finally, in an article and video posted recently, Howard Rheingold shares materials from his discussion with Alan Levine in which they discuss the exciting opportunities for “facilitating serendipity.”

What does this have to do with “open”?

To me this is a key component in “open” as thinking, learning, sharing, and connecting in open, online spaces affords opportunities to engage in meaningful, inquiry-based activities. In thinking, posting, and sharing openly online I am able to “publish” an idea or premise in this blog and instantly obtain feedback. I have the opportunity to share and connect with others that chose to share their ideas and work openly online. In sharing and connecting openly online I open myself up to criticism and evaluation of my work by others. Some of these ideas and thoughts (especially here on this blog) may be nascent, and some may prove to be incorrect, or naive. I’m fine with the potentiality of these outcomes because of what “open” can be.

In sharing, reflecting, and learning openly online I have the potential to connect with others online that may be learning as well. Because of the reader/writer nature of online information, these learning opportunities may occur synchronously, or asynchronously. There is the potential that another learner may come across my ideas and build from them, critique/revise, or improve them. This is the essence of the serendipity that should be part of the learning process. The serendipitous nature of “open” has the potential to provide a spark for innovation and new knowledge construction.


I appreciate your feedback and response to my opinion about serendipitous nature of “open.” Please feel free to respond, connect, revise, etc.


Image CC by opensourceway

3 Comments Open is Serendipity

  1. Pingback: No More Learning In Isolation! Why we need to Collaborate in Order to Learn… | Creating an Open Classroom

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