Unfold Learning

exploring the best innovations in learning and teaching


MiTE 2017

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I’m excited once again to be keynoting the amazing MiTE conference: MiTE 2017 — one of the preeminent conferences for technology- and mobile-enhanced teacher education in the world. This year, it will be leaving its Irish birthplace for the first time and will take place in Los Angeles on January 12–14. If you’re interested in great research about how technology can impact both teaching and teacher education, if you’d like to rub shoulders with thoughtful practitioners from around the world, and if you’d like to invest some productive time thinking about ways to transform your own teaching praxis, this is the place to be. Plus, there will be a dance contest! I can’t wait to see everyone there soon…


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“Formal” Learning

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A tri-lobed sassafras leaf from Shenandoah National Park, Virginia. Photo by W. Rankin, 2016.

Last week, I published a model of natural learning that explores the cyclical structures of the informal or “personal” learning we do outside of school and professional settings. Thanks for the comments and ideas you’ve sent me — and I hope you’ll send even more. Refining these models and getting them right is important to me, and I know they’ll more accurately represent the complexity of the learning process with your input and insight.

This week, I’d like to enlist your help with another model: my model for formal learning — the sort of learning we do in schools and formal training sessions. Again, my goal here is to begin a discussion around a work in progress rather than to present something fully formed — though this is, like my “natural” model from last week, something I’ve been thinking about and working on for several years. I’d love to hear what you think so please leave me comments or send me a message. What do you like? What seems off? What parts seem overblown or underemphasized? What’s missing?

You can download the complete model in PDF form here: dimensions-of-formal-learning. The second page defines the terms I’m using and discusses some of my rationale for understanding the structure the way I do and for including the particular elements I include. In this post, therefore, I won’t go into any detail about the overall structure of this model. Instead, I’d like to focus on a substructure of this model — a process of moving between and among the elements that I call the “propeller of learning.”

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“Natural” Learning

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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.


Video from CADE por la Educación

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CADE por la Educación brought together some of the leading figures in education, government, and business from throughout Perú to talk about the future of learning. Although the video starts about 10 minutes into my presentation, you can see my talk here. Most of the audio is translated en español, which may be helpful. Or not. The video concludes with a Q&A from this year’s president of IPAE (from 41:00 to 56:30). By the way, if you’re wondering, my headset mic failed early on (the reason the video starts midway through) so I got to use a handheld. Being such a gesticulator, I decided to put it in my shirt pocket to free up my hands: both fashionable and functional!


Thanks, EdCrunch!


I had a spectacular time at Moscow’s EdCrunch. Amazing speakers (including Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales), great exhibits, and some spectacular conversations. It was a privilege to participate. If you’d like to see the video of my keynote, you can watch it here.


Thank you, CADE por la Educación 2016

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I had the privilege of being part of an amazing conference in Lima, Perú this past week. Organized by the Instituto Peruano de Administración de Empresas (IPAE), CADE por la Education 2016 brought together teachers, administrators, government officials, and business leaders from throughout Perú to consider how to take learning “out of the box.” Emphasizing experiential learning and civic engagement, the high points of this conference for me were the presentations by students — an impassioned and articulate middle-schooler who challenged us to rethink how we’re preparing him and his classmates for the new digital world and a student orchestra who showed that music and passion can unlock learning for all. Be sure to check their site for videos and updates about this amazing conference.