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Apr 2015

What we learnt at the Open Source Open Society Conference 2015

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Shaping the future of learning

I recently had the opportunity to attend the Open Source Open Society Conference 2015 in Wellington, and the chance to hear keynotes from Chris Kelly from Github, Lillian Grace from WikiNZ and many other respected Open Source advocates. With an event hashtag, #OSOS2015, that officially topped New Zealand's top trending feed, businesses, government, geeks and start-ups alike participated in a series of thoughtful activities and lectures outlining the relevance and demand of open source solutions.

The 380 attendees were a mix of advocates, challengers and newcomers and high up on the agenda was a conversation around what Open Source actually is. The conference gave me the opportunity to hear multiple accounts of what other's believed Open Source to be – including my own. Unsurprisingly, the resounding theme was that Open Source "builds on what has already been created by others."

What is Open Source (and why have a conference about it?)

So whether Open Source comes in the form of government sharing data with the public, the ongoing creation and improvement of design for a 3D printer, or forking a code repository on GitHub, it became clear during the conference that no matter what you're creating, the same four principles of Open Source apply: 

  • Collaboration
  • Participation
  • Transparency
  • Freedom to innovate

With those four principles of Open Source being transparent to everyone, it's no wonder that a conference such as this exists, so that members of the OS community can continue to collaborate, innovate and participate in what's to come in the wild world of Open Source. 

Enterprise versus Open Source 

Among some of the hot themes that were discussed, was the all-too-real notion of simply selecting Enterprise solutions because they've previously been the norm. While this is often true (and sadly, seen far too often in organisations across the board) the line-up of fully fledged, stress-tested systems that meet the strictest of needs, are readily available for those willing to take the Open Source approach.

There are Drupals everywhere; Totara and Moodle Learning Management Systems in abundance for employee and learning and development management; and not to be a broken record or anything, but Linux itself is the most prolific operating system in use today. Perhaps all that's missing now is a suit and tie for Open Source software. 


Most of us can relate to the costs involved in re-inventing the wheel, and that knowledge is particularly painful when you know you're just jacking up the costs. Guest Speaker Dave Lane spoke of not only becoming more efficient by "standing on the shoulders of giants" by reusing, improving and re-sharing processes and software, but also reducing technical debt with Open Source. 

When proprietary solutions become outlandish in maintenance costs and increasingly difficult (or impossible) to customise, Open Source alternatives reduce these technical debts by sharing the work around... literally.  

For example, if someone reached out to one of our Learning Technologies gurus and wanted a new feature in their Totara LMS, most likely that feature is already out there in the wild, or perhaps you're the one that has the greatest need, so you'll pay for that feature to be developed by the skilled team of dev experts, and then it will be eventually shared by others via the Totara roadmap developments.

By allowing that improvement to re-enter the public domain for the betterment of others, you're officially Open Sourcing and making the process more collaborative and cost-effective in the long-run.

Why just software?

In a World Cafe session involving most of the conference delegates, we explored more than just Open Source as it applies to software. We applied it to brainstorming, teamwork, community and the art of communication.

Why stop at letting everyone build upon what others have created before us by focusing solely on technology? Numerous stories and statistics unfolded as groups of strangers traded notes with no reason to hold back. The benefits of sharing and obtaining feedback (both good and bad) came to light.

I couldn't help think of the Adapt Learning Community that City & Guilds Kineo started back in 2013 when the Open Source Adapt Framework, was still in its infancy. Over the course of just two short years, the Adapt Community has over 16,000 registered users, 7 active partners, over ninety-four thousand lines of code that would've taken 24 years to write, and 45 plugins built and supported and over 217 modules built with the framework. Just think: this was created with the help of many partners, developers, and creators, to reduce barriers of entry for L&D teams across the globe so that they can start creating modern, multi-device elearning for end-users.

So what does this tell us?

Not only does it demonstrate that people in learning and development are looking for an open source solution for modernising their elearning for accessibility across multiple devices, but it demonstrates again the four principles of open source: collaboration, participation, transparency, and freedom to innovate. It's really amazing what a thriving Open Source community can accomplish, and the collection of effort to achieve a singular purpose. 

Who is involved with Open Source? 

Not all attendees were shoeless and sporting a beard, in fact, the New Zealand government had a great deal of attendees, and speakers at the conference, while LINZ were present in force, sharing their journey into opening government data to the public.

The New Zealand Department of Internal Affairs' Bene Anderson took a pragmatic stance to outline to need for responsibility and transparency when embracing Open Source commons. He later discussed how to choose the right upgrade and sharing pathway for your needs, including when they need to exist alongside those enterprise, proprietary solutions you may be familiar with. 

At one point Jessica Lord of Github shared her story in uncovering Open Source (OS). The tech world has been primarily male-dominated, (and as Chris Kelly mentioned – not so kind either), so it was moving to hear Lord's first-hand experience of elitism within the OS community, that "she didn't look like a developer" - and what it felt like to perceived as an outsider in a community that she thought she belonged to. It was a reminder of what Lillian Grace from WikiNZ had also mentioned in her presentation: that Open Source is intimidating – whether in the community, or outside.

Now, they didn't mention these experiences to scare anyone from embracing Open Source, but rather to tell those within the community to celebrate the novice, even if that means a steep learning curve for both parties, and most importantly, as Lord put it: "If open source is for everyone, then it should look like anyone."

How Can Open Source Work for Your Business?

As keen proponents of Open Source projects (and walking the talk with open technologies such as the aforementioned Adapt Framework, and Totara LMS, based on the highly popular Moodle framework), my Kineo Pacific peers will be on-site both at the AITD Conference in Sydney May 13-14 and the eLearnz Conference in Auckland, July 22-23.

This is a great opportunity to speak with our team to discover how workable and advantageous Open Source learning technologies are – like Open Badges, Totara and even multi-device learning with Adapt, and how they can help you meet your L&D goals. 

Get in touch to find out how Open Source technologies can support the learning initiatives in your business.



Shaping the future of learning

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