Morris, S.M. and Stommel, J. (2013) A Bill of Rights and Principles for Learning in the Digital Age Hybrid Pedagogy, January 22

I’ve just caught up with this (work keeps getting in the way of blogging, damn it) so forgive me if you’ve already seen it. This statement has been developed by a group meeting in Palo Alto, California, and has some well-known names attached, such as John Seeley Brown, Audrey Watters and Sebastian Thrun.

It’s really in two parts, the first setting out a collection of rights for learners and the second a statement of principles for providers of online learning. You will need to read the full article to get a more detailed description of each, but here is a very brief listing:

Rights (of learners)

  • to access: ‘Everyone should have the right to learn.’
  • to privacy
  • to create public knowledge
  • to own one’s own personal data and intellectual property
  • to financial transparency
  • to pedagogical transparency
  • to quality and care
  • to have great teachers
  • to be teachers

Principles (to which online learning should aspire)

  • global contribution: ‘Online learning should originate from everywhere on the globe, not just from the U.S. and other technologically advantaged countries.’
  • value: ‘The function of learning is to allow students to equip themselves to address the challenges and requirements of life and work.’
  • flexibility: ‘Ideally, they [the best online programs] will also suggest and support new forms of interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary inquiry that are independent of old gatekeepers such as academic institutions or disciplines, certification agencies, time-to-degree measurements, etc.’
  • hybrid learning: ‘online learning should …. be connected back to multiple locations around the world and not tethered exclusively to the digital realm. ‘
  • persistence
  • innovation: ‘Online learning should be flexible, dynamic, and individualized rather than canned or standardized.
  • formative assessment
  • experimentation
  • civility
  • play


I have to admit being somewhat puzzled, not so much by the rights and principles themselves, but why it is thought necessary to codify and then publicize them.

First, would not most of these rights and principles be subscribed to already by most people that support public higher education, at least in North America, Europe and Australasia?  (I can’t speak for the Chinese or North Korean governments.)

If that’s the case (and it may be worth discussing this more), then the issue then is not the goals but the means to achieve the goals. Online learning is one, but in no way the only, means to some of these rights and principles. It is also true that while many working in or supporting public higher education would subscribe to these rights and principles, we often fall way short of implementing them, for a variety of reasons, such as lack of adequate resources or a poor choice of priorities. But that’s another discussion.

The question then comes to my mind as to why it has been necessary to spend time discussing and agreeing on principles and rights that most people in public education already accept.

One reason I suspect is a concern that developments in online learning outside formal, public education have the potential to run roughshod over these rights and principles. For instance, highly selective, campus-based, elite universities, at least until very recently, have not subscribed to some of these rights and principles, yet are now ‘discovering’ open learning through MOOCs, while still denying many of these rights to potential on-campus students.

Also, there is probably concern that MOOCs themselves are being exploited, at least by some organizations, for commercial reasons and this may result in some of these principles or rights being ignored or trampled on.

However, it could also be that some working in elite institutions have discovered God, and He is open, and so they need some commandments or a bible.

Thus having a statement of such rights and principles may be valuable, although how these rights or principles can be enforced is not at all clear to me – and what’s the use of a right if it can’t be protected?

Over to you

Do you think setting out these rights and principles is valuable?

Do you think public higher education generally subscribes to or adheres to these?

Why do you think such a statement has been made? Is it trying to say more than it does?

Don’t just tell me: join the conversation at

See also: Kolowich, S. (2013)’Bill of Rights’ Seeks to Protect Students’ Interests as Online Learning Rapidly Expands Chronicle of Higher Education, January 23




  1. I think setting out the rights is extremely valuable.

    I think Hihger Education in genral strives to attain some of, it not all of the things mentioned.

  2. It’s really hard to take seriously a document that includes statements like this:

    “The Internet has made it possible for anyone on the planet to be a student, a teacher, and a creative collaborator at virtually no cost.”

    Think about the ethnocentricism, the technocentrism, and the plain old arrogance of such a statement. Think about the kinds of teaching and learning that go on every day (and that have gone on for millennia) and yet do NOT involve the internet. Start with simple stuff like my mom teaching me how to bake cookies and my brothers and I creatively collaborating to plan a Halloween party. Multiply this sort of thing by a few trillion; scale it up to higher or lower, more or less formal levels of teaching, learning, and creatively collaborating. Be sure to include everything, even things that don’t originate in Silicon Valley (say, kids in the hood collaboratively creating and then teaching and learning new forms of dance and music); and be sure to think of all of these kinds of teaching-learning-collaboratively-creating going on every day in every corner of the planet.

    Then re-read this:

    “The Internet has made it possible for anyone on the planet to be a student, a teacher, and a creative collaborator at virtually no cost.”

    Let us all bow down to our Almighty God, who maketh all things possible….

  3. I do believe that technology has enabled mankind greater access to information; However, although we live in the Silicon Age, academia has been around since the dawn of humans. Didactic dialogue has worked for thousands of years without the use of microchips and some of the greatest literature has been written by hand (i.e. the Egyptian Book of the Dead, Gilgamesh, the Iliad, the Odyssey , and the Aeneid to name a few). My proposal to ever-advancing technology is, in the case of Hurricane Sandy, what to we do when the lights go out again. I know a lot of people who were at the mercy of society’s phase of being devoid of the very technology we depended on for communication, stimulation, and even leisure. People learn everyday without the use of Silicon technology, for instance normal adaptation to empirical data, or whatever is taken in by the five senses. As far as bringing God into the equation, I can say, even as a God-fearing man, the so-called Silicon Age, or any age for that matter, can override the religious liberty clauses in the U.S. Constitution (a document written by hand) that the “founding-fathers” painstakingly established!!!

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