Theory Name: Open Learning Environments (OLEs)
Authors (Last, First): Hannafin, Michael; Land, Susan; Oliver, Kevin
Associate Learning Theory:
Social learning: Open-ended learning focusing on self-inquiry, divergent
thinking and heuristics-based learning in ill-defined, ill-structured
This theory provides a wide variety of methods and tools to engage student
in divergent thinking, heuristics-based learning, and exploring fuzzy,
ill-defined, and ill-structured problems. The theory offers a huge
model with respect to enabling contexts, resources, tools, and scaffolds.
The designer needs to figure out when to use different methods and
Specification of Theory
(a) Goals and preconditions
The theory is intended to foster critical thinking, and inquiry-oriented
and heuristics-based learning in ill-defined, and ill-structured domains.
1) OLEs are intended to promote divergent thinking and multiple perspectives
2) OLEs provide self-directed learning and learner autonomy with metacognitive
3) OLEs offer hands-on, concrete experiences involving authentic problems
4) OLEs mediate learning through individual experience and personal theories
5) OLEs provide tools and resources to aid the learner's efforts at learning
(c) Condition of learning
Primary learning context is experience-based problem solving tasks involving
realistic, relevant problem posed through OLEs. The model assumes extensive
use of available resources and contextual manipulation for supporting
(d) Required media
Electronic media (e.g., database, computer tutorial, video etc), Print
media (textbook, journal articles), or Humans (experts, parents, teachers,
(e) Role of facilitator
Facilitator can be electronic media (e.g., database, computer tutorial,
video etc), print media (textbook, journal articles), or humans (experts,
parents, teachers, peers). The facilitator should support the situated
learning context, provide appropriate resources and tools, and scaffold
learner’s cognitive processes such as conceptual, metacognitive,
procedural, strategic learning efforts.
(f) Instructional strategies
1) Enabling context to establish the perspectives taken in the environment
(externally-imposed, externally-induced, or individually-generated
2) Resources to provide the domain of available information sources (static
3) Tools to provide the basic means for manipulating information (processing,
manipulation, and/or communication tools);
4) Scaffolds to guide and support learning efforts (conceptual, metacognitive,
procedural, and/or strategic scaffolding)
(g) Assessment method
Provide authentic problem-solving tasks and monitor the learners’ inquiring
and problem-solving process. For example, for solving the given authentic
tasks in ERGOMOTION, the learners are prompted to evaluate alternative
responses, identify their own position and collect evidence to support
Formative Research & Application
(a) Tested context: K-12 (Oliver, & Hannafin, 2001)
(b) Research method: Qualitative case study
(c) Research description: Oliver and Hannafin (2001) conduct a case study
focused on the nature of science learning through open-ended problem
solving. Twelve eighth graders were asked to find, frame, and resolve
subproblems associated with structural failures resulting from earthquakes.
Coded interviews, artifacts, and observations from the four-week study
suggested students only partially derived accurate mental models about
earthquakes engineering problems.
Hannafin M., Land, S., & Olver, K. (1999). Open learning environments:
Foundations, methods, and models. In C. M. Reigeluth (Ed.), Instructional
design theories and models: A new paradigm of instructional theory (pp.
115-140). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
Oliver, K. & Hannafin, M. (2001). Developing and refining mental
models in open-ended learning environments: A case study. Educational
Technology, Research and Development, 49(4), 5-32.