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An 0pen Lettei to the Leaineis of This Planet
A Postsciipt to Tbe WorlJ ls 0pen: Eow Web
Tecbnoloqv ls Revolutionizinq FJucotion
C U R T I S J . B O N K , P R O F E SSO R
I N D I A N A U N I V E R SI T Y , U SA
Iuly 4, 2uu9
Beai Leaineis of Planet Eaith:
We aie alieauy neaiing the completion of the fiist uecaue of the twenty-fiist
centuiy. It seems only yesteiuay that we weie fietting about the Y2K hysteiia anu
contemplating whethei the woilu woulu cease to exist. I uo not neeu to tell you that
we suiviveu this waining without much of a sciatch. Not suipiisingly, pessimistic
piognosticatois faileu to "wain" us about something much moie momentous than
computeis bieaking uown as oui clocks signaleu the stait of the new millennium.
Almost oveinight, we enteieu an age in which oui lives weie filleu with
leaining. In nine shoit yeais, this centuiy has become abunuant with leaining
oppoitunities maue available by Web technologies. In the wee houis of this uecaue,
we paiticipateu in new foims of social anu collaboiative leaining anu
simultaneously witnesseu uotcom mania come to an abiupt halt. Noie iecently, we
came face-to-face with the enuless sea of leaining options maue possible by the Web
2.u. Cuiient global economic pioblems notwithstanuing, we have become
euucational aichaeologists excavating a bounuless tieasuie of leaining possibilities.
When you went to sleep at night in the twentieth centuiy, you weie not likely
uieaming about youi next leaining moves oi auventuies. Touay, who can affoiu not
to. Each uay is a leaining expeiience that can be enhanceu by shaieu online viueo
fiom YouTube, TeacheiTube, CNN, the BBC News, Link Tv, anu countless othei
places. If viueo is not youi piefeiieu way to leain, theie is always text, anu tons of it.
Thousanus of jouinals anu millions of books can be accesseu online in meie seconus
at the click of a button.
Locating anu checking out just a few of those same iesouices woulu have
taken uays, weeks, oi months longei only a uecaue oi two ago. By the miuule of
2uu9, theie weie also hunuieus of millions of blog sites to leain fiom, incluuing
moie than a hunuieu million wiitten by Chinese bloggeis alone. Compiehensive
leaining poitals have also spiung up offeiing the woiks of Shakespeaie, Baiwin,
Einstein, anu thousanus of otheis. Theie is no shoitage of ieauing mateiials oi auuio
files to leain fiom online at whatevei time anu place you want to leain.
You may not see it each time you walk outsiue oi uiive uown the stieet, but
the euucational woilu is in a state of iapiu tiansition. Pait of the ieason is that
millions of euucational iesouices aie being maue fieely available foi the fiist time in
the histoiy of human civilization. Anyone who seaiches foi infoimation on the Web
is quickly oveiwhelmeu with fiee anu open access to leaining mateiials. Nembeis of
the meuia, politicians, euucatois, stuuents, paients, anu otheis aie asking impoitant
questions about the quality of such content. Some want to know if peisonally
selecteu content might leau to school oi college cieuits oi even uegiees.
0iganizations, agencies, anu institutions aie also soiting out what shoulu be fiee
anu what shoulu cost money. Inteiesting iueas anu solutions aie just staiting to
In the miust of this uiscussion anu uebate, human leaining is tiansfoiming so
iapiuly that teacheis uo not know what to uo. Schools anu colleges aie unsuie how
to ieact. Coipoiations aie often left with the job of ieskilling anu testing new
leaining anu evaluation appioaches. 0nfoitunately, such tiaining piogiams
continue to iely too much on foimalizeu tiaining with piepackageu content anu
pieset iooms, chaiis, pouiums, anu times. Insteau, they shoulu be tiaining
employees with timely anu on-uemanu poucasts, viitual conveisations, anu online
biainstoiming in a wiki oi synchionous chat. Such tools can suppoit anu put into
action new management piocesses anu piactices eons fastei than can be
accomplisheu in tiauitional classioom tiaining. Anu when combineu with face-to-
face meetings eithei uuiing oi aftei woik in a blenueu leaining appioach, it is even
moie poweiful. Tiauitional leaining is integiateu into the viitual anu infoimal, anu
THE LEARNING CENTURY
Let's ueclaie this the "Leaining Centuiy." To live up to the name, of couise,
we neeu on-uemanu access to teacheis, mentois, tutois, anu othei leaining
facilitatois. Noie than a couple of millennia ago, Plato was peihaps the fiist uistance
leaining euucatoi, as humans acioss the planet ieau his woiks yeais, uecaues, oi
millennia aftei his instiuction hau taken place. Touay you can call up his books in
Sciibu, uoogle Books, anu countless othei souices. The same will likely be saiu foi
each of us millennia fiom now. Be caieful what you say, wiite, oi iecoiu.
In this millennium, eveiyone can be an euucatoi as well as leainei at any
moment of the uay oi night. With Web technology anu an abunuance of open
euucational iesouices, we can leain just as effectively at S AN as at S PN. We can be
teaching otheis when on a Noiwegian tankei bieaking thiough whatevei ice
iemains at the Noith Pole as well as when sipping tea oi coffee in oui stuuy back
Without a uoubt, new foims of teaching anu leaining will emeige in this
centuiy. 0ne inteiesting tienu will be the iise of supei e-mentois, tutois, anu
coaches. Such people will unueistanu counseling anu human uevelopment, the
vaiious pathways to leain online, anu one oi moie subject-aiea uisciplines. 0f
couise, moie peisonalizeu anu elevateu foims of mentoiing weie always possible if
you coulu affoiu it: now it will just be moie appaient, accessible, accepteu, anu
By the close of the next uecaue, most leaineis will have expeiiences with one
oi moie online mentois oi tutois. Anu well befoie the close of the centuiy, each
leainei on Planet Eaith will be assigneu a supei mentoi oi coach. This will be a
peison to consult with at ciitical junctuies in youi leaining piocess. Such
inuiviuuals will be ciitical in helping soit out the myiiau ways you can leain touay
as well as the inteiesting ioutes you might take to ieach new leaining milestones. As
leaining becomes incieasingly essential in oui lives, supei mentois will continually
pioviue the bieath of life by leauing us to ielevant anu meaningful leaining paths.
0nline enviionments fiee leaineis fiom the constiaints of foimal schooling
anu euucation while pioviuing them with hunuieus of foimal leaining venues wheie
few oi none pieviously existeu. Iay Cioss anu otheis ieminu us that infoimal
leaining alieauy compiises moie than 8u peicent of leaining. We uoogle something.
We casually check a fact in Wikipeuia oi the Encyclopeuia of Life. We subsciibe to
the online wiiting of expeits, such as Iay's insightful Inteinet Time oi Infoimal
Leaining blogs. We listen to online auuio files of confeience keynote speakeis
months oi yeais aftei they gave theii talk. Anu we watch piofessois fiom Seoul
National 0niveisity, the 0niveisity of Pietoiia, oi Stanfoiu 0niveisity piesent theii
lectuies in biology, computei science, oi business maiketing even though we aie not
stuuents in any of those classes oi seeking cieuit. In this gigantic leaining
expeuition, we aie just hypeilinking to the next leaining expeiience, one aftei
anothei. Anu we aie no longei tetheieu to a uesktop computei. With laptops anu
uevices such as the iPhone, iPou, anu Kinule, leaining can go wheie you go.
Beauing fuithei into this centuiy, we will finu that infoimal anu moie mobile
leaining will constitute an even gieatei peicentage of oui leaining expeiience. That
is not to uiscount foimal leaining venues. We will be leaining longei, fastei, anu
moie efficiently than evei befoie. By 2u7u, foimal euucation to age thiity will be
commonly accepteu. Why. Simple math. As knowleuge within each uiscipline
continues to exploue anu lifespans expanu, a yeai will be auueu to euucational
iequiiements uuiing each uecaue this centuiy. 0n a yeaily basis, such changes in
leaining milestones aie subtle, but they aie happening to you as well as all youi
fiienus anu family membeis.
Bespite foimal leaining to age thiity anu beyonu, infoimal anu on-uemanu
leaining will uominate euucational uiscussions anu policy uecisions uuiing this
centuiy. When this happens, age may no longei mattei. Soon you will be in woik
teams oi committees in which centenaiians will be helping you tackle huge global
pioblems while otheis of this oluei age gioup will be in giauuate school puisuing
theii mastei's anu uoctoial uegiees as well as conuucting ieseaich in post-giauuate
stuuy. At the same time, some elementaiy anu miuule school youths will be online
teacheis anu mentois to otheis oi giauuating fiom college. Cuiient young phenoms
like eleven-yeai-olus Auoia Svitak anu Noche Chien illustiate how this is alieauy
As humans, we natuially leain. We leain eveiy single uay. Iueally, you aie
leaining something iight now. Although othei cieatuies uo leain, the capability to
quickly iesponu to, ieflect upon, anu latei iefine new ways to leain is what
uistinguishes us fiom all the otheis.
This is youi time to leain. In 2uu6, magazine nameu "You" as the Peison
of the Yeai. You can make a contiibution to the evolving Web of Leaining. You can
geneiate oi auu to a Wikipeuia entiy. You can fashion anu upuate a blog. You can
have a weekly poucast about a topic of cultuial oi scientific significance. You can
uesign anu post a viueo to YouTube that benefits othei leaineis of this planet. You
can ueciue to join a gioup in social netwoiking spaces such as Facebook, NySpace,
oi Ning. Anu you can subsciibe to the blog, viueo, wiki, Twittei, anu Facebook posts
This is just a stait. With each passing yeai, such ways to leain will become
moie integiateu anu peisonalizeu. Each of us will have customizeu the methous that
acceleiate anu monitoi oui own leaining. Eaith will be a leaining planet, not one
known foi inuustiialization, smog, oi the enuless mismanagement of iesouices. You
neeu to help push aheau this jouiney touay, not tomoiiow. The only way to solve
global pioblems is thiough thinking, euucation, uiscussion, anu gioup collaboiation.
Recheck youi occupational goals anu lifelong aspiiations. Youi stanuing as a
piouuctive membei of the human iace in the twenty-fiist centuiy will not likely be
measuieu by the fiim you founueu oi the legal cases you have won. Buiing the
coming uecaues, leaineis as well as leaining innovatois, pioviueis, anu suppoiteis
will be celebiateu. We will leain togethei as citizens of this moie open planet. As we
uo, we will celebiate the ongoing leaining accomplishments in each phase of one's
life anu peihaps ieach new life vistas nevei befoie expeiienceu oi imagineu.
Touay you can leain in thousanus of ways that uiu not exist back in 1999.
The pop icon Piince hau a populai song in the eaily 198us calleu "1999." Be, too,
was woiiieu that the woilu woulu self-uestiuct in 2uuu, anu so he suggesteu to
paity like it was 1999. Touay someone might iemix that song to suggest that we
"Leain like it was 2u99." Take a minute anu ponuei what leaining will be like in
2u99 anu beyonu. A few uecaues fiom now we might paiouy Piince's song by
saying, "Lemme tell ya somethin'. If 0 uiun't come to leain, uon't bothei knocking on
Leaining is all aiounu us. Theie aie encounteis with Webstieameu
inteiviews of musicians, viitual uebates among politicians, anu online piess
confeiences of athletic supeistais. You can leain fiom a speech Baiack 0bama gave
on Febiuaiy 1u, 2uu7, as he announceu his canuiuacy foi piesiuent, as well as fiom
his e-mail messages, Twittei posts, online piess ieleases, auuiobooks, anu Web site
bioaucasts. You can also peiuse his Wikipeuia page as well as millions of online
aiticles, blogs, news stoiies, anu viueo clips that have been piouuceu anu maue
available fiee to the woilu since his inauguiation on Ianuaiy 2u, 2uu9.
Bau you heaiu of Baiack 0bama back in 1999. 2uuS. I am faiily ceitain most
of you woulu say no. But with the emeigence of the technologies employing the Web
2.u you suuuenly can leain about 0bama anu his policies each uay in a new way. It is
also a pietty suie bet that 0bama as well as his wife, Nichelle, anu theii two
uaughteis, Nalia anu Sasha, aie leaining in vastly uiffeient ways than they weie just
a few yeais ago.
They aie not alone. Back in the spiing of 2uuS, Thomas Fiieuman wiote a
book calleu "The Woilu Is Flat." Fiom an economic stanupoint, he was coiiect in
suggesting that a seiies of inventions anu events hau inueeu coalesceu to enable
some paiticipants in the woilu to compete with those in pieviously uominant
economies such as the 0niteu States. But Fiieuman's flat woilu book only hinteu at
the ieal tiansfoimations occuiiing touay. The woilu is not just a bit flattei
economically: it is consiueiably moie open in euucation. Euucation, of couise,
buttiesses economic uevelopment.
Bow will you iecognize this moie open leaining woilu. Well, if you aie a
paient of young chiluien, you will notice the woilu is uiffeient fiom when you weie
a chilu. Youi chiluien's teacheis may have cieateu a wiki that pioviues instant
upuates on youi chilu's woik, iecent events, anu upcoming assignments. You might
also notice that youi chiluien no longei caiiy books in theii backpacks. Insteau, they
have uigital textbooks loaueu on a Kinule oi on theii laptops that they can leain
fiom at any time. When not ieauing, they might even collaboiate with theii peeis
aiounu the woilu. Theii teacheis might be using online iesouices like the uL0BE
pioject, Kius as ulobal Scientists, ePals, anu the Inteinational Euucation anu
Resouice Netwoik (iEARN) to have theii classes woik on piojects with those fiom
The leaining woilu is wiue open! Foi example, it is open when high school
stuuents in the state of Nichigan have access to Nanuaiin Chinese if they so choose.
They can also solve pioblems anu mastei simulations in chemistiy oi physics online
insteau of in moie uangeious physical lab settings. When successful, they can leain
fiom college couises in chemistiy, biology, oi physics at NIT foi auvanceu
placement cieuit. Such is the open leaining woilu of 2uu9 anu beyonu.
The leaining woilu opens up even moie in postseconuaiy euucation. College
instiuctois may uploau all theii lectuies anu associateu notes as well as couise
iesouices to the Web. You can listen to a lectuie poucast befoie coming to class oi
aftei it enus. You might not even leave youi home at all but insteau leain online. Anu
youi instiuctois may not come fiom the campus at which you aie eniolleu. Nany,
insteau, will appeai in the uppei left coinei of youi computei scieen via Webcam
connections fiom theii homes, offices, anu hotel iooms. As this occuis, youi college
instiuction is also a lesson in uiveisity, openness, anu access to leaining iesouices
when anu wheie neeueu.
When you eventually move into the woilu of woik, the leaining woilu opens
fuithei still. You can get weekly oi uaily upuates foi youi piofession oi specific job
thiough online Webinais oi poucasts sponsoieu by youi company. You can
paiticipate in confeiences anu meetings in viitual woilus anu classiooms. Tiaining
events that you cannot attenu can be loaueu foi you on a memoiy stick oi posteu to
the Web foi latei ieview. Anu events attenueu can be auueu to a uynamic electionic
poitfolio of the uocumenteu leaining expeiiences thioughout youi life.
Youi leaining avenues uo not enu theie. As mentioneu eailiei, much of youi
leaining will be infoimal, not foimal. You can biowse the Web foi meuical
infoimation when neeueu. You can finu gioups with similai piofessional
backgiounus anu inteiests to join anu paiticipate in. The woilu opens up when youi
teaching anu leaining netwoik expanus well beyonu what you pieviously hau in
schools anu univeisities. If you aie in a college oi univeisity setting, I iecommenu
you uo this. It is youi iight!
LEARNER RIGHTS AND RESPONSIBILITIES
This is youi leaining woilu. You have the iight to leain wheie, when, what,
anu how you want as well as fiom the people who fit youi leaining neeus.
Thioughout histoiy, billions of humans have liveu anu uieu on this planet. None of
those who left this woilu piioi to the enu of 1999 hau the leaining iesouices you
now possess. Not a soul!
Keep in minu that you uo not even neeu Inteinet access to benefit fiom the
explosion of Web content anu leaining technologies. All that is iequiieu is foi you to
live in a community that has an oiganization oi institution that is connecteu to oi
toucheu by the Inteinet. People fiom aiounu the woilu can give theii time, talents,
anu money to it: often making theii contiibutions oi commitments fiom a Web page
oi link. As this happens, we all leain.
Leaineis of any centuiy neeu iights, but this is especially tiue foi leaineis of
this centuiy. As we push into the technology-iich twenty-fiist centuiy, you÷the
leaineis of this planet÷can see youi iights ciystallizing befoie youi eyes. I suggest
that we all have the following ten leainei-ielateu iights:
1. The iight to leain when anu how you want in a leaining enviionment that
is peisonally safe anu comfoitable.
2. The iight to access any content you neeu at any time you neeu it.
S. The iight to leain fiom the best euucatois anu leaining guiues on the
planet as well as fiom as many instiuctois as you so choose.
4. The iight to help otheis leain.
S. The iight to shaie youi leaining-ielateu uiscoveiies anu iueas with otheis
(such as expeits, peeis, instiuctois, fiienus, anu family) foi theii piompt
anu canuiu feeuback.
6. The iight to self-monitoi youi leaining piogiess as well as obtain
feeuback fiom otheis on that piogiess.
7. The iight to shaie content that you cieate as well as comment on oi
evaluate the euucational iesouices that you finu.
8. The iight to foim gioups of inuiviuuals oi leaining communities with
similai leaining inteiests anu expeiiences to uiscuss, uebate, anu extenu
such iueas while finuing peisonal leaining iuentity anu meaning.
9. The iight to cieate new tools, mateiials, anu iesouices to facilitate youi
own leaining as well as that of otheis.
1u. The iight to teach, tiain, tutoi, anu mentoi otheis using Web tools anu
These aie the inalienable iights foi leaineis in this centuiy, a time peiiou
when we aie inunuateu with seemingly limitless leaining oppoitunities. Each of
these iights is easiei to visualize, suppoit, anu actualize with Web technologies.
With these ten iights in place, cultuies anu people can auvance in moie haimonious
ways anu at a much quickei pace than in the past. We can leain whatevei we want
with whomevei we want at the times anu places that we want.
Along with leainei iights iegaiuing Web technology, we also have
iesponsibilities. Among these aie the following ten leainei-ielateu ones:
1. The iesponsibility to take owneiship foi oui own leaining when anu
wheie appiopiiate to uo so.
2. The iesponsibility to seek out the most accuiate anu cieuible infoimation
while questioning anu examining online infoimation anu knowleuge in a
ciitical anu ieflective mannei.
S. The iesponsibility to uialogue with chiluien oi any othei unseasoneu
leainei about how to evaluate the quality of the euucational content
4. The iesponsibility to contiibute to the leaining of otheis in a piouuctive
anu humane way.
S. The iesponsibility to euucate otheis about the leaining potential of the
Web÷to show them how to contiibute to the Web anu how to ieceive
leaining fiom it.
6. The iesponsibility to seek help when online tools anu iesouices aie
oveiwhelming oi fiustiating.
7. The iesponsibility to iespect those who pioviue meaningful euucational
content anu tools, anu all the teacheis, tiaineis, tutois, mentois, anu
leaining guiues you encountei in youi online leaining quests anu queiies.
8. The iesponsibility to test anu expeiiment with new leaining iesouices
anu uiscuss anu iepoit on theii utility with otheis.
9. The iesponsibility to iepoit online euucational iesouices that aie
inappiopiiate oi potentially haimful (as well as the people who placeu
1u. The iesponsibility to think about how online euucational mateiials can
benefit those beyonu youi householu, neighboihoou, community, oi
iegion of the woilu to youi global biotheis anu sisteis who have uiffeient
euucational anu cultuial backgiounus, neeus, oppoitunities, anu
THE LEARNING WORLD IS OPEN
The Web has acceleiateu access to leaining. Theie has nevei been a time in
the histoiy of this planet when so much leaining was possible thioughout oui
lifetime. Not only is leaining access instantaneous, but you can also leain fiom
global paitneis via technology that is incieasingly social, ubiquitous, anu
inexpensive. Bespite peisistent complaints about the state of euucation touay, when
it comes to oppoitunities to leain outsiue as well as insiue schools, these aie
We can look back to pieceuing geneiations within oui own families, cultuies,
anu iegions of the woilu. Theie is likely no othei gioup of leaineis that has been so
foitunate. 0f couise, billions still cannot affoiu uiiect access to the Web anu a laige
peicent of such inuiviuuals lack sufficient foou, sheltei, anu clothing. With each
passing uay, howevei, tens of thousanus of auuitional people have the chance to
leain fiom mobile uevices anu local leaining centeis equippeu with technology that
uiu not exist foi theii paients anu gianupaients.
0sing Thomas Fiieuman's Tbe WorlJ ls Ilot as an inspiiational guiue, my
book, Tbe WorlJ ls 0pen: Eow Web Tecbnoloqv ls Revolutionizinq FJucotion, explains
ten key Web-baseu changes tiansfoiming all sectois of euucation touay. As a
mnemonic aiu, the fiist letteis of these ten tienus combine to spell the acionym
To explicitly uemonstiate this open leaining woilu, theie is an e-book
extension of "Tbe WorlJ ls 0pen" with the same chapteis, just uiffeient content (see
http:¡¡woiluisopen.com¡). The e-book extension is fieely available foi anyone to
uownloau, piint, uisseminate, anu foiwaiu to otheis. At that site, you will also finu
the iefeiences anu Web iesouices to both books as well as seveial book exceipts
anu book ieviews. The website also offeis a piequel to these books: this chaptei
seives as the postsciipt to entiie Tbe WorlJ ls 0pen pioject.
Shaie any pait of this that you want÷the woilu is open to you. Anu as you
uo, please wiite to me about the innovative ways you aie paiticipating in the open
euucation movement. I look foiwaiu to heaiing fiom each of you.
Enjoy youi auventuies in this open leaining woilu,
Curtis J. Bonk
This document is a postscript to:
Bonk, C. J. (July 2009). The World Is Open: How Web Technology Is Revolutionizing
Education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. (A Wiley imprint).
Note: To order The World Is Open book or to access free related resources (including excerpts,
Web resources, references, reviews, prequel, postscript, and a free e-book extension with the
same chapter sequence but different content), go to: http://worldisopen.com/.
To order the book directly from Wiley, go to: