The open research community COLEARN was founded in 2000 in Brazil and became an international network in 2006 during the OpenLearn project developed by The Open University, UK.
The acronym “C” “O” “L”earn means Collaborative Open Learning. Currently, there are more than 3.500 members, some of them have been participating in various open learning projects such as OpenLearn (2006-2009) OpenScout (2010-2012), weSPOT (2013-2015) and ENGAGE (2014-2016).
The term colearning was initially defined in 1996 by Frank Smith in the book “Joining the Literacy Club”, also grounded on Paulo Freire’s approach for emancipatory education. This concept was used to emphasize the importance of changing the role of, respectively, teachers and students from dispensers and receptacles of knowledge to both colearners – collaborative partners on the process of sensemaking, understanding and creating knowledge together. In addition, a decade later, Brantmeier (2005) explains that colearning acts toward student- centered learning as well as building a more genuine “community of practice” through dynamic and participatory engagement for collective construction of knowledge.
Okada’s research (2002, 2006, 2008) defines colearning as “learning together for co-creating open knowledge through digital technologies”. Her work explains that colearning concept has recently become more popular due to the rapid advances of Web 2.0, which allows the creation and exchange of user-generated knowledge, information sharing, interoperability, user-centered design and social networking. Based on the philosophy of openness, the process of colearning is enriched through wide participation for creating, adapting and sharing reusable OER for co-authoring knowledge for all (Okada 2012). Due to the rapid increase of co-authoring technologies and innovative pedagogies, several features which differentiate “colearning in social networks” versus the “traditional e-learning in Virtual Learning Environments” (VLE) (see Table 1) emerged. Some of these features are: educators as “competence and knowledge facilitators”, students as “colearners coauthors”, flexible curriculum integrating formal and informal learning, open multimedia content, communities of practice, co-evaluation, peer- review assessment and collaborative open learning paths.
The Colearn network aims to investigate how these diverse features have been contributing to the process of emancipatory education, which means empowering colearners to become critical thinkers, creative collaborators, innovative researchers and responsible citizens.