Open Learning Guide & FAQs

Click / Tap on any question to see our response.
If your question is not listed do whatsapp to us and we will respond to you as well as add it here. Also do join us in our online saturday meetups for more detailed discussions.

What is open learning?

In open learning the learner decides what all to do and learn, creates his or her own structure and even decides how he or she wants to learn / do something. The learner reviews and reflects on a continuous basis and revises his or her plan accordingly.
The whole process is supported by the family / community / any other peers or support circle. Wherever required the learner seeks teachers / experts / professional guidance as well as attends / appears for apprenticeship / workshops / qualifications as per professional needs.

How is open learning different fom homeschooling or unschooling or free schooling?

Since the above terms are used in different ways by different people, let’s not bother about them. Rather, what is important is how much the child follows institutional (school or college given) structure as compared to how much the child / family decides and designs their own learning journey.

Typically in homeschooling while the child is at home, he or she follows the School / College curriculum. In open learning and Unschooling it’s mostly decided by the child. However, some families follow a combination, while some may at times be totally child driven and after a few years may go back to structure and then come back to child driven and so on.

How is open learning different from other types of alternative education models like Montessori, Waldorf, Krishnamurthi, etc ?

Broadly, education models like Waldorf or Montessori, etc. follow a different process and approach towards learning, though they still follow the curriculum / subjects (at least for ages over 9 years) outlined by various educational boards. Also usually, alternate schools group children by age / class.

In open learning obviously there is no given curriculum or grouping or structure. Each child/family designs and plans their own structure / journey.

(Please note: the above is a general comparison and would differ from school to school).

Suggested Resource: Article: Open Learning compared to other education systems

What are the pros and cons of open learning vis-à-vis conventional schooling?

  1. Pros: 
    • Learning is based on a child’s interest
    • Space to both explore many interests as well as deep dive into one or few – at any age.
    • Wide range of life skills as the child leads their own self, social, and learning journey including the ongoing cycle of planning, doing and reflecting. 
    • So many options for the child / family including going to college, doing interest based internships, etc. 

Cons: Some people believe that conventional education is safer in terms of career choice (though this is more a belief, not necessarily a statistical reality as just a degree does not guarantee a good job or successful career).

Suggested Resources: Slide Show:  Comparison with Conventional Education and Video: Advantages of Open Learning 

Is open learning for special children?

Open Learning is not for any particular kind of child or family. It is for families who think that this kind of learning journey is what they would like to do. Each child is special and unique and has different needs and wants. If the child / family chooses open learning – it is for them. If they don’t like it for any reason – it is not for them. 
So the above question cannot be answered in a yes or no – our invitation is for the family to explore open learning and decide after experiencing it.

Will children not take the easy path, while away the time, become lazy or complacent etc?

This can happen not just with a child in open learning, but in conventional schooling / college as well as with us adults at any point of our life. And this is where the family plays an important role, closely reviewing, reflecting and understanding the child, and guiding with options that would work for that child.
Also, in our experience, since in open learning the child takes up leadership and responsibility of himself or herself (no one to blame), the child is also able to see himself or herself through low, slow or ‘do nothing’ phases, and decide their dedication towards their own goals and aspirations when ready.

How do children doing open learning face the ‘real world’?

In our experience, children in open learning are already in the real world – they are planning their life, finding resources from all over the world, doing real life projects and internships, travelling, meeting people from different walks of life, etc. Since nothing is pre-cooked for them, they are interacting with the real world on a daily basis.

On the contrary we believe some children and young adults who come out of conventional schooling and college are often lost in the real world because they are confined to classroom learning and homogenous social groups, and may have little or skewed exposure to the world.

What is the right age to start open learning? Is 4 years too young, is 14 too old?

Technically infants and toddlers are fierce and voracious open and natural learners. So younger children are naturally open learners and if left to lead themselves with ample opportunities, resources and exposure around continue this journey naturally.

The older children, say teenagers, who have been in structured or school based learning may take little time to realise that now their responsibility is in their own hands, but with little sensitive guidance and loads of conversations soon take to their own open learning journey in their own style.

So there is no ideal age to start open learning, whenever the child and the family are ready is the right time. Please also realise even a college going young adult switches to open learning once he or she steps out of the conventional education into real life.

Is open learning experimental? Is there any research to prove its efficacy?

  1. Most of what we learn – during non school/college years – that is from 0 to 3 years old and then from 25 years till death – is actually open self-directed learning. Three-fourths of our life cannot be an experiment.

Formal education system has been around for about two hundred years. Before that for thousands of years most children / adults did not go to any school. Surely all of those can’t be failures. What sounds like an experiment – the one that has been around for 200 hundred or all of human history before that?

Is open learning legal in India?

Let’s put it this way – open learning is not illegal in India.
The Right to Education bill (RTE) directs the government to ensure that every child (less than 14 years) has the right to education and hence should be provided with a school. However, RTE is not binding and does not put any onus on the parents to put the child in school. Various ministers have gone on media record saying that parents who can educate their child should be allowed to do so. However since RTE specifically does not talk about homeschooling or unschooling or openlearning, there is no clear legal-illegal status of the same and hence some parents have successfully challenged the government’s push to get their children to enroll in School.

In addition please note the government continues to run the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) as a way for children to give examinations at different levels via open-schooling.

What curriculum should I follow for open learning?

In open learning the curriculum is also open, rather the world is the curriculum. Since the child decides what he or she wants to learn, the child can decide to learn anything. Open learning considers all learning equal – whether it is embroidery or science or piano or football. It’s all about what the child decides to learn without any boundary of academics or extracurricular activities, all are part of living and learning. 

Also, each family has their own priority and that leads to families co-creating and designing their own curriculum. Often the role of parents (and our role at Aarohi) is to present / expose the child to various categories of learning available in this universe like a buffet spread for the child to choose from. Below are links to two such reference curriculum maps to choose from.

Is there an ideal schedule for open learning?

Yes, the ideal schedule is the one the child co-creates with his or her family. Rather each member of the family plans, discusses with others and using reflective inputs from others continuously fine tunes their open learning journey. Obviously the plan / schedule / structure of any open learner is very dynamic as the needs of the child / learning and family keeps changing.
Here is article to get you started or you can also consider being part of our Self Directed Learning program

How can we create and follow a learning plan for the child?

The learning plan can start with asking the child “What do you want to do / explore / learn / go deep into or what interests you want to explore?”
The learning plan can also include what the family decides is important for the child.

The learning plan would invariably have some exposures from the world for the child. 

What we recommend is a culture of planning, doing and reflecting.

How do children learn in open Learning? Do they learn all by themselves?

Typically children decide how they want to approach any task / learning. They do not need to do it all by themselves. They are free to choose any resource – could be books, websites, videos, peers, parents, a teacher or an expert or a workshop or course or just learn by doing something. All of the above is dynamic, as the learner moves from one way / resource to another as his or her learning evolves.
Important for parents is to not impose their style, rather observe, recognise and respect the child’s learning style and then with sensitivity, add value to the same. Which is why the parents role isn’t about teaching or about quantity of time, rather one of quality.

Does open learning mean unstructured learning style?

Open Learning does not mean lack of structure. It means the child creates his or her own structure, own schedule and routine and own style. Each one of us is unique in how we approach the day, week, month, year and our life. Let the child’s instinct first and then experience later guide him or her in creating their own structure – whatever shape and style it might be.
It would definitely help the child if we show them how we as adults structure our life, how we plan and organise our doings and learning and how we also adapt to the changes in our needs and wants and to the environment around us. learning style?

What if the child is not ready to lead? What if the child doesn’t know what he/she wants to do?

Open learning means that there is no one way of doing it – rather it is the child’s way of learning. If the child wants you to lead, you lead – simple!
(However in most cases, we invite the child to lead and then give the child the time and space to grow the ability to lead. That is equally important.
If the child shares that he doesn’t know what he wants to do – chances are that the child is thinking.
Maybe no one has ever asked the child this question before. Maybe the child does not know what all is possible to do unless told. Hence, a key role of the adults around the child is to bring a wide range of exposures.

What about academic subjects? What if a child does not want to learn academic subjects?

Everything is worth doing and learning, so there’s no need to divide learning by subjects or as academics and extra-curricular.
Also a lot of so-called academic learning (like language, science and maths etc) is already integrated in life, in doing stuff. For example, cooking involves reading, talking, mathematics and loads of science.
However, some families want to give importance to some ‘subjects’ and obviously if the child is okay, the child may include it in his/her plan.
Just realise that we can learn any academic concept at any age. Child can, if the child needs it, learn the concept of trigonometry at 30 years or understand chemical reactions if her job involves chemistry.

Will my child be at par with children in a conventional school?

No. Child will be at par with themself, with what and who he or she is :). Why compare?
If you are keen on comparing, you will realize that the child would be better or know much more in one area while would not have knowledge or skills as compared to others in another area. This is incidentally even with children who have all studied the same subjects – we all are just naturally inclined to be strong in some areas and weaker in others, based on our time and interest. 

How do children get adequate exposure – to different topics, advanced concepts and skills?

There are many sources of exposure for a child (and an adult) in open learning, specially given the vast and wide internet and media presence:
> Child’s own interest in any field leads the child to find out more.
> Interactions with parents, relatives, friends, neighbours and to all other people the child happens to meet. Thus it in itself is huge.
> Typically open learners travel a lot, both locally within their cities and also longer travels around the country and the world.

How would the family provide all the resources / resource people and experts the child would need?

Please realise that the world is actually full of both resources and people who can support the child. We need not always look at home, parents and teachers for resources and people. When we start looking and asking, a lot of people and places which were not normally considered to be part of the education system suddenly spring up. Eg: A neighbour or relative can guide the child with the physics theory behind the carpentry while a local carpenter down the road can help with the working of the tools.
One does not always need to attend a class or workshop to learn. Internship which was the staple way of learning for hundreds of years in our education history is perhaps the least explored one. Also realise when somebody who has keen interest in any field mentors an equally keen learner – it has a different energy to the whole learning exchange.

How to balance practical and theoretical learning?

Maybe we don’t need to. In open learning children simply learn what they need to learn. If one needs to understand how something works, the child can either experience it or can willingly refer to the theory behind it or as in most cases a combination of two. Learning by itself is a seamless journey into all aspects of whatever one is learning. Remember resources are available for the learner to go deeper in any direction.

What if a child gets addicted to gadgets or other wasteful activities?

  1. First of all a child (or even adult) getting addicted to any wasteful activities is not a function of open learning. Many a times these so called wasteful activities are a way to get away from something that is not exciting or interesting to the child.
    In open learning what is important is the responsibility the child feels towards their own learning and life. Rather than monitoring the child’s usage of gadgets etc, intense discussions on what all interests the child and how he or she wants to build these often ensures that the child is not merely wasting his or her time.

Can my child go back to a regular school / college at any time during open learning?

Surely. So many children have moved freely between school/college and open learning. Getting an admission is not so difficult in today’s world where schools/colleges far outnumber the demand.
Most schools do not insist on TC (Transfer Certificate) when they know the child has been doing pen learning. They may however demand an entrance test / interview – for which if required the child might need to prepare in advance.

Isn’t the child’s future in open learning insecure?

Here is a reply by Asawari, an open learner who has not given 10th/12th, no degrees… “When I read this question, I was wondering if everything in my life is a gamble? My friendships, my relationships, marriage, career, even choosing a dish to order in the restaurant.  So when I make a decision it’s the trust in myself, to work through whatever this decision brings me. I feel I need to see if OL is something I want right now. Future can backfire even if I have a degree, so let’s leave the future for my future self to figure out.”

Do open learners give 10th / 12th / go to college?

This is something we all need to realise that getting a certificate is a CHOICE. No certificate is mandatory in our country and hence the moot question is why one wants to give 10th / 12th / or go to college? If a child has a reason, then definitely the child would and can give the required examination through various options.
However, some open learners do not see a need for 10th / 12th / college and continue their journey of developing their skills via internships or self exploration and build their own career pathways.
Please realize that merely giving 10th/12th gives no benefit to the child. If giving 10th/12th it makes sense to do college. That is an investment of about 6-8 years.
So the decision of going down the certification route or not depends on the child’s interest and plans and not simply because everybody else seems to be doing so! 

If we / my child wants to, how can an open learning child give 10th/12th to join a college?

These are the current options available:
The child can give 10th/12th via the central government’s NIOS (National Institute of Open Schooling). Some state boards also allow private candidates.
Another interesting option is to join a school around 9th/10th grade so that that child can give 10th via CBSE or ICSE or state board.
If a child is considering going abroad then International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) – what is known as Cambridge board, is also a good option.

How will the child build a career without going through college?

Simply put there is no one way, rather many organic ways. First the child develops basic skills in his or her field using loads of self work, coaching, projects, courses and workshops. Most children, once ready in terms of their skills and age, hop onto internships, apprenticeships, mentorship or even taking jobs. Rest is learning on-the-job, obviously again boosted via self learning and courses and workshops. The child constantly takes support from industry experts as well as is guided and supported by family and community. Notably the child builds his own set of peers either in the same field or just a group of supportive friends who give the child the necessary social group.
All throughout the journey the child builds a portfolio to show in case required for any job interview or to bag freelancing projects or even financial support.

What if the child is denied job opportunities etc because he/she does not have a degree?

This is possible, though rare. Usually people in today’s world are denied jobs only if they do not bring the requisite experience and expertise. Since open learners would not have the degree to prove themselves, they will have to present their portfolio of experience and expertise.
Also note that without a degree children may not be able to apply for government jobs. 

How can open learners go abroad (out of India) for higher education or career?

The options here are not just defined by the field but more by the country which the child wants to goto. Many universities abroad offer open courses, where selection is either open or based on the child’s portfolio. Or the child may give an entrance / qualification examination.
The child can also, based on his or her portfolio, directly apply for mentorship or apprenticeship in organisations abroad.

Do open learning children only go for the art /music kind of fields?

Open learning is not limited to any field – one can go ahead and build one’s professional career in any field right from tenchinoly, to finance to art to business to writing to … You would realise almost all fields lend space for entrepreneurs, freelancers as well as jobs.

How can we evaluate the child’s progress without any exams?

The Child here evaluates his or her progress. The child’s work and portfolio are normally the major source of progress tracking. Also since the child would be interacting with the world at all the times, the world may give appropriate feedback. For example somebody interested in writing would get feedback from say a newspaper or magazine, while somebody making music will get feedback from earning music mentor or music company and so on.
So using a combination of self-tracking and expert-feedbacks the child builds his or her journey. Peers, family and other well-wishers obviously are there to both pat and kick, as required.

How do you bring the environment of excellence, how does a child get motivated to excel?

I am in sync with the philosophy of open learning but have fear of the future?

Please note fear will be there whether you take the school-college route or you go self directed. Fear, fortunately is not out there in the world.  And since it’s only in our minds, we can use understanding of ourselves and the world around us to work on it. Fear is also used as a tool by society to try and drive us and we realize that it’s just a perspective, we can simply refuse to look at life in that way.
One way to develop different views is to look for stories of people who have either done open learning or in spite of having degrees etc are doing something totally different from their formal education.

Won’t a child miss out on all the social skills that traditional schools impart?

In our opinion traditional schools do not necessarily impart social skills. Merely being in a class with  age children does not imply social skills.
Open Learners choose their social relationships, which often span across different age groups. These could be based on who is near me and accessible – neighbours, relatives, family friends etc. Or these could be based on common interest (say a 12 year old playing chess with a 72 year old).

How will the child form friendships like we did in our classrooms?

One, school limits us to typically having friendships only with people of the same age. Open learners can make long lasting friendships across a wider age group. Two, more than 90% of the time in school is taken up by classes. In the time that is left, some of us are lucky to build good friendships. Some of us are still lonely or bullied or what not.
Open learners, not limited in any social way, seek out and connect with people of diverse ages and choose which relationships they want to invest into.

What about co-curricular and extra-curricular and team activities done in school?

Since there is no curriculum, nothing is extracurricular. Open Learners explore what interests them which could range from Science to flying kites to music to embroidery. And this variety of interest and the time available for deep diving into their interest also gives them opportunities to interact with people with the same interest and also to go for projects, workshops, events, and most importantly travel.

What life skills can be learnt as an open learner?

In some ways open learning is all about developing life skills. The biggest being to lead one’s own life. Since nothing comes to them on a platter – they get into planning, doing, exploring, experimenting, reflecting, failing, … the list goes on.
We realise education is not about some external curriculum, but about discovering and developing oneself. The contents of life by itself do not matter or may even keep changing, what matters is perhaps is to live life as a exciting and enriching adventure.

Will the child be able to transition smoothly from open learning to strict process-bound-colleges or real life jobs?

In our experience this is not at all a problem. Already they are fiercely independent as well as well versed with the ways of the world. Open learners do not exist in any one environment, in fact they learn how to make the best of all kinds of environments. And if they choose to goto a college or get into a job, since it’s their choice, they adapt to it radially. 

What about preparing for a competitive world?

Open learners are in the ‘real’ world from day one. So they are used to competition as well as cooperation, following something as well as leading by their own designs, Letting go as well as taking initiative and so on.
Realise the world itself is not competitive, and open learners get to see the world not from one perspective (which can be constraining) but but many different eyes.

What if my child has special need? Does Open Learning work for children with LD, DYSLEXIA, ADHD, ADD, Autism etc

In open learning there are no expectations that a child will behave or learn or do the same things as other child. There are no milestones or benchmarks or references. The only reference is the child. And each child has great life within.

Open learning accepts and expects child as unique. The child creates his or her own curriculum or learning journey, learns things at own pace, in own style and for own purpose (not the ones glorified, quite unnecessarily, the world).

In this expectation free environment, the child is then able to navigate his/her learning journey from within that too joyously.
This also develops the child inside-out.

Obviously like all of us, each child / learner would need guidance, support and resources as per his or her needs and liking. This then becomes the role of parents and adults and other peers – to listen and understand his or her needs and styles. And importantly, to co-create the learning environment, resources and possibilities with him/her.

As a parent of an open learner, what is my role?

Think of yourself as a co-passenger. So more than a parent, you yourself become an open learner. Yes you would guide and support your child, but please expect your child to guide and support you equally. If we can interact everyday, sharing as well as listening, understanding as well as challenging, co-creating our life together then we are definitely going to have a great childhood with our children.

I am not a good teacher, nor qualified, how will I teach my child?

It’s actually a good-news that you are not a good teacher, else we would end up teaching. We aren’t supposed to teach children, rather guide and support them and they will find out from whom and how and using what they want to learn and do what they want to learn.

What skills do I need to develop to be able to support my child in their open learning journey?

Actually none. Just be with the child: listen, understand, discuss, debate, argue, and mostly allow them to fail. And since you already have all these skills, you are ready!

What if when the child becomes an adult, questions our decision of choosing Open Learning?

Two important points here – Any child can actually question any decision of their parents at any point of their life. That in itself does not mean that we need to take all right or safe decisions, because perhaps any decisions which might look right or safe can be questioned and seen as otherwise later. You see, the child can also question why you sent them to school and anto allowed to do open learning!
Second in open learning we as parents interact with the child on a daily basis, constantly reviewing other all the decisions and plans and executions, including the decision to do pen learning. So the children are as much part of the decision making and hence no question of them questioning us later.

What role does the extended family play?

It is a Co-creation journey and whoever in the extended family is ready can be a co passenger, more the merrier. Open learning invites all in the family to become open learners.
Also do invite them to play the role of questioner – constantly questioning the child and the parents. Perhaps that is the most important form of support they would bring, as open learners do not take anything for granted, including themselves.

What kind of environment should we create at home to foster open learning?

Simple – a learning environment: Where your children see you as a learner (and only as a teacher), where failures, mistakes, incapabilities are seen as much part of our life. Where each one is W.I P – Work in Progress.

I am in sync but my spouse or the grandparents or the relatives are not in favour of this decision.

Super – this means there can be so many discussions, explorations, perspectives etc. The idea in open learning isn’t to convince others (since we are not wiser or smarter). The idea is to even see this as an opportunity to learn and explore and discover.