Unfold Learning

exploring the best innovations in learning and teaching

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“Natural” Learning


Prehistoric stone with cultic pictograms from the National Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen. Photo by W. Rankin, 2016.

For several years now — certainly since our team began to explore the implications of mobility back at ACU — I’ve been thinking about learning and trying to understand its structures. It’s my conviction that the way we conceive of and practice learning in schools is largely the product of a series of technological challenges that once constrained the movement of information and people — challenges that have now been superseded or solved. Understanding “school” from inside the structures we’ve invented for schools thus leads to a kind of echo-chamber problem that tells us more about the institution than about learning itself. So for some time, I’ve been working to understand other sorts of learning — specifically, the self-motivated learning that dominates so much of our lives: the learning of hobbies and pastimes for our own edification and enrichment, the learning we do around our homes from parents and grandparents, and the learning that we do to survive and navigate our everyday lives.

What I’m going to present here today is a work in progress. Though it’s based on a synthesis of research and experience, I’m not going to present that research here today. What I’m interested in instead are your comments and feedback about the overall model. Does this model seem plausible? Where is it flawed? Where are its strong and weak points? What exceptions to it can you suggest? Where do you see it applying? Though I’ve been working on it and thinking about it for half a decade, I need your help to test its soundness and make it stronger before I take the next steps with it. By the way, if you’re interested in another model based on this one’s structure, please see my post about “formal” learning here.

Here’s the the complete model in PDF form: structures-of-personal-learning. Because this PDF is able to connect all of the elements in a more complex way, it has some features that I don’t discuss below, but here’s a quick overview of most of what appears in it.

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ECIS 2016 in Copenhagen

screen-shot-2016-11-17-at-11-51-54-pmI’m so pleased to be back in Denmark for this year’s European Council of Independent Schools conference and look forward to meeting and sharing with lots of colleagues. This year’s theme is one particularly close to my heart. Today working with some local school principals, I presented my idea about “learning ecosystems,” and one of the principals astutely observed that no ecosystem can survive without the input of energy. When we look at the natural world around us, that energy comes from the sun — plants transform that solar energy into sugars and fibers, and herbivores, carnivores, and scavengers continue that transformation. “What,” he said, “is the energy that drives and transforms learning ecosystems?” His answer — and mine: curiosity. Everything else we do is driven by its energizing force. If you’re around Copenhagen tomorrow, I’d love to see you. You can find out more about the conference here.