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Digital learner rights: food for thought

February 1, 2013

Bill of RightsOur students have numerous legal rights; their privacy rights in the USA are protected by FERPA,for example. Other laws defend them (and the rest of us) from harassment, theft, and fraud — but the legal system can’t guarantee ethical behavior or effective teaching. Consumer groups often put forth “Bill of Rights” statements as a call to action. Air travelers used this strategy a few years ago and succeeded in changing airline industry practices.

Student advocacy groups have also devised statements like the Declaration of Learner’s Rights and Responsibilities (Rights of the Child Conference, 1995) and the Learner’s Bill of Rights (Colorado School Library Leaders, 2006), but they have not had a major impact.

As online learning gains traction, there is increasing concern that students may be getting a raw deal — inconsistent instruction, bad financial aid advice, and so on. Online learners who want to advocate for themselves face a major barrier; it’s difficult to organize when people never physically meet. The European Commission tried to help when it produced an eLearner bill of rights, but that was nearly ten years ago. More recently, the CEO of Udacity (a purveyor of MOOCs) gathered a dozen people last December and drafted A Bill of Rights and Principles for Learning in the Digital Age. Released on January 22, the statement has been attracting lots of attention.

View this document on Scribd

I believe this document provides a very useful starting point for discussion, but others have been less excited. In “Authors of ‘Bill of Rights’ for Online Learners Face Criticism,” ProfHacker’s Steve Kolowich cites doubts expressed by well-known educators. The critics note that de facto sponsor Udacity is not financially transparent, nor does it plan to adopt the document as policy. They are also disappointed that no learners helped write the initial statement.

I think the document needs some work, but that it’s excellent food for thought. What do you think?

[Image credit – original graphic incorporating art from]

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